Everything Maureen Welton knows was learned from flowers.
"It's all about colour, presentation and nature," says the former florist whose 20-year-old Vancouver-based 18Karat design import and distribution company specializes in modern home furnishings and accessories made from natural, easily renewable and environmentally friendly materials. "I believe that good design should always be that simple. I'm not a big fan of things that are ostentatious."
Advocating a less-is-more philosophy, Welton launched her first 18Karat retail outlet four years ago in South Granville with business partner Grant Ohman. The store showcases product in modern rooms meant to reflect "a reductionist attitude," what Welton feels most defines style today. Equally stylish is her company's emphasis on eco- and ethical chic.
The wood, metal, stone, clay, glass and fibre fabrics that go into the making of such everyday objects as oversized vases and planters - what 18Karat is most known for - are generally re-used and re-purposed materials that are easily renewed. Manufacturing takes place in foreign factories chosen for their ethical labour practices and traditional handmade methods. "We continually look for ways to be less wasteful," says Welton, who sells to other retailers, designers and architects across Canada, the U.S., Japan and Switzerland. "Instead of trying to automate processes, we use traditional knowledge of the local people who make our goods and turn their handicraft into contemporary, desirable products. To us, every object tells a story and the more you know about the provenance the greater the appreciation."
For her first appearance at the IDS, Welton is deliberately taking a light-hearted approach in the hope of advancing her company's visibility among retailers and consumers in Toronto. Product will be highlighted in a series of video presentations that Welton says are intended to accentuate the "fun" side of home decor. "In one, we take some of our test-tube vases and hang them upside down. A young woman hits them with her hands, making them chime like musical instruments."
This time, her vases don't hold flowers, but are conduits for innovative design ideas likely to attract a new crop of eco-conscious consumers seeking beauty in balance with nature.