Defining Toronto interior design
By: Jessica Moy
Known to be a contemporary Canadian design store filled with handmade furniture, unique lighting fixtures, and one of a kind home accessories – MADE Design blends into the Queen Street West vibe through its quirky, artsy, and modern environment.
When I opened the heavy glass doors of MADE, there was a welcoming scent of fresh wood furnishing.
I looked to my left and was greeted by storeowner Shaun Moore, who was sitting at a harvest table with his MAC computer and notepads scattered in front of him. The soft-spoken entrepreneur wore a plaid shirt and brown thick-rimmed glasses.
I walked around the store. It was set up like a master-suite living room with clean-cut couches, oddly shaped mirrors, and desks placed neatly with a variety of office knick-knacks and vases to fill any empty desk space.
The glazed wooden shelves are filled with a variety of home accessories. My eyes stopped when I saw a couple of ceramic black and white vases with tiny bumps on the front, made by Toronto designer, Jessica Lertvilai.
The vases don’t actually reveal what the letter says. The artist hopes everyone will understand the universal message, “love is blind.“ I grazed my hand over the small bumps, fascinated by the idea and charm.
The vase had me questioning if Toronto had its own hidden message within its design aesthetics. What defines Toronto design? Do we have a unique look that differs from other cities?
“Natural materials. Stereotypical, reclaimed lumber,” said Josh Brasse, CEO and founder of Ideacious, describing his opinion on Toronto design.
He admits our city creates a feeling that is as natural as it is modern.
“[Canadian design is] not trying to hide how the products are made and embracing the materials for what they’re worth,” Brasse explained.
Ideacious combines creators and buyers of the design world. Brasse’s studio features natural sunlight from the window overlooking Toronto, desks in the middle of the room, a foosball table to the left and prototypes of his designs on high-rise bookshelves.
As he adjusted his baseball cap, he showed me an example of a true Toronto design.
Local designer, Karen King, made the re-claimed hickory bookshelf where Brasse’s prototypes are currently being displayed. It has a built-in ladder in the front, which can swing outward, or hide within the design of the bookshelf.
When it comes to Toronto furnishings, re-claimed hickory may be healthy for the environment, but sustainability is what you should look for when purchasing new furnishings – at least, according to MADE.
“It’s more than just material. It’s about contributing to [the] economy and growth of local things. Ikea can make something of green materials, but it’s going to be in the landfill in a year and a half,” Moore said.
He explains MADE sells items that last a lifetime.
Co-owner of MADE, Julie Nicholson adds, “It’s an heirloom…you don’t need to keep buying the object over and over.”
When purchasing new furniture, stay away from exotic woods and buy local, Moore says. Knowing it’s North American hardwood is better, for you have comfort that the harvest has been controlled.
As much pride as Canadians have for their creations, Nicholson says Canadians don’t tend to talk about their design work the same way as they do in Europe.
“People [in Europe] are okay with saying ‘I’m a designer, this is my profession’, they accept that as a regular profession,” Nicholson said with her British accent. “While [in Canada] the general public doesn’t perceive it as a very common practice, it actually is, but it’s an undercurrent contribution to the economy.”
Born in the U.K. and having attended arts school in Australia, Nicolson’s been managing design stores in England before she came to Toronto. She opened MADE with her business partner, Moore, in 2006.
Previously, both owners have managed design stores in Europe. They see the difference from how people in Canada differ from those in Europe when it comes to displaying their work.
They agreed Canadian designers have not received enough media recognition. It was all about what’s the big brand name and not looking at the quality of the item.
“It was more like ‘What’s new and hot from Italy?’…It bothers me ‘cause people are generally not open to how interesting things are [in Canada],” Nicholson said passionately by leaning forward and moving her hands frantically in front of her.
Now, media outlets such as “Azure Magazine” in Toronto generally focus on local designers and architects that once starved for attention.
According to Azure contributor, David Dick-Agnew, when it comes to Toronto contemporary design, “it’s pretty no-fuss.”
Toronto, or Canada for that matter, may not be on the map for famous designs, but according to Dick-Agnew, we do have a unique style.
“At least in terms of contemporary design,” Dick-Agnew adds. “Ornament is out, and usability is in.”
This theme extends not only to residences, but restaurants and pub designs around the city as well.
Moore agrees Toronto design is more withheld, but adds it’s getting more progressive.
“Hits of colour. Buying a neutral sofa but wanting to add a red table lamp,” Moore said.
Sustainability, according to Dick-Agnew, is now considered cradle-to-cradle. There used to be a life cycle for products, for example, a landfill. Now experts say it’s the goal of the industry to have every product’s life cycle end with it being recycled into a new product, “making the materials side of production a closed loop,” Dick-Agnew said.
When it comes to eco-friendly, the Toronto design industry is top notch in recycling old items and making them new again.
MADE showcases Vintage Pop Bottle Lights made by Brothers Dressler, which are hung by walnut collars and feature light bulbs inside 1960 soda bottles. This was sold back in November for $1,100.
They also feature a baby blue dresser by Toronto designer, Rob Southcott. He found the dresser, sanded it down, and designed an unusual stain application to re-sell it as new.
“Old piece presented in a new way,” Moore said.
When it comes to Toronto designs, Brasse says he has prototypes waiting to be put on the market. No product says Toronto more than something hockey related.
He recently designed a penny hockey set. No bigger than the palm of your hand, it can hold three pennies. When you pop out the sides, the pennies come out and the two sides become nets.
“It’s a promotion product I came up with, pad print or put a label on the back to promote your company, but also a cool toy you have in your pocket,” Brasse said.
MADE also features their own hockey product, a light stand made by Canadian designer Barr Gilmore. With red and blue lights, they feature full-length solid ash hockey sticks, which surround the colourful lights. It stands by the blades of the sticks which support it and goes for $2,500.
MADE, unlike every other store, avoids trends. They search for longevity in their products.
“They’re not of-the-minute, they’re interesting things people want to live with for a long time, not just three years later go, ‘Oh I’m tired of orange,’” Moore said.
I asked Moore which product was his favorite out of the entire store. He took a few minutes as he looked around “hmm-ing” and “uhh-ing” before he turned to me and said the Cedar Stumps, which are literal cedar stumps with a bold colour painted on top.
Following the trend of “natural,” it’s safe to say Toronto design can be defined as re-claimed lumber, hockey influenced, and pretty no-fuss.
In 2012, experts predict new and big trends in Toronto will be among us, such as modernism and futurism.
According to Dick-Agnew if you want to look at modernism, look at it in a sense that the present is different from the past.
“It represents a break with history, rather than a continuity with history. I think the way we look at design is slowly undergoing one of these revolutionary epiphanies,” Dick-Agnew said. “It will take a generation, but I don’t think its importance can be overstated.”