Graphic-design guru and futurist Bruce Mau moved to Chicago from Toronto three years ago, taking up residence in a 1970s modernist bungalow on the city's North Shore. "It's really a spectacular situation," Mau explains by phone. "The house was built by this power lawyer who had represented the Chicago Seven, so he was a very modern guy and this is a very modern house except for this one room, which was his office and is now mine." The fact that the stately, wood-panelled retreat is so different is why Mau likes it: "We didn't change a thing, just cleaned it up," says the designer, who is the subject of a new retrospective at Toronto's Design Exchange until Nov. 14.
1. THE DESK: Purchased at IKEA, "it's inexpensive but surprisingly well-made," says Mau, who bought it because he wasn't sure how long he'd be in his new house. "I wasn't sure what I'd need, but it works well. From this desk, I can work, with a really big monitor and a good camera, with people anywhere in the world, as if I were in the room with them."
2. THE CHAIRS: "Those are classic [Aeron]chairs by Herman Miller," the iconic American manufacturer of office and residential furniture, says Mau, who is a member of the advisory council for the Herman Miller foundation. The cloth over one is from Guatemala, where he oversaw a rebranding project.
3. THE STUFFED MOUNTIE: A friend gave Mau this symbol of his home and native land after Mau moved to the U.S. He says it reminds him of what he left behind: "Toronto is such a cool scene, such a cool place. I appreciate that more now that I'm gone."
4. THE PLEA: Mau's daughter Shola, now 10, wrote a letter to her parents last year explaining in detail why she ought to have a pet fish. "It includes such reasons as, 'I'm not allergic to fish,' " Mau says. "It really is quite hilarious." His assistant, Gina Doctor, had the letter enlarged and mounted to keep him smiling as he works.
5. THE PAINTINGS: The works on and above the mantelpiece are by Mau's best friend, Canadian painter James Lahey, who specializes in moody landscapes. The biggest is "from a series of works he did inspired by his experiences on his motorcycle, which he then turned into art."
6. CHAIRMAN MAO DOLL: "That was a gift from my studio in Toronto for my 40th birthday, which was absolutely awesome, except now I have a dictator and mass murderer in my office. But I guess if it's good enough for Andy Warhol, it's good enough for me."