If you’re someone who can name a few furniture designers off the top of your head, you probably know the Eameses, or maybe Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen — two of the Scandinavian design gods of the 1950s. When it comes to shopping for tomorrow’s heirlooms, it’s easy to gravitate to the enduring icons dreamed up by that crowd. But it’s been 70 years since the midcentury modern seats we’re all still worshipping first hit the scene, and next to today’s offerings, they’re starting to look a bit, well, familiar.
To get with the times, turn your attention to the statement pieces of this current moment, arriving courtesy of some seriously promising new players who just so happen to all be Canadian. And we’re not the only ones who are impressed, either. After exhibiting at Italy’s Salone del Mobile furniture fair and Stockholm Design Week, in the homeland of Ikea, an emerging generation of young Canadian designers has amassed a global following by presenting a compelling vision of the home as a place of clean lines and expert craftsmanship, yes, but also fun personality.
“They’ve all reached the world stage,” agrees Nina Boccia, director of programs at Toronto’s Design Exchange museum, of the designers in our selected roster. “But there’s also still a sense of pride when someone asks you, ‘Where is that table from?’ and you tell them it’s by a Canadian. It shows that you care about what something’s story is.” With that in mind, now’s your chance to buy in before this crowd reaches Eames-level acclaim — because we’re confident we’ll still be talking about each of these talents with reverence some 70 years from now.
The tastefully polished creations of MSDS are not what you’d initially expect from a studio that gets its name from the brash manifesto “Make shit, design shit.” But, in keeping with the moxie of that mission statement, there’s a degree of exuberance built into each of Jonathan Sabine and Jessica Nakanishi’s products, too. No wonder the Toronto pair has earned commissions from so many of today’s coolest Scandinavian furniture brands. “We’ve had Swedes tell us our stuff looks more Swedish than theirs does,” jokes Sabine.
Take the Halves side table that MSDS launched last year with Danish manufacturer Muuto, for example. An arrangement of intersecting planes that are welded together, then grinded and polished to remove any hints of joinery, the piece has a grand, totemic sophistication. That said, it is also plenty playful, made from an acrylic stone composite that finds a middle ground between luxe terrazzo and retro Formica surfaces. “There’s a clear intent in their process,” observes Karen Kang, national director of Canada’s Interior Design Show. “They’re always looking to bring a new idea to the world.”
Credit the combination of Sabine and Nakanishi’s design backgrounds — in furniture making and interior design, respectively — for their thoughtful, all-sides-considered approach. Having achieved early success envisioning start-up Shopify’s Toronto headquarters and ping pong club Spin, the multidisciplinary pair has continued to merge work and play with their recent accessory and furniture introductions, which include a desk lamp, a tape dispenser, and a dapper, leather-cushioned daybed made contemporary by its unconventional legs, modelled after utilitarian sawhorse desk supports. “The legs add some complexity to what might otherwise be traditional,” says Nakanishi. Not so hip that it hurts, in other words, but just hip enough to impress Nordic aesthetes.
DAYBED ($3,930), THEMODERNSHOP.COM
Tables (Left, $415; Right, $535), THEMODERNSHOP.COM
LAMBERT ET FILS
Portrait by Arseni Khamzin
With its orderly arrangement of powder-coated steel bars and opaline glass bulbs, the Beaubien floor lamp by Montreal lighting studio Lambert et Fils looks like a complex circuit diagram brought to life. Which is to say, it’s a worthy testament to both the technical and the artistic chops of its designer, Samuel Lambert.
Lambert, who previously worked in film editing, first began to tinker with shades and sockets as an excuse to work with his hands. He soon transitioned from hobbyist into full-time luminary, opening a workshop that conceived a collection of original midcentury modern–style fixtures using salvaged antique lighting elements and, later, prefabricated parts. “It was a bit like trying to build a car out of Lego,” says Lambert of the limitations posed by those components. Even still, his creative compositions achieved an identity that transcended the sum of their parts.
