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This Toronto Design Studio Finds Inspiration in the Canadian Wilderness

So much of what we do and share is deeply personal — driven by our own passions and feelings — that it’s no wonder that we primarily feature studios whose work comes from a similarly personal place. The Toronto-based design group Objects & Ideas, which was founded in 2015, works within a conceptual-meets-functional framework, and they talk about their work as an active excavation of the voice and soul of objects. “What we do is much closer to art than to mass production,” says co-founder Bob Dodd. “Like everyone, we have to make money, and we have to make products people want to possess and cherish, but our furniture is definitely a vehicle to express our ideas and concepts. The best products have a soul and a presence.” What this translates to in practice are pieces like a rocking chair inspired by the gently swaying rushes at a wildfowl reserve, or a table whose ribbon-like base is inspired by the colorful lights of the Canadian night sky. We recently spoke to Dodd to find out more.

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Objects & Ideas is a partnership between yourself and designer Di Tao. Can you tell us about your collaboration process?

We have quite diverse backgrounds. Taodi has a formal background in product design, with a master’s degree from the University of Art and Design, Helsinki, whilst my Master’s is in multimedia design and user interaction. We have both worked in Europe, Asia, and North America, and between us we have developed quite a unique sense of style and aesthetics, and we have our own particular way of collaborating. We work together intensively during ideation, but I then step away to allow Taodi to develop the ideas into finished products. The final product is always Taodi’s sole creation. Obviously, we do talk and review progress, and collaboration begins in earnest again when we discuss design for manufacture and engineering constraints. 

As a conceptually-oriented practice, how is your approach to design different?

The approaches we take to ideation, and the complementary experimentation we undertake at times with our manufacturing process, is why our studio is perhaps a little different to others. What we do is much closer to art than to mass production. Like everyone, we have to make money, and we have to make products people want to possess and cherish, but our furniture is definitely a vehicle to express our ideas and concepts. 

The best products have a soul, a presence, something that speaks to us. We experience it as designers in our own studio with prototype designs, and sometimes simply sketches. 

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What are some examples of your particular process?

Our Wye Rocker is typical of the way we work. It came out of an ideation process that started with a feeling we wanted to express — that feeling of standing amongst gently swaying rushes on a warm summer’s day at our local wildfowl reserve, the Wye Marsh. 

We sketched and we talked, and we sketched again, until we found shapes and curves that felt right. Once we had the perfect form, we then looked to see what furniture could be made with them, and from there the Wye Rocker was born. We didn’t set out to design a rocking chair. The furniture was just a vehicle for an idea: movement without moving. When you look at the loops and curves, and the thin light frame, you’re seeing that reified abstract idea, and it’s the idea that is speaking to you.

We often start with ideas, colors, and shapes, rather than concrete plans to make a new chair or coffee table. For example, we have a collection of aluminum tables from our Northern Lights collection, which was us trying to interpret that amazing light show we get in the north of Canada. The aurora became flowing ribbons of interleaved color and thin streaks of polished bare aluminum, and those in turn became the DNA for a collection of tables.

So, often the idea comes before the desire to design a specific item.

One of our older designs is a kettle. We didn’t set out to design a kettle. We were actually looking at perfumes and perfume bottles in terms of their geometry, their lines, and the space they inhabit, and we realized that we had the perfect shape for a kettle. What is a kettle, if not the perfume bottle of the kitchen? 

We have this ongoing goal to redesign the most humble of home products, and to treat them with the same respect that we would give the bespoke furniture that we design for clients. 

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Do you have any personal design heroes or objects that feel like the height of soul and presence?

We come to design riding on the shoulders of giants… People like Dieter Rams and Alec Issigonis, to take two heroes at random. We have a Braun Audio 310 in our studio and honestly, we just want to pet it. Even now it feels new and so far in advance of the vinyl records it plays. 

And then of course there is the Mini Cooper, a car that looks cool whatever you throw at it. In neither product is it the basic functions that draws you to them, yet they both have a unique voice, a soul that speaks to you.

Any aspirations for future projects, or dream products you’d like to work on?

We can only really answer by saying we don’t know, but the idea we always want to play with is that of unreality, a world of unreal things. Not fake, merely unreal. We even have a product. Only one crazy product. We keep looking for the technology to allow us to make it, and the client prepared to let us.