When most people need a bookcase or end table, they hit the shops. But Francis Cayouette isn't most people. When the Danish-based, Quebec-born designer needs a piece of furniture, he puts pen to paper, creating and filling his home with his elegant self-made furniture. His talent for translating his personal wish list into "instant classics" has netted a string of successes recently for some of Scandinavia's top furniture makers - and protected him from the crowds at IKEA for a decade.
Cayouette's home in Hørsholm, near Copenhagen, is akin to a gallery of his work. Few could pull off his flair for the spare, but he makes even the simplest pieces, like the Rexbo shelving unit he designed for IKEA in 2007, look positively striking, teaming them with heirlooms, small collections and the pure Scandinavian light. Only his most recent design - the industrial-chic One Step Up bookcase launched last spring at the Milan Furniture Fair - is missing. It has become so popular that its manufacturer, Normann Copenhagen, is unable to keep it in stock.
Surrounding himself with his work might seem vain if it all wasn't so darned practical. After moving to Denmark in 1999, the 41-year-old University of Montreal graduate and his Danish-born wife, Anne Marie Raaschou-Nielsen, also a designer, built their practice, Unit10, on such modest, innovative collaborations. In 2001, the couple approached IKEA with a design for a small doll's house like one Anne Marie had grown up with. The Swedish giant bought it and the pair became the company's go-to creative team for colourful, functional toys, which were road-tested by their son Joakim, now 11. On the back of that came commissions for furniture (IKEA's Toftan bathroom organizer, Norrebo storage system and Mandal bureau) and a popular range of knives and tableware for Normann Copenhagen. In the meantime, the couple had a daughter - Camille, now 8 - and Anne Marie went to work for Danish homewares manufacturer Stelton.
In 2008, they bought a 1920s cottage and renovated it from top to bottom, adding an extension in back to boost the greatness of their new "great room." In the kitchen, they configured the cabinets and drawers along one side, galley-style, to make room for an enormous oak bench Anne Marie inherited from her grandmother after she sold the family farm. And they made a feature of a lipstick-red Ribbon chair by Pierre Paulin for Artifort that Cayouette's architect father bought before he was born. "Not that we're especially fond of antiques," says Cayouette, "but they mean something to us and give some warmth. I don't like when everything is modern or too antiquey all the way - I like a mixture of old and contemporary."
Still, they've made good use of the modern Scandinavian cannon - a bit of IKEA here, some Stelton there - topped off with their own distinctive designs. Cayouette's Vika dining table for IKEA pulls up to the heirloom bench in the kitchen. And in the foyer are his Bintje birch stacking crates, recently commissioned by IKEA for its PS range. Scattered around the kitchen and living room are Cayouette's iron Heima candleholders for Normann Copenhagen - another wish-list item he pitched to the company on his own initiative and launched earlier this year.
Even with all the variety, the place looks less "show home" than "home sweet home." Is that his adopted Danishness coming out? Cayouette confesses he has always leaned toward the "simple functionality" the country is famous for. "Really. This is how it looks every day," Cayouette says in Danish-accented English. Okay, he concedes, there was a quick clean-up for the shoot. But the meagre amount of storage on site speaks to his distaste for clutter.
"Because we have a lot of furniture from a long time ago, antiques and modernist things from our family, we didn't want to have too much stuff in the house. We tried to make the best of what we already had without adding too many things." Simplicity, he says, is his m.o.
In this regard, Cayouette says, his Canadian heritage has served him well. "In Quebec, design is not as established as in Scandinavia, so a designer himself needs to make sure every product is feasible technically," he explains, adding that, in Denmark, designers simply produce a sketch and leave the rest to the manufacturer. "So I've always liked to work with a simple [design]language, getting to the essence of a product, trying to remove everything that's not necessary.
"They respect that here."