By Monica Khemsurov for DETAILS.
On the list of Canada's biggest exports -- Justin Bieber, maple syrup, Swedish Fish (yes, they're made in Ontario) -- design has never ranked particularly high. But that's about to change: Young Canucks are blazing a new trail, putting out work sophisticated enough to rival that of any European studio, then sending it our way thanks to big-name brands like Roll & Hill and retailers like The Future Perfect. Here, five of the best studios north of the border, each with a killer piece you'll want now, eh?
The Studio: Char Kennedy
THE DESIGNER: In elementary school, Vancouver-based Char Kennedy was "making high-heeled shoes from wooden blocks and duct tape because I wasn't allowed the real ones," she says. Now 23, she's coming up with inventive customizable chairs and tables in wood, leather, and marble.
THE PIECE TO OWN: Check out the slatted birch Bela coffee table (above) she co-created with classmates from design school. Short on space? No problem -- it folds completely flat. But unlike cheap card tables, this doesn't trade elegance for portability -- it looks just as good inside, outside, wherever you put it down. $686; charkennedy.com.
The Studio: Knauf and Brown
THE DESIGNERS: Vancouver duo Calen Knauf and Conrad Brown, both 31, are former skateboarding buddies who now design stripped-down chairs, tables, and lamps for compact spaces, plus T-shirt graphics and branding for companies like Adidas and Stussy.
THE PIECE TO OWN: Their Heavystock shelves, sold in black or white stackable modules (above). They'd been shopping for a simple, decent-looking TV stand, but good luck finding one -- they realized "the furniture industry had sort of left them to be designed by electronics companies," Knauf says. So they conceived these, which can sit low or high--like your toy blocks, but cooler. From $500; esaila.com.
The Studio: Andlight
THE DESIGNERS: Lukas Peet, 27, had already made a name for himself in the design world--working with Roll & Hill and the Danish brand Karakter -- when he joined forces with Caine Heintzman and Matt Davis to start this Vancouver lighting studio a little over a year ago. Furniture's fine, but these guys geek out over the effects of light on a room's temperature and atmosphere, while pushing the bounderies of both form and function. "With our LED pieces, people often ask where the lightbulb is," Peet says. "We sold a light to someone, sent it to him, and he sent us an e-mail, being like, 'Where's the lightbulb?,' thinking we forgot to add a light source to the fixture."
THE PIECE TO OWN: The Button 60 LED pendant light (above) looks like just that: a giant button hanging from your ceiling. And it's tiltable, so you can aim its glowing face in any direction--the epitome of the brand's simple-meets-techy vibe. For Peet, it's all about "the contrast between a large vast surface and a thin profile." From $2,150; andlight.ca.
The Studio: Mercury Bureau
THE DESIGNER: A geologist turned artist turned designer, Toronto's Shane Krepakevich, 35, offers up sculptural furnishings with intriguingly unconventional geometries -- lamps with diagonal floating bases, tables with laterally shifted legs. "I have a longstanding fascination with Russian Constructivism," he says.
THE PIECE TO OWN: Krepakevich staggered the legs of his first Pivot table (above) for expediency (to help support an extra-long, extra-heavy slab of reclaimed marble he'd found), then left them that way for aesthetic reasons when he started manufacturing the piece. $2,386; mercurybureau.com.
The Studio: Part & Whole
THE DESIGNER: Vancouver's Nathan Martell, 29, racked up experience at two of Canada's biggest furniture brands, Bensen and Molo. Now he's churning out his own sophisticated yet spartan tables and will add perforated-metal shelving, lighting, and a desk system to the lineup later this year, all modular and open-ended.
THE PIECE TO OWN: The Trunk tables (above; coffee and side) give an abstract but still functional update to a rustic Canadian mainstay--the solid woodblock table (typically made from chunks of native Douglas fir). Martell takes it, rounds the edges, and lets you store stuff inside. And for you design geeks out there, he's replaced the fir with the birch and oak plywood used in the iconic Eames Wire-Base table. "It was the first piece of real furniture I ever bought for myself," Martell notes. Starting at $725; partandwhole.com.
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