Don't bother Shawn Place with a hashtagged Tweet or Facebook alert on where the ever-evolving home-decor industry is headed in the next decade. The Prince George, B.C.-based furniture designer - who makes handcrafted pieces for living spaces both mini and mammoth - is far from interested in talking about the future of mechanically engineered decor. "The past is so much more interesting to me," he says while on a lunch break from constructing an end table with his two materials of choice: oak and soap. "There is so much power and art in finding out how an heirloom is made. Owning one can be just as interesting since it gets better with age. Something that isn't mass-produced should last longer than its owner and maker, so many generations get to enjoy it."
While designers of Place's ilk are obsessed with creating the perfect studio space, the 41-year-old craftsman feels that his surroundings have little to do with his work. "You would think that where I live in British Columbia would turn me on, but it doesn't in the least. It doesn't matter where I design. I value human creativity above everything else," he says. For example, his dramatic owl chair, which will be featured at the Interior Design Show in Toronto this week, was inspired by a cast-iron interpretation of the nocturnal creature that Place stumbled on in an antiques shop.
Relatively new to the decor game, Place started making his one-of-a-kind pieces in 2008 while hunting for a dining-room table that appealed to his minimalist sensibilities. He had no luck finding affordable pieces and the items in the IKEA catalogue weren't exactly on his wish list. "We've been led to believe that the more you buy, the better; I don't buy that race-to-the-bottom-for-the-cheapest-piece mentality," Place says. So he relied on his own carpentry skills and learned how to draft, design and assemble. With the help of B.C. design-scene stalwarts Niels and Nancy Bendtsen, he also began to get acquainted with many of Scandinavia's design heroes.
"The [Bendtsens]were my mentors and taught me how to go about making what I make now," Place says, adding that his favourite types of pieces all come from the Danish Modern period. "Seeing a piece of furniture by Hans Wegner was an epiphany for me. After that, it wasn't long before I was studying his and Poul Kjaerholm's pieces, spending hours trying to figure out how they perfected their work."