If you’ve been biding your time until the moment that joy-sparking minimalism is declared over, furniture designer Troy Smith is right there with you. His decadent work is a worthy respite from the surge of Instagram prescribed simplicity. Smith’s pieces, from an iridescent glass coffee table inspired by Picasso to a tiger-striped velvet and brass lounger, are bold, playful and completely unique. Much like the designer himself, a Prairie boy turned bon vivant whose penchant for bright colours spans his work, home and wardrobe.
When I meet Smith on-set for this story’s photo shoot at his east-end Toronto showroom, a raw space cleverly tucked away in what seems like a perfectly art-directed version of a junk yard, he’s eagerly flicking through the racks of primary-hued attire that’s been selected for him to wear. His eye catches a canary corduroy Sies Marjan leisure suit and a cherry red number by Valentino that perfectly matches his crushed velvet sofa. “We have to use this!” he exclaims. “We have eyes that are able to see colour and yet we shy away from it sometimes,” he says.
Earlier that week, Smith and I had been chatting about his proclivity for kaleidoscopic hues. “It’s funny, everyone says they love colour, but when you go into people’s houses, where’s the colour? Where’s the life?” he says.
Smith’s whimsical furniture aims to make interiors feel special, albeit at a hefty price tag. Case in point, his Wave Bed is a Gaudi-esque dream of undulating African bubinga wood, yellow crocodile upholstery, honey onyx night stands and solid brass accents. “It’s pure fantasy, but it’s functional too,” he says. “I rarely do anything sharp edged.” The art deco-inspired Iris Lounge Chair is similarly lush, featuring plush velvet upholstery that sits atop a swivelling golden platform.
Smith refers to his work as timeless, but I can’t help but see shades of the Memphis Group, the 1980s Italian design collective founded by Ettore Sottsass, in his pieces (think Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but built for more upper-crust interiors). They’re hella Instagram friendly too. Take, for instance, the Holy Mirror coffee table, which features a digitally printed and circular laser-cut surface placed between two pieces of thick Starphire glass. "When I design, I’m going for something that you’ve never seen before, and you probably won’t see again,” he says.
Smith can’t pinpoint his inspirations (“It’s almost like a sixth sense,” he says) and he follows a fairly streamlined design process, which goes from pencil sketching to CAD drawing to 3-D rendering and finally, prototyping. Incredibly, it’s all self-taught. Hailing from a family of builders in Winnipeg, he learned everything from foundation to finishing while working his way up in construction. In 2007, he moved to Toronto to start his own company, which specialized in renovations and fine details. “I didn’t grow up in a family of artists, but maybe someone else would consider a good home builder an artist,” he says.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Smith began dreaming up his first collection: seven sculptural pieces made from rebar, the reinforcing steel bar that typically holds concrete structures together. In his pieces, however, it was exposed, painted and manipulated into all kinds of wild, curvilinear shapes. The collection featured a Macassar ebony and glass writing desk, which sits atop a violet rebar base and a double-sided mirror on a solid loblolly pine base, which is wrapped in an electric green rebar frame. “Although it’s a simple material, it’s not so easy to work with. It’s very difficult because of course, it was one-inch thick and needed to be red hot to be bent into shape,” he says.
He produced the pieces locally, entered them into the Interior Design Show in Toronto and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, and his designs were soon snapped up by international decor juggernauts such as 1stDibs and Decaso. Today, you can find one of his rebar lamps in the office of Arianna Huffington’s wellness startup, Thrive Global, and in a growing number of swish living spaces.
The international attention has been just right for Smith, who has long dreamed of living overseas. “I’ve always pictured myself in a beautiful villa in Europe and just living a jet-set lifestyle, going from one interesting locale to the next,” he says. Today, he’s doing the next best thing by producing his pieces in Portugal, Italy and the U.S. “In Europe, old world artisans who specialize in fine detailing and luxury still exist,” he says. Since each piece is made to order, exotic materials can be interchanged based off each client’s desires. Being on-site also acts as a source of inspiration for the designer, who cites travel as his greatest pastime.
One day, he hopes to relocate somewhere closer to a hub of design. “I didn’t choose this profession, let me tell you. Especially when you’re from Canada, it’s a long journey,” he says. “It was like it was always innate in me. I just didn’t know it.”
Styling by Alon Freeman for Judy Inc. Grooming by Taylor Savage. Prop styling by Kyle Michael Murray for P1M.ca. Styling assistant: Frankie Gerofsky.