Toronto’s annual Interior Design Show, took place last week in a new location - the city’s centrally located Metro Convention Centre, directly in the shadow of the CN tower.
Another change this year saw the trade show form the back bone of the city’s first all-singing design week, the Toronto International Design Festival. Well, when we say all-singing, Toronto is no Milan, Paris or Cologne when it comes to volume of new design, and satellite shows were limited in number and relatively insular – Toronto has a small pool of established product designers who crop up everywhere an event is raised in the name of design. But there is also a sizeable pool of interesting creator-makers, artists and a respectable number of creatives in the making.
What it may lack in quantity is certainly made up for in passion and ambition. The week’s events included design-specific exhibitions at Ontario’s cultural seats – the highlight being the excellent show, Cut/Paste at the Royal Ontario Museum curated by local creative agency Motherbrand, which explored the long-standing culture of reuse in Canadian design.
Though recycling in design is undoubtedly a global preoccupation, exhibits showed arresting examples of it throughout history - alongside great contemporary pieces were the Ruspan Lounge Chair by Russel Spanner designed in the 1950s to be made with the materials and technology used to create the dwindling-in-demand wooden battery boxes at his family’s factory, and the iconic K42 kettle designed by Fred Moffat for Canadian General Electric in 1945, whose body is made from the headlamp of a McLaughlin Buick. The form of the K42 became industry standard, and the kettle was produced for 30 years.
In a symposium on ‘A World without Oil’ hosted by Jesse Ashlock, former Editor-in-Chief of I.D. magazine, the world of architecture and design kindly took on saving the world, searching for design-led answers to dwindling energy resources.
Speakers included the mighty local Bruce Mau - ‘let’s get angst and guilt out of the equation and design beautiful and intelligent responses to our world’s needs just because we can’; Mirko Zardini, director of Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture who examined the responses to the oil crisis in the 1970s, and exposed the subculture of architects and designers forging futuristic solutions then which we now consider our own; Fritz Haeg from LA, who is on a one man mission to dig up America’s Stepford front lawns and reintroduce wild, indigenous and edible horticulture to the city; Tord Boontje and Enrico Bressan of Artecnica who spoke of the small ways in which their mission to make local global and global local can help the situation; and Sheila Kennedy of Boston based architecture practice KVA who revealed results of their energy-saving explorations, including ground-breaking energy-harvesting curtains.
Appropriately, ‘salvaged objects and responsibly harvested materials’, the mantra of established local design duo Brothers Dressler, might have been applied to most of the current crop of Canadian design. Reuse, wood and Canadiana were dominant themes everywhere.
At the Radiant Dark Assets and Values exhibition curated by local institution Made (a gallery that supports and retails new Canadian design), there was a standard lamp from Brent Cordner of Luflic made from newsprint; cushions covered in textiles featuring pines and grizzlies from Kerry Croghan (reflecting Canada’s great outdoors, and seemingly the prints from the linings of 1970s sleeping bags); and posh poutine forks from Anneke Van Bommel, forged from gold, presumably for feeding on the current trend for poshed-up poutine (Quebec’s chips, curd and gravy comfort dish).
At the ROM, the popular local design mavericks Castor exhibited their latest piece, a cluster of pendant lights made from fire extinguishers that have been sliced and sprayed and successfully defy the shabby quality of much recycled design; while Brothers Dressler, the gang-leaders put their own stamp on hunted and gathered old school chairs (adding wooden supports), for their showing at the IDS, and used recycled bottles to create a chandelier at Radiant Dark.
A small group bucked the trend for recycling and wood-based design at Heavy Metal, an exhibition of objects celebrating the ‘inherent honesty, quality and longevity’ of cast iron and exploring various techniques from sand-blasting and foam-casting. Works by Jonathan Sabine of Mat Cult, Brent Cordner, Rob Southcott, Derek McLeod and Dieter Janssen stood out.
At the IDS show, the Studio North area nurtured, as always, the new local design: highlights came from Tahir Mahmood - who injected colour with his Sotsassian pestle and mortars, made with ancient lathe-turning techniques from his native Pakistan; to Science and Sons - who showed their patriotic maplewood Radio Canada; and Kevin Karst with his Orchid stacking stool.
In an annual event at Toronto’s art laboratory The Gladstone Hotel, eleven rooms (not thankfully guest bedrooms) were taken over by young artists and designers, many collaborating for the first time for the exhibition Come Up to My Room. The results varied from a mirrored den draped with futuristic fabrics, to a space exhibiting objects gathered from a fictional aircrash, and a living space (the resident artist’s actual living space) accommodating a meandering light sculpture.
A whirl around local design retailers, Ministry of Interior, Gus Studio, Abstracto, Made, Klaus by Nienkämper, Hollace Cluny and the new Atelier 668, (home to photographer Alex Jowett - an apart-showroom featuring work by local designers, some for sale, some just for Alex to sit on) introduced us to beautiful works by the artist and designer Al Groen, designer-maker, Michael Greenwood, design company Left Right Designs and artist/designer Julie Jenkinson among others.
And after a day of pavement pounding, hunting out the highlights of this, Toronto’s first design week, late night sustenance was sought and consumed with gusto at Toufik Sarwa’s new venue, Cinq 01, designed by the rather brilliant Torontonian interior design company Commute Home. So much of contemporary design here is rooted to the terrain whether it’s Canadian culture, skills or the materials they employ and expose. But chickpea chips, courtesy of Cinq 01’s kitchen, are one Toronto-harvested design we will attempt to reproduce at home.