Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Show your stuff: Three designers on how they’d display your most prized things

We all know the benefits of de-cluttering. But certain possessions deserve pride of place. Marsha Lederman talks to three innovative Vancouver designers who put their knick-knacks front and centre

(Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)

The average British adult owns 200 books, I read recently. Another survey out this year suggests the average American woman owns 18 pairs of underwear. I exceed expectations: I have several hundred books (occupational hazard), hundreds of CDs and enough underwear to get me through a two-month washing machine breakdown.

You probably have a lot of stuff, too. And chances are you are about to get a lot more of it. Even as I write this, there are little elves up north making it.

We are constantly being instructed to de-clutter; to free ourselves from our possessions – and thus make our spaces airier, our lives lighter. It can be enormously satisfying to get rid of things we don’t really need. Yet, there is great comfort in being surrounded by things we love – books, our music collection, the beautiful things we’ve collected over the years; even questionable knick-knacks that hold significant meaning. Why not embrace the possessions we have? Enough with hiding things away in Rubbermaid bins or trucking it to a storage locker. Here, three Vancouver designers show us how to display our stuff in unique ways.

(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Peter Van der Grient’s Cellos

“My wife calls me the alchemist of junk,” says Peter Van der Grient. The artist has turned an old hospital gurney into a dining-room table and made bookshelves using salvaged gas pipe. Van der Grient believes we are too quick to part with old treasures, and as an example, picks up a 1920s hot water jug he inherited from his ex-wife’s great-grandmother in Montreal – many years after the divorce. These are the kinds of items, Van der Grient laments, that are too easily discarded. “It’s [considered] clutter. And to me it’s cherished parts of our history.”

The project that caught my eye (during November’s Eastside Culture Crawl in Vancouver) concerns cellos. When Van der Grient found two abandoned cellos on top of the dumpster behind his Vancouver building of artists’ studios, he took them in, and tracked down the person who had thrown them out – someone, it turns out, who repairs instruments for a children’s music academy. Now cellos that are too damaged to be fixed wind up with Van der Grient, who transforms them into umbrella stands and decorative wall shelves (which he sells for $250). The cello shelves – made of wood or Plexiglass – are built to hold small, delicate items. “Anything fragile and valuable; things that you would like to maybe not scream at [people] but subtly whisper that they’re something special,” says Van der Grient.

There’s also space on the bottom to dump your cell phone, wallet, change – any contents from your pocket. Or you can rest something in the cello’s flip dip up top. In one version, he’s affixed strong magnets to the fingerboard for keys. So when it’s time to leave the house, it’s easy to find the items you need; they’re sharing space with small gems that might otherwise have been stashed away and forgotten – or worse, tossed out. Van der Grient’s cellos sell for $250.

(Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)

Casika Modern’s Free Span

“We never really have enough storage,” says Peter Chen, who knows this firsthand – he collects design and architectural magazines. “We all look at beautiful magazine shots of homes that tend to be large and spacious and devoid of life, really. ... They celebrate the affluent.”

For the rest of us, Chen aims to make striking furniture with a modern minimalist aesthetic that is also functional.

Inspired by geography – specifically stalactites – Chen has created a smart, gorgeous shelving system, with dividers that slide across tracks suspended from the top of each shelf, creating easily adjustable bookends that also work wonders for magazines (sturdy mags with flat spines, like Canadian Art, look terrific – but the system also works wonders for the stack of New Yorkers sliding off your bedside table). Because you can easily adjust the tracks, books won’t tip over and magazines won’t sag if you take something out to read. And the reading material can be displayed alongside valued objects in a way that doesn’t look cluttered and is easy to change up.

On the subject of ease, Free Span is made up of modular interchangeable components that stack together without tools, fitting together like a puzzle – each piece is interlocked front to back and side to side. (Imagine the domestic battles that won’t erupt as you put it together.) The system, made with laminated veneer lumber is also reconfigurable – you can turn two planks into a bench, for instance; and you can add buy more elements later. Free Span, which can be custom built, ranges from $4,500 to $6,000.

(John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Steidle Woodworking’s LP and EP Cases

James Steidle has been collecting records since he was a teenager. “Before LPs were cool, I kind of always had a thing for them,” says Steidle, who grew up in Prince George, where he started carving at the age of three. Steidle figures he at one point had about 2,000 LPs at one point – a vinyl collection he has since pared down to about 200 (too many moves). There was a time when they fit perfectly into milk crates but the switch to metric changed that. So Steidle built his own storage solutions, often from reclaimed wood, for LPs and EPs with stackable and nestable wood crates, as well as stripey wooden cases that latch and have handles. (The cases are not only beautiful, but also practical if you want to hide your records away from a cat that likes to scratch itself on record spines, notes Steidle, from experience.)

Steidle went from hobbyist to full-time woodworker after creating a wooden carrying case for artists who sketch en plein air. He then started making beehives and cutting boards – and really struck a note with the record cases. The crates ($135) have become a favourite of DJs and the cases ($135 for EPs; $150 for LPs) have been shipped off to various high-rent addresses in Beverly Hills and on Park Avenue. He’s also sold them to Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.

“I think people are fed up with mass-produced garbage, basically that you pay a nickel for and throw it out,” he explains in his sprawling East Vancouver woodshop. “I think there’s a real demand for things that are long-lasting, that are built to last, that I guess have some kind of meaning to them.”

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to