Cabin Fever

Canadian designer Cynthia Hathaway talks about designing her Memory Wallpaper.

Cynthia Hathaway was invited by Mother (, a collaborative firm of Canadian product and graphic designers, to submit a design proposal for an exhibition on one of Canada’s most enduring icons, the cabin. She came up with Memory Wallpaper, which looks like fake wood but “comes full of surprises.” The wallpaper was first shown in the traveling exhibition Cabin, which debuted at Tokyo Designers Block last October. The idea behind the show, which included products and prototypes such as a cork tablecloth, a T-shirt logo quilt, and a cedar table, was to not only explore the stereotype of being Canadian but also reflect on the Canadian spirit. Recently Hathaway spoke to Metropolis about her wallpaper.


The wallpaper is a photographic image of fake wood. I like taking existing things and transforming them into something else. Why do we have to always be inventing new things if it’s not necessary?

The different motifs include images of things like a cuckoo clock, an oil lamp, a spoon collection, canoe oars, or a Royal Canadian Mounted Police ceramic souvenir of a Mountie on a horse—things that are “cabinesque.”

A cuckoo clock isn’t necessarily Canadian. It’s more geared to the cabin idea. In a way the objects become Canadian when placed in a cabin. It’s difficult to define what being Canadian is. I think it can be a gathering of these different objects that might come from all over the place that we bring together and enjoy in one space.

The white cutouts are a blank, an opening. I’m always interested in two things going on at the same time. It’s wasteful to forget our past. There’s no point in wiping the slate clean when we can still use the past. Sometimes we’ve got to let the past shine through.

Once I figured out the idea for the wallpaper and an easy way of producing it, I went to a decal cutter who uses machinery that normally cuts letters and asked him to put this material through his machinery. They had never done wallpaper before, but it worked out well. I like to ask people to try something new.

It’s named Memory Wallpaper because it has to do with nostalgia. You can apply the paper over old wallpaper and let the old paper show through. The layers of time are exposed through these outlines. At one point I thought of calling it Cabin Fever, but I decided that name didn’t bring up this element of layers of time enough. Memory Wallpaper has a slower tone, with the idea that you take your time thinking of these things.

I came up with this idea that the cabin is part of a nostalgic dream about being Canadian. I wanted to bring the idea of a cabin into your life. I’ve never been fortunate enough to have a cabin in my life, and this is a way to bring it to me and to others who know all about it, and at the same time make offices, for example, more cozy places.

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