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Design

Small studios generating big buzz

From a master in the art of concrete in the West to the maker of elegant sculptural forms in Quebec, Globe Life shines a light on six small studios

Jerad Mack and Shane Pawluk met while working on a construction project in Cuba, and decided to give furniture making a go despite not having any formal training in design.

With an abundance of big international brands, it’s easy to overlook small design studios that epitomize the notion of Canadian craftsmanship. Operating independently in Canada means working with small production runs and made-to-order pieces that are often handmade by the designers themselves, without compromising innovation. Globe Life shines a light on six small studios currently generating buzz on the Canadian design scene, from a master in the art of concrete in the West to the maker of elegant sculptural forms in Quebec.

STEVEN POLLOCK, Vancouver

Thirteen years ago, Steven Pollock left a lucrative career in global telecommunications and began a new one, inspired by his lifelong love of concrete. “My heart was not there, and I knew corporate life was not for me no matter how good I was at it,” says the Vancouver-based designer behind Woodstone Design. His gamble paid off. Pollock has mastered the art of concrete with profound elegance, combining it with wood and steel to craft beautiful furniture, often pushing the boundaries of the material. His most recent, gravity-defining design, the Cantilever Table is a perfect example of this. “It utilized the weight of concrete,” explains Pollock. He has no regrets leaving the corporate world in pursuit of his passion and the rewards that come with that. “[I love] meeting new people and creating something that has a meaningful impact on their lives.” woodstonedesign.ca

A mezzo side table. Sholto Scruton works with a variety of building materials on both indoor and outdoor furniture, collaborating with designers on custom one-of-a-kind pieces.

SHOLTO SCRUTON, Vancouver

Sholto Scruton spent a decade honing his skills at Vancouver’s top design studios before striking out on his own with Sholto Design Studio, which he incorporated in 2012. “I knew a decade before I started, that in order to make the type of uncompromising furniture I [wanted], I would likely have to do it myself,” says Scruton, who obtained his master’s degree in industrial design at Manchester Metropolitan University. The award-winning designer works with a variety of building materials on both indoor and outdoor furniture, collaborating with architects and interior designers on custom one-of-a-kind pieces. He is currently creating a grand dining table for the Canadian High Commission in Tanzania, and stainless-steel outdoor picnic sets for the new observatory at Simon Fraser University. In 2014, he introduced his bespoke Emerald collection of handmade cabinets and tables. “I love how personal furniture is and being able to create things I know my customers will love and use for a long time.” sholto.ca

JERAD MACK AND SHANE PAWLUK, Edmonton

The Prairie landscape plays a key role in Jerad Mack and Shane Pawluk’s designs, instantly recognizable for their robust horizontality. The duo behind Edmonton-based Izm met while working on a construction project in Cuba, and decided to give furniture making a go despite not having any formal training in design. It turns out they were fine without it, although Pawluk admits that “taking some business and marketing classes would probably have been wise.” Since incorporating in 2004, Izm has produced an impressive catalogue of handcrafted wood furniture, most notably the Iconoclast table, much loved by industry professionals across Canada. Knowing their work has meaning and longevity makes the stress of running a small business worth it. “Taking a raw product and turning it into something that is not only functional but aesthetically pleasing, and will most likely be around after you die, is very very rewarding,” Pawluk says. izm.ca

A marcel chest. Matthew Kroeker juggles his own studio as well as Top & Derby, a company he co-founded in 2013 whose aim is to diminish the stigma of disability through design.

MATTHEW KROEKER, Winnipeg

“I love that each and every project brings something to the table that’s new and unexpected,” says Matthew Kroeker when asked what appeals to him about his job. “It’s always a challenge and a chance to learn and grow as a designer.” The Winnipeg-based Kroeker juggles his own studio as well as Top & Derby, a company he co-founded whose aim is to diminish the stigma of disability through design. He launched the former in 2004 and the latter in 2013. The past couple of years have been triumphant for the Ontario College of Art and Design-trained Kroeker. In 2014, Top & Derby received an IDEA Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America for the design of the Chatfield walking cane, and last year he took part in EQ3’s celebrated Assembly collection, with his fresh take on the iconic Windsor chair. The project also reinvigorated his love of furniture design. “It was great to again be working on some interesting furniture pieces in parallel with a group of other talented designers.” matthewkroeker.com

A hella writing desk. Djuna Day specializes in custom art and design commissions for clients across Canada.

DJUNA DAY, Toronto

Djuna Day has been building furniture for almost two decades. After earning a liberal arts degree from New York University, she joined legendary designer Dakota Jackson in his Long Island City workshop, where she perfected her skills. Working under her own name since 2009, Day specializes in custom art and design commissions for clients across Canada. It’s a collaborative process she cherishes. The designer recently spent eight weeks with a client building a 1940s French art deco-style dressing table for his wife. “It was fantastic to have a client who cared so much for the details. Design is all in the details,” Day says. The designer also has a small selection of made-to-order customizable pieces such as the Catalan-inspired Barcelona Sideboard, and the small spaces-friendly Hella Writing Desk. Custom or bespoke, she believes in the power of good design. “Thoughtfully made furniture can change the routines of our lives in profound ways.” djunadaystudio.com

An ora mirror. Zoë Mowat started her studio in 2010 and has since exhibited her work throughout North America, recently crossing the Atlantic for the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair’s critically acclaimed group exhibit honouring the influence of Shaker furniture.

ZOË MOWAT, Montreal

With their sculptural compositions and unexpected colour combinations, Zoë Mowat’s elegant designs demand attention in every space they find themselves. Montreal-based, University of Alberta industrial design grad started her studio in 2010 and has since exhibited her work throughout North America, recently crossing the Atlantic for the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair’s critically acclaimed group exhibit honouring the influence of Shaker furniture. “I enjoy and seek out opportunities to create a new work for a particular context or exhibition, one with a specific brief, theme, or constraint that can allow me to explore new ways of working and thinking,” says Mowat who has generated a substantial body of work of limited-run objects. Most commercially, she also took part in EQ3’s Assembly collection, with the sculptural Dressing Table, rendered in glass, steel, and lacquered MDF. Mowat’s offbeat designs often look like complex puzzles that have been solved. “What I enjoy most about design is the process – essentially all the steps, from the first brief to the final output, that are specific to a project,” she says. zoemowat.com

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