Five Ways to Take Your Basement from Grotto to Glorious

Timothy Mitanidis and Claudia Bader's basement. Andrew Snow Photography

Timothy Mitanidis and Claudia Bader’s basement. Andrew Snow Photography

There’s something undeniably odious about the word basement. It unfailingly conjures up a spine-shivering image of something drafty, claustrophobic and dark. But subterranean living spaces offer an important opportunity to accommodate Canada’s shifting housing needs. They work well as in-law suites for downsizers, income rentals for empty nesters or extra sleeping quarters for families who’ve outgrown their current house but can’t afford a larger one in the country’s ever inflating real estate market. And, with the right eye for aesthetics, a basement apartment can be bright, airy and beautiful. It just takes the right lighting, wall finishes and window wells. Here, five tips from top design professionals on how to turn an underground grotto into something glorious. Continue reading

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Slow Furniture: Heidi Earnshaw Takes Her Time for Timeless Quality

Heidi Earnshaw in her downtown Toronto studio

Heidi Earnshaw in her downtown Toronto studio (Michelle Siu)

As a reaction to mass manufacturing, the burgeoning slow furniture movement is a painstakingly careful, anachronistically plodding way to produce chairs, desks and credenzas. Everything is made using time-honoured carpentry techniques, out of elemental materials, without computer-guided machines and routers.

Acclaimed, Toronto-based Heidi Earnshaw is an advocate of the trend. Her designs have the subtlety of a Robert Frost poem and have been recognized by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Awards.

Next month, she’ll be participating in IIDEX, Canada’s national design and architecture expo in Toronto.

Here, Earnshaw talks about her roots as a chainsaw artist, the miracles of vinegar and the importance of taking things slow.

A lot of people are unfamiliar with the term slow furniture. What does it mean to you?

Slow furniture is basically an offshoot of the slow food movement, which started in Italy in the 1980s as a reaction to the first McDonald’s opening in Rome. For me, it’s about creating furniture in a thoughtful and environmentally sustainable way while supporting local economies and using local resources.

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Weathering the Storm: Creating a Home for New Climate Norms

This driveway in Don Mills, Ont., outfitted with the PG45 Paving Grid, supports the weight of a car while also sucking up excess water. (Green Innovations)

This driveway in Don Mills, Ont., outfitted with the PG45 Paving Grid, supports the weight of a car while also sucking up excess water. (Green Innovations)

Right now is a white-knuckle time to be a homeowner. Not because of bubble worries in the condo market or fears of an interest-rate spike. Over the past few years, global warming has become undeniably more menacing. It has caused an increase in roof-wrecking, basement-flooding storms and the type of sweltering, seemingly endless heat wave that makes homes feel more like giant saunas.

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Reason to Love Toronto: Because the Aliens, Vampires and Robot Cops Came Back

Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim was made in Toronto

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was made in Toronto

When the alien-invasion fantasy Pacific Rim—by blockbuster director Guillermo del Toro—wrapped at Pinewood Studios in the Port Lands last September, it left a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, with cherry trees and Japanese cop cars strewn across monster-mangled, Roppongi-like streets. The film, which opens in July, cost $150 million and was the largest production in Toronto history—employing a crew of nearly 1,000 local carpenters, camera people and extras. It was also proof that the industry has finally perked up after a long dry spell. Continue reading

Reason to Love Toronto: Because the Shark Tank is Open

Ripley's Aquarium TOronto

Ripley’s Aquarium TOronto

For decades, parents trying to edu-tain their tots have had to choose between the same old standbys: the AGO, the ROM, the Science Centre. This summer, though, there will be a new option—Ripley’s Aquarium, a 135,000-square-foot, $130-million fish tank at the foot of the CN Tower. Over 15,000 species from all over the world will be on display. Budding Cousteaus will be drawn to the extensive education programs (including overnight aquarium camps that teach about biodiversity, conservation and the difference between kelp forests and coral reefs). Continue reading

Marcel Wanders on Being Compared to Madonna and Not Being ‘Boring’

Designer Marcel Wanders. Photo by Moe Doiron

Designer Marcel Wanders. Photo by Moe Doiron

As a testament to his longevity, rock-star status and sheer ingenuity, designer Marcel Wanders has been called both the Madonna and the Lady Gaga of the furniture world.

The comparisons seem fair when considering his furniture. The Amsterdamer eschews the minimal aesthetic of peers like Philippe Starck in favour of adding a subversive – sometimes kitschy – touch to the familiar and iconic. In 2008, when designing the interiors of Miami Beach’s Mondrian Hotel, for instance, he paid homage to his Dutch heritage by festooning the rooms with blue-and-white Delft tiles. But instead of windmills and bunnies, his ceramics featured sharks and beach babes.

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Coveted: Patty Johnson’s Haida Chair

Patty Johnson's Haida Chair

Patty Johnson’s Haida Chair

Patty Johnson is a master furniture designer with a deep sense of social responsibility. At her Toronto studio, she crafts the kind of playful-but-sophisticated pieces — neon, rattan-style arm chairs woven from sustainable fibres — that make design editors and critics go goo-goo eyed. She also spends considerable time in places like Haiti and Botswana, helping to promote and develop local artistry and furniture production. Rather than being a sideline effort, her grass roots involvement is what gives character to her higher-end pieces. The recently released Haida chair was inspired by a year Johnson spent working with the First Nations group in the Pacific Northwest. The curved back takes its form from the Haida’s tradition of steam bending cedar; the structure — held together without any fasteners like nails or bolts — has the elegance of a traditional long house. Haida Chair. Price upon request. Mjölk, 2959 Dundas St. W., Toronto, 416-551-9853.

This piece originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Thursday, May 2, 2013.