May 1, 2008
A Canadian Offensive
One enterprising designer aims to push his countrymen into the limelight.
Canadian furniture designers have been playing catch-up with their international peers for years—but one Winnipeg-based enthusiast is hoping to bring their work to the fore. “We maintain this attitude in Canada that design has to come from Italy or Sweden or somewhere else,” says Tim Borys, founder of the new furniture company HutJ. “The only reason that’s true is that nobody makes the stuff in Canada. It’s not for lack of design talent or schools that are doing the right thing.”
Borys decided to take matters into his own hands when he realized that designers were not only having difficulty putting concepts into production, they were even having trouble getting prototypes made. “It’s hard,” Winnipeg designer Matthew Kroeker says. “You can’t just get Acme Woodworks to make something, because the pieces are complicated.” As the owner of a small wood shop with a degree in architecture from the University of Manitoba, Borys figured he was in a unique position to help. When Kroeker called for assistance with a new lamp prototype in late 2006, Borys asked if he could make it the first production piece for his new company.
Since introducing the Saw lamp, Borys has cherry-picked a few other designs to put into production, including the Marisa side chair, by Toronto designer Stuart McQuarrie, and Kroeker’s Camila rocker. When HutJ arrives at the ICFF for the first time this month, it will have more pieces to show. Shaft lights by Craig Alun Smith consist of square acrylic tubes wrapped in wood veneer with a bulb inside—when turned off, they look like lumber; when on, they glow from within. A new television stand by Kroeker has a front “door” made of cable: the design allows infrared remote-control signals to pass right through, and the cables can be loosened off to provide access to components inside. “If someone like Tim wasn’t there, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t go past the 3-D model,” Kroeker says.
One peculiar addition to HutJ’s collection is a reissue of the Winnipeg chair, a sculptural seat originally designed by Canadian architect A. J. Donahue in the late 1940s. It reflects Borys’s other mission—rediscovering forgotten gems of Canadian design. “I would like to dig some of those things up,” Borys says. “And I just love the idea of putting these young designers up beside designers from fifty years ago.”
Borys asks people not to discount the Winnipeg chair just because it bears some resemblance to George Nelson’s Coconut chair—which actually wasn’t introduced until much later, in 1955. “That’s a classic Canadian story. Here’s a great design that gets swept under the rug and then it gets knocked off five years later,” Borys says, before remembering his Canadian manners. “I’ll be careful where I push that story. I don’t want to offend anyone.”