Design of the times
Toronto Design Offsite Festival's Deborah Wang embraces local creators through the art and objects in her Victorian home
For Deborah Wang, an architect and artistic director of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TO DO), design is something practised and preached on the street: The festival (running from Jan. 15 to 21 this year) gathers more than 100 exhibitions and events across the city under its banner. But it's also the approach she takes at her home, in her west end Toronto semi-detached Victorian.
"The idea that it's from a place and made and designed by someone, I think that's definitely part of a value system," Wang says of her aesthetic, reflected in the dining room, which is stocked with items and artworks both locally made and purchased, along with other, carefully selected, but more broadly available furnishings.
Wang and partner William Elsworthy, also an architect, prioritized the dining room when embarking on a recent renovation, which saw the house consolidated back into a single-family home from two separate apartments. "I've always wanted a really big table," Wang says of the Stockholm Collection IKEA table that's central to the room. "It works if you want to have a lot of people over for dinner or gatherings, but otherwise, it gives you a lot of space to work with."
That big expanse, for Wang, represents the freedom of multiple functions and she aims to keep it clear and at the ready for unfurling large-format drawings, impromptu meetings with festival colleagues, or cracking into one of the art or architecture tomes that flank the table. "Will's mom is a retired librarian, and Will used to work at the library when he was in high school," Wang says. Thus, the library's loose Dewey Decimal organization and the "edging" technique that brings the spines neatly to the front edge of the IKEA shelving system for easier browsing: tricks of the trade.
A George Nelson Saucer Pendant Lamp, from Design Within Reach, and a Carrie Portable LED lamp by Menu, purchased online from Ottawa-based the Modern Shop, provide ample light to read or dine by. Meanwhile Shaker-style Salt Chairs by Ton (also from DWR) in a painted grey finish offer stylish seating at a reasonable price point – an important factor, Wang says, when you need eight of them.
Beyond these larger, space-defining items, a closer look reveals design objects and artworks collected over the years, many from TO DO festival contributors. A photograph by Scott Norsworthy, titled Marmora Ironworks, was featured in an exhibition co-curated by Wang for TO DO 2015 and a photographic painting by artist Jérôme Nadeau that uses chromogenic dyes on unprocessed paper appeared in a show that Wang participated in (she used her artist fee to purchase it). Delicate, geometric porcelain vessels by Alissa Coe and Kristen Lim Tung, local ceramicists whose works are available at Toronto design HQs Mjolk and Made, a tippy vase by Lucy Pelletier, purchased at Flùr, and Wang's own plaster objects, cast in soil and mylar for her architectural thesis, show the designer's predilection for the handmade, the locally purchased and the personally meaningful.
And just as Wang's dining room serves as a de facto gallery for these functional and beautiful objects, TO DO provides a platform for designers to show their work on a city-wide scale. With events, talks, exhibitions, studio tours and window installations, festival-goers can dip a toe or take the full plunge, immersing themselves in everything the week has to offer.
Now in its eighth year, TO DO has maintained its grassroots feeling, which Wang says is a function of its decentralized nature and the makeup and motivations of the team. "Most of us are either designers or arts administrators or artists," Wang says. "So, it's by the people for the people, or by designers for designers – that's definitely true."
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