When architects Katy Chey and Javier Viteri can't find furniture to fill their living room, they take matters into their own hands
Katy Chey and Javier Viteri, both Toronto-based architects, have scale models of every apartment they've ever lived in. They are mementos, but also tools for envisioning changes and additions. "Homes evolve," says Chey, who's also an educator and author of the book Multi-Unit Housing in Urban Cities: From 1800 to Present Day.
The couple's current space, an L-shaped, window-walled condo in the city's downtown core, is a work-in-progress as evidenced by a full-size cardboard mock-up of a coffee table they are designing to custom fit their needs and the space. The first prototype built was standard size. "It was huge," Viteri says. "Then we built another one. We chopped the height, then the width." But the true test is living with a piece of furniture. "That's how we came up with the size," says Chey, laughing, "because we were nicking it all the time."
The coffee table's not the couple's first foray into custom-built furniture. In their last home, Chey and Viteri wanted a statement piece that linked the living and dining spaces and served multiple functions. "We decided to use a piece of furniture as a way of combining the spaces. We designed a table, because we needed one, and then we needed seating in the living room," Chey says. The combo dining table and bench, in American black walnut, is elegant in its simplicity but was an exercise in iteration. "We had a table of tables," she says, speaking of the 30-or-so balsa wood models they constructed before approaching a fabricator to realize the final product, now available for purchase from manufacturer Speke Klein.
The ambitious pair don't construct all their furniture from scratch, but are on a constant look-out for special pieces that fill a need or add a story. Their mid-century teak credenza was a recent buy from Guff Furniture in Toronto and the Noguchi Akari light sculpture was something they'd been eyeing since they were architecture students in New York City. They finally splurged, purchasing the paper and wood floor lamp from Gabriel Ross in Victoria. Die-cut felt cushions from local textile designer Bev Hisey add a pop of colour and introduce another personality into the mix. "We just loved that she's such a maker," Chey says of Hisey. "The intention was to get one cushion and we came back with three because they look so nice together."
But not all of their finds have come easy and many of their experiments have required work (and re-work). The dining room chairs, made in the 1950s in Quebec, which Chey "liberated from the recycling bin," she says, were reupholstered and re-reupholstered after Viteri didn't love the initial fabric selection. And the Lindsey Adelman do-it-yourself light fixture that hangs above the dining table was a strenuous three weeks in the making. Another chandelier, purchased originally in Italy by Viteri's parents, which travelled from Guayaquil on Ecuador's coast, via Quito (where his parents live) to Toronto in a suitcase, had to be painstakingly cleaned, rewired and assembled. Eschewing new replacement parts, Chey and Viteri tried to use the original nuts, knobs and caps. "They're Italian screws!" Chey says. "Half the fun is taking it apart, cleaning it, putting it back together."
Even their latest project, the coffee table, is a labour, though a loving one. "In a way, we wanted to find it," Viteri says. Chey adds: "We didn't want to make it, we wanted to buy it." But for a couple of hands-on architects, if they seek and do not find, there's always Plan B – build it.
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