The Laurent collection, defined by whimsical configurations of oversized globes fitted into thin metal discs, marked Lambert’s first foray into fully custom production. “It’s more complicated to build without constraints,” he admits. “But those designs come more from the heart.” The studio’s latest introduction is its most minimal yet. The Mile light, a collaboration with designer Guillaume Sasseville, joins together two powder-coated aluminum prisms — one directing its glow upwards to provide indirect illumination, and the other casting downwards to provide direct light. While it debuted at last year’s EuroLuce fair in Milan, the design remains a true product of Quebec, assembled by hand entirely in Montreal. “We’ve gone through fads with a lot of the brands we’ve carried,” notes Klaus Nienkamper, who represents Lambert et Fils at his Toronto showroom, Klaus. “But this really feels like honestly crafted design with presence that will be enduring.”
FLOOR LAMP ($3,415), klausn.com
PENDANT ($1,845), klausn.com
Portrait by Rodolfo Moraga
A master of eccentric geometric design, Zoë Mowat is a clear successor of the offbeat Memphis movement that rocked Italy in the ’80s. “She has a strong sense of form and colour that appeals to our current sensibilities, but is also rooted in references to the past,” notes Deborah Wang, artistic director of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival, at which Mowat exhibited several of her early designs.
Case in point: Mowat’s groovy, plywood-framed Ora mirror is bordered with curved pieces of marble, brass, and purple-painted wood. As with many of the Montreal-based designer’s shapely, artistic compositions, it could easily pass for a post-modern sculpture — if it didn’t make for such compelling furniture. “My mother is a sculptor, and I think she’s been the most influential in shaping my vision,” Mowat says. “But design requires that human component, too — it has a concern for experience.”
Mowat’s new Aziome wardrobe, designed for Japanese manufacturer Ariake, offers a more subtle take on her signature style. A rectangular, crimson-coloured door handle — obscured from certain angles by the black door pull to its right — pops against the piece’s indigo hues. “I added that hidden red lacquer handle to mimic an ethos that I reflected on during my time in Japan: that what’s significant is not always immediately evident,” says Mowat. It’s a philosophy that cuts to the very heart of her work — sculptural at first, but then, also, comfortably domestic.
Prices upon request, zoemowat.com
Allow Philippe Malouin to break it down plain and simple: the best designs look the least complicated. Just observe the Arca chandelier that the Montreal-born, London-based designer launched last year for New York manufacturer Matter, for instance. Comprised of little more than arced lines of blackened brass, it is nonetheless captivating. “His concepts push the envelope, testing manufacturing capabilities to see what they’re capable of,” notes Nina Boccia, director of programs at Toronto’s Design Exchange museum, which included a Malouin creation in a 2014 exhibition dedicated to geometry.
Sure enough, when you dig deeper, Malouin’s Arca light reveals itself to be the product of an elaborate design process: it’s inspired by a far more ornate chandelier discovered in a hotel designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Malouin assessed that design’s silhouette, then set to work making its tropical modernism more minimal — a lot more minimal. “I reduce and reduce and reduce,” he says, “until I’ve pared everything back.” The result, like a lot of the designer’s work, has a feeling of inevitability to it — evidence of Malouin’s skill at capturing and executing the very essence of an idea. “My look is almost undesigned design,” he says.
After moving to London to work for rockstar-turned-designer Tom Dixon, Malouin struck out on a solo career in 2009 — and quickly proved he has star power of his own. Last year, the expat beefed up his British credentials by designing for London brand SCP. His Group sofa, upholstered in speckled fabric designed by Raf Simons, resembles a team huddle translated into furniture — its wide, wraparound band of a backrest reaching out in an inviting embrace. Consider it a fitting gesture from a designer worth embracing wholeheartedly.
SOFA ($7,460), THE FUTURE PERFECT
$15,050 USD, Matter
FAN OF THE WOODS
Canadian woodworking that escapes log cabin clichés.
Linea Lounge Chair
A white oak seat by Jake Whillans with delicate detailing but a confident profile.
Heidi Earnshaw’s walnut cabinet is a showcase of perfect proportions.
Price upon request, heidiearnshawdesign.com
Coolican & Company’s black oak beauty begs to be stationed at the end of your bed.
Install above your dinner table and prepare for glowing reviews.
We dig the dark, moody glow from this combo of Plexiglass panels and aluminum tube.