Peter Coolican stands on the footrest of his Palmerston stool, the full weight of his body bearing down on the seemingly dainty spindle. “People are always like, ‘My kids will destroy that,’” he says. “But these things are bullet-proof.” We’re at the Coolican & Company retail space, a pristine splash of white in an otherwise industrial warehouse on Sterling Road. On the other side of the wall is a communal workshop, where he has been assembling Windsor style chairs for Kit and Ace’s Oakville location. To keep prices down, Coolican sells his Shaker and mid-century-inspired furniture online, but after his debut at last year’s Interior Design Show, he decided to open this showroom so that customers could get a feel for his quiet craftsmanship.
The Morrisburg, Ontario, native had always loved mid-century modern (his grandparents’ Big Rideau Lake cottage was filled with the classics), but a third-year civic architecture course sparked a new appreciation of it. After university, he delved into woodworking and discovered the expressively organic – and limited edition – work of George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick and Tage Frid. Then came a turning point: Rideau Hall came across his lovingly detailed wooden boxes and commissioned a set of side tables. He thought, “I have this opportunity: Am I going to do this for a living?” Coolican moved to Toronto and opened his studio in 2012.
His pieces – including the Palmerston stool with its round-edged seat, and the Rusholme coffee table, which sports a dowel storage rack under its top – may evoke a Shaker-esque minimalism, but they’re undeniably dynamic. Spindle legs and delicately turned footrests create an intriguing interplay between shape and void. His latest is the Madison chair, which features a black-oak finish (achieved using vinegar, steel wool and elbow grease) and a Danish-cord seat designed by local weaver Donna Kim. Everything is handmade from local woods – maple, walnut and oak – and in small batches at a modest wood shop nearby, before being assembled and finished in-house with a sharp eye to detail. His wedged-through-tenon joinery is now a personal hallmark. “It’s about figuring how to represent something honestly – where the construction is exposed and visible – without being showy or in your face. It adds a detail without being superfluous.”
Originally published in our Spring 2016 issue.