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2013-2015: The Modern Age

Looking back on the stores, designers and trends that made the news during a few of our earliest years as a publication

By Tory Healy

Fifteen years ago, our sister magazine Azure identified a growing appetite in Toronto for the sort of furniture it featured on its glossy pages. Our publisher regularly fielded queries, and not just from aficionados. Designlines was launched in 2001 to answer those questions. This is part five of our retrospective. For more trips down memory lane, check out parts one, two, three and four.

2013: Perfect Decision

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i. DL-15Years-2013-InnerGlow ii.  DL-15Years-2013-KhaiFoo iii. DL-15Years-2013-Instabunkie

DL physically changes, again. Our publisher replaces the tabloid-esque saddle-stitch (staples along the spine) with magazine-proper perfect binding. And with new fastener came new fascinations.

Early in the year, we featured an Annex home by Dubbeldam Architects [i.] and I clearly recall my visit to scout it. Called Through House, every detail was crisp and precise, with all surfaces guiding the eye out to the garden. After peeking at how the owner lined up condiments, cooking tools, toothpaste, toothbrush, pencils in cupboards and drawers – he’s an internist, it turns out – I understood why all the details were so exacting. Serenity for him meant coming home to a meticulously organized space where he could retreat to an orderly backyard. He had met his match in Heather Dubbledam; even giving her carte blanche. Well-known for her precision, this design really could have been called Thorough House.

What followed this surprise was an annual obsession: how to refresh the design of our yearly neighbourhood shopping Guide. I decided to put the spotlight on the talents working in this city, often unnoticed. We profiled designers and makers in the neighbourhood chapters depending on where their work was sold. For instance, our photo of Deborah Moss and Edward Lam seated on their polar bear-shaped stools was slotted into Queen East, where carrier Avenue Road is located. The eight portraits were shot in two days and some were certainly easier than others. By the look of Khai Foo’s smile you’d never guess it took several stressful minutes and three men to cart his 113-kilogram Corten fire pit [ii.] up a flight of cramped, crooked stairs.

Other challenging creative highlights in 2013 included portraying the raw material and final product of master 3D printers Hot Pop Factory cook book-style, racing to introduce The Bunkie Co.’s prefab cottage designs [iii.], and producing probably my second most nerve-wracking photo essay ever: three spreads of dinnerware. I’ll never forget being crammed into stylist Alanna Davey’s truck, surrounded by and covered in boxes of hundreds of valuable and breakable accessories, and hearing her say “Breathe, Tory.” I did, and I then laughed. Because it always does work out in the end.

2014: By the Droves

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i. DL-15Years-2014-JTong ii. DL-15Years-2015-Munny iii. DL-15Years-2014-1925

“It practically writes itself” is a sarcastic little quip editors sometimes say, sometimes referring to a story that appears (to others) to be a breeze to put together. More often than not, stories are not breezy or easy or done on auto pilot. In fact, until key pieces gel, story-making can be sweat-inducing. So to have an entire year of fodder basically hand itself over to you and say “write me” is really rare. To be sure 2014 had its challenges but it goes down as one of my favourite years: every issue is jammed with incredible talent that just happened to be ready for the taking.

We kick the year off with another of our This Creative City issues and the man gracing the cover in bright yellow pants and a confidant gaze says it all. This is John Tong [i.] and inside we uncover how the longtime architect with a brand new, daring practice is poised to take on Toronto’s design scene. Following this is a look at how product gurus Matt Carr (design director of Umbra) and Joyce Lo (co-director of Drake) built themselves a family home, and how they dressed it. And after this is a series of profiles, including Rob Southcott, Markoo and, quite a coop for me, Kwest. This issue was dubbed in-house as “the stalwart issue”.

Next up is our Guide issue and I was determined to have as many cover options as possible. So we treated eight showrooms in eight parts of town as though they were models. They were to be themselves but also represent their neighbourhood. Some required primping, others nothing at all. Case in point: Hollace Cluny. With that scroll of wallpaper perfectly mimicking our colour-coded cover tabs it was pretty much a point and shoot scenario. Photographer Naomi Finlay had it easy that time and so our End Note story would prove to be trickier. To capture Team Macho’s giant, ink-spouting toy Munny [ii.], she would have to climb into its display case at the Design Exchange.

The rest of the year continues to be a timely rollout of the best. We photographed ceramicist Grace Eun Mi Lee with her mini monsters just ahead of the birth of her daughter, we caught up with Vanhawks just as it as wrapping up its hugely successful Kickstarter campaign (have you see their fibre-carbon Valour bike?) and slid into the lives of 1925 Workbench, master crafters of modern barn doors (hardware included) [iii.]. On the home front, we got up close and personal with residences by Drew Mandel, Mazen Studio, Patrick Fejer (of B + H), Kohn Shnier and Denegri Bessai. Told you: by the droves.

2015: Up to Speed
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i. DL-15Years-2014-Audax ii. DL-15Years-2015-Marlo iii. DL-15Years-2015-chairs

Well, now we’re just about caught up and you can see how we strive to find a balance between covering innovative design as well as that which is timeless, how the content has to be curated so it appeals to both design curious and the savvy. It’s a tricky but fun puzzle to figure out.

2015 begins with a mixture of personalities and style types. We have a home in Leslieville that pairs cutting-edge street art with timeworn antiques – the owners, parents of two, loving the story-telling these objects incite. And we have an ugly 1970s box in Yorkville that Audax radically transforms [i.]. In our collection of This Creative City profiles is former U of T dean Larry Wayne Richards and Libs Elliott, who crafts code-generated patterned quilts.

This sort of comparing, complementing and contrasting that happens between subjects enthrals us and makes for a richer read. Imagine if it was all pink and plastic, shiny and steel all the time? We mix it up. Old and new, ideas and forms, thrill and substance.

So, a first for us, we profile the lead of a creative agency, Biography’s Marlo Onilla, whose specialty is restaurant branding [ii.]. This man’s fingerprint is on many of the top restaurants’ menus, murals, uniforms and interior decor and clearly, because they’re all still frequented, his storytelling by way of graphics is unparalleled. In this same issue (Fall), we feature the home of two artists, their toddler and their shared workspace, a respectful transformation of an Edwardian by WilliamsonChong that includes the insertion of a sculptural staircase (an engineering feat, really), and the sprawling penthouse of veteran industrial designer Tom Deacon, whose interior reveals a meticulous mind. All this with a cheeky photo essay about furniture posteriors [iii.] and a page dedicated to peyote ceremony-inspired work of Ricky Sosa. This sort of combo works for us, as you’ll continue to see in 2016 and beyond.


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