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Come Up To My Room: a design event unlike any other

Intricate patterns are a hallmark of Mexican-born, Toronto-based designer Ricky Sosa’s work, including this beaded resin skull from his Come Up To My Room project Revolucionario.

How exactly do I incorporate cabinet maker DB Johnson's man-sized bird's nest into my own bedroom's decor? What colour should I paint my walls to complement those pulsating red balloons that Leuwebb Projects has suspended in the ballroom? And how much should I set aside in my reno budget to have Allyson Mitchell knit up a wool afghan large enough to wallpaper the den?

These aren't the sorts of practical questions one generally asks when wandering through Toronto's 125-year-old Gladstone Hotel during its annual alternative-design event, Come Up To My Room. As the highlights from past exhibitions above illustrate, practicality is often the last thing on the minds of the motley crew of artists, architects and other creative interior types who reinvent the west-end landmark's rooms and public spaces every January to create an experimental – and, often, craft-focused – counterpoint to the more commercial design-week happenings around town.

It's a quirky approach that works. In fact, it has worked so well that, for the first time since CUTMR launched in 2004 as a weekend-long show concentrated on the Gladstone's second floor, the event has expanded to last 10 days (2015's opening night is on Jan. 16) and take over all four floors of the building.

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"People have been asking us to expand the show for years but we were always a bit hesitant because part of the magic of the show is its temporal quality," says CUTMR co-founder Christina Zeidler. Attendance growth (between 5,000 and 6,000 people visit every year) is what finally encouraged organizers to extend its run and scale, although its mandate remains the same. "Come Up To My Room was the first offsite [event] that responded to the Interior Design Show in Toronto," Zeidler says. "We still hold a very unique space as the only venue that shows site-specific installations and blurs the lines between art and design."

Advance details about what those installations will look like are always scarce – even the curators, who select participants based on their body of work, often experience exhibits for the first time as they're being mounted – but early buzz suggests a space outfitted with a laser harp that can be played by the audience and a project by artist Alexandra Mackenzie (aka psychedelic songstress Petra Glynt) to be unveiled at the blowout Love Design Party on Jan. 24 will both steal lots of alt-design thunder.

That party and an expanded program of social events, from talks to music performances, are essential to CUTMR's success.

"So much about design in this day and age is the social integration and collaboration with music, tradition, history, learning and participation," says one of the 2015 event's curators, Jaclyn Blumas. "The Gladstone has always been a meeting spot for travellers, eclectic individuals and artists … and we're conscious about maintaining the expression of the hotel when it comes to executing an exhibition."

"What is so unique about the show is that it gives people a chance to ask the artist/designer directly, 'What is that?' 'Why did you make it?' " Zeidler says. "The format of Come Up To My Room takes the intimidation out of art and design and replaces it with wonder."

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