Skip to main content
In Good Taste, day 3
Sponsor Content
Katrina Olson-Mottahed

CREATIVE HAVENS

Between the streets


Furniture designer Zoë Mowat finds sanctuary in the rhythm of city life

Creative Havens is a five-part series where Canadian leaders in design, architecture, film and fashion share what fuels their creative spirit and how they unwind and recharge.

BROUGHT TO
YOU BY

For furniture and objects designer Zoë Mowat, the active element of designing – drawing and producing – is essential to success and requires time and space. Equally important is the passive.

Creative Havens is a five-part series where Canadian leaders in design, architecture, film and fashion share what fuels their creative spirit and how they unwind and recharge.

BROUGHT TO
YOU BY

“I like to consider the rhythm of my creative process, and it doesn’t necessarily come from sitting at a desk,” says the 34-year-old Mowat, who recently packed up her studio in Montreal for a temporary job teaching product design at Parsons School of Design in New York. “You’ve also got to think about the passive moments. Exploring the world around you builds new synapses for what’s coming in and what you’re feeding off.”

Known for her signature sculptural forms and a refined colour palette, Mowat has collaborated with Canadian design giants, EQ3 and Umbra, as well as smaller design establishments. No matter the scale, the designer stays true to her design philosophy. “I believe in a democratic approach where objects can be more accessible, but still contain some meaning.”

Although Mowat has an undeniable signature esthetic, she doesn’t like to be pigeonholed with specific design styles. “I don’t like labels; I don't like to focus too much on one thing.”

A commissioned portrait of Olson-Mottahed by New York graffiti artist Soraya Marquez, a.k.a Indie 184.

Mowat’s anti-stress objects include rocking foot massagers and stress cubes of Italian marble. Baker & Evans AND Jovian Lim / courtesy of Wallpaper Magazine

Katrina Olson-Mottahed in winter

While attending a workshop in Porto, Portugal, with other international designers, Mowat toured a number of factories and workshops, including this basket-weaving shop. COURTESY OF ZOË MOWAT

It's good to be aware of your practice and your mind and not just look at the endless scroll of content that we are bombarded with.

ZOË MOWAT

She keeps herself challenged by reaching for different materials, often masterfully mixing wood, metal and stone. For example, her design for the Ora mirror is an elegant composition of brass, marble and coloured wood while the Assembly Dressing Table, designed for EQ3, incorporates glass, steel and lacquered MDF. Her most recent design, the Aizome Cabinet, designed for a Japanese brand Ariake, acts as a canvas for traditional Japanese colours and finishes, incorporating Sumi ink, red dye, and two contrasting shades of Japanese Indigo.

Katrina Olson-Mottahed in winter

The Aizome Cabinet, designed for Ariake, a Japanese furniture brand, is one of Mowat’s most recent works. Sebastian Stadler

In 2018, she was one of a handful of designers chosen by Wallpaper Handmade X to produce bespoke items to show at the renowned furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, in Milan.

In keeping with the wellness theme of that year, she created a series of marble anti-stress products which included a foot massager and stress cubes.

“It’s nice to have a connection in the here and now,” she says, “to have a physical interaction in a direct way and to show empathy for the human experience.”

Olson-Mottahed's desk, including a Seletti monkey lamp

Mowat’s discerning eye for composition stems from her formative years and hours spent in an art studio with her mother, sculptor Catherine Burgess. “My mother’s work has been hugely influential to my work. I see similarities and approaches,” says the designer. “She uses a lot of geometric forms and it's really how I started as well: looking at geometry.”

Also in this series From her 'giant treehouse,' Toronto handbag designer Ela Aldorsson hits reset

She initially wanted to pursue sculpture but changed her mind last minute and enrolled in the industrial design program at the University of Alberta.

Following graduation, Mowat relocated to Montreal, a city she felt would allow her to maintain an independent studio practice.

Aside from her love of geometry and intense relationship with colour, Mowat often looks for inspiration during her travels. “I really love looking at how things come together: looking at seams, joinery, connections.” She hones her skills by participating in various design workshops, most recently in Morodomi, Japan and in Porto, Portugal.

>A neon sign in Olson-Mottahed's home office is surrounded by a mood board of inspirational women in film, art and fashion.

While in New York, Mowat likes to spend time in museums, such as the Noguchi Museum. “Museums are always a good place to reflect,” she says. NICHOLAS KNIGHT

Museums are always great places to reflect. I always feel so restored when I go in there, sort of refreshed and replenished.

ZOË MOWAT

She also shares her expertise with a younger generation of designers, through teaching stints at the University of Oregon and Parsons School of Design in New York. “I teach my students how to have a sustainable creative practice, how to feel creative and feel inspired over a long period of time. Because not everyone is this brilliant person with ideas flowing out of them all the time.”

Crystals in bathroom

In New York, Mowat takes necessary refuge by going on long daily walks and frequent runs around the city.

“I live in a busy neigbourhood, but I find pockets of calm; I seek them out,” she says. “Same in Montreal, I tend not to be tethered to my desk.”

She loves to run the iconic Williamsburg Bridge. “[Running] has always been a peaceful thing, even if there are a lot of people.”

She also seeks refuge in her favourite museums. “Museums are always good places to reflect.” Among her favourites: the Noguchi Museum in Queens, which houses the work of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and The Fricke Collection, a small Manhattan jewel filled with old master paintings and fine furniture. “I always feel so restored when I go in there, sort of refreshed and replenished.”

Between teaching and running her own design business, it’s easy to sometimes get overwhelmed. “It’s good to be aware of your practice and your mind and not just look at the endless scroll of content that we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I definitely try to disconnect, focus on being mindful and focus on what brings me joy and makes me creative.”

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

A proud sponsor of Creative Havens, Lincoln has long recognized the power of a personal sanctuary. Our vehicles are thoughtfully crafted with beautifully serene interiors, rich amenities and revitalizing comfort. Our ownership services further elevate that experience by keeping Lincoln owners moving effortlessly through the world, leaving them feeling uplifted, not depleted when they drive a Lincoln. Discover more at LincolnCanada.com.

CREDITS: Oversight by KATHERINE SCARROW; Photography by EDWIN TSE; Editing by ELIZABETH HOLLAND; Art direction and design by JEANINE BRITO; Development by KYLE YOUNG

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

Content from the Globe and Mail
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies