Skip to main content

Michael Prokopow in his Toronto home, on Dec. 6, 2018.

Michelle Siu/Globe and Mail

Michael Prokopow likes stuff – and he thinks about it a lot. A cultural historian and curator, he’s also a stuff expert and aficionado (of sorts), teaching courses at OCAD University on topics in material culture: the context in which objects are made and how and why we get attached to them. “It may not be that the person loves the rocking chair, but they love that it belonged to Aunt Mary,” says Prokopow. “I feel very fortunate in my life, that something I actually love – namely, stuff – I get to have as my professional engagement.”

In his Toronto loft, in the heart of vibrant Kensington Market, Prokopow gathers furnishings and artworks, distinguishing little between categories. “Every human-made object, whether art or not, is about expression. How do ideas get put into material form?” he asks. “In essence, the furniture is of the same ilk as the artwork,” whether modernist, postmodernist or contemporary, whether traditionally useful, like a chair, or beautiful, like a painting or sculpture. “Yes, it’s eclectic, it’s quirky, it’s my taste,” he says. Decor, contends Prokopow, gives a glimpse into character. “I am my things.”

Favourite room: How a raccoon-infested garage became an artful home office

Prokopow’s thoughtful preoccupations are revealed through his collection: a paint-dipped globe by Douglas Coupland that comments on ecological degradation; an airport runway sign-inspired lightbox by An Te Liu, built to the exacting standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization; a somewhat figural sculpture by Jérôme Havre, minus any specifying identifiers; a hanging textile by Omar Badrin, raised in Newfoundland, using the techniques of fish-net weaving, to wear or get caught in; a large canvas by Emmy Skensved that makes difficult reading of the sentence “I did this painting for you.” And then, a table by Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia wire chairs, and a recliner and ottoman by Hans Wegner, all modern masterpieces of a different variety.

Story continues below advertisement

In his early life, while still in school at the University of Victoria, Prokopow worked in an antique store and was “amazed at the array of things that human societies produced,” he says. Initially drawn to historical styles, his tastes evolved toward an appreciation of modern forms, “where function is retained and decoration is removed, and the stripping away of detail gets to the essence.” But just as modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames, in their own, well-documented home, eventually pivoted away from minimal furnishings to include Mexican pottery and richly textured tapestries, Prokopow continues to tweak his personal style. “I’m interested in colour, I like biomorphic shapes, I like modern architectonic objects. I bring things into the space all the time,” he says.

Certainly, stuff has meaning, but also ramifications. Prokopow reflects on a recent exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario featuring photographic and video works by Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, depicting the end result and impact of advanced capitalism, mass production and consumption. “I love things, but it’s a Faustian bargain,” he says. “We can get caught up in their beauty, fetishizing them and the status they afford us, but they come at a cost. We are getting to the tipping point.” This is why Prokopow advocates thrift store shopping to his students – and practises what he preaches. Having already been through the cycle once, vintage items remain useful, oftentimes beautiful, even if anonymously designed and previously worked in. “That old spatula you buy for 49 cents at Value Village can still flip eggs as effectively as the one from Williams-Sonoma,” he says.

Get the Look

HANDOUT

Leaders of Men by An Te Liu, price upon request at Anat Ebgi.

Black Eye by Omar Badrin, $120 at Birch Contemporary.

Large walnut and chrome oval table by Florence Knoll for Knoll, $7,305.10 at 1stdibs.

Harry Bertoia Italian steel wire side chair with red cushion, $846.61 at 1stdibs.

Triangle teak side table, $295 at Guff Furniture.

Story continues below advertisement

Visit tgam.ca/newsletters to sign up for the weekly Style newsletter, your guide to fashion, design, entertaining, shopping and living well. And follow us on Instagram @globestyle.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies