Objects & Ideas Are Making Sculptural, Relational Objects in the Canadian Wilderness

Since we last checked in with Di Tao and Bob Dodd of Toronto’s Objects & Ideas, their furniture designs have moved increasingly towards functional sculpture. “We’ve always thought that every piece we make needs to have a strong character and a strong expression — that has never changed. But the way we express our ideas has evolved,” says Tao. The latest pieces are visually alluring objects that have a use, of course: The enveloping Beaver Tail chair offers a seat, the curving Ascend floor lamp provides illumination. But these works also — and just as importantly — are relational, changing the space that they, and you, occupy. Tao and Dodd are interested in the intimacy of furniture and “how it talks to you,” Dodd adds. The tactility of their pieces elicits engagement that’s both physical and emotional, encouraging you to move and position yourself around them, even as they serve a specific purpose. “The pieces have to work,” says Dodd. “We don’t want to make a piece that sits in a gallery and looks beautiful and then gets put away into storage. You want people to have your pieces in their homes and use them and love them. You want to see the joy in their faces as they actually use the furniture.” The seemingly simple, effortless ease of their designs belies just how challenging that is to pull off.

Their Avebury coffee table, Mono chair and tables, Gossamer Desk, Ascend floor lamp, and Beaver Tail chair – made to order by artisans in the greater Toronto area – are all now part of the Sight Unseen Collection. Over time, as Objects & Ideas’ pieces have become more sculptural, the forms have grown even more organic and less angular. “Before we relied a lot on geometrical shapes,” says Dodd. “Choosing two dimensional geometries and bringing them together.” As Tao explains, it’s “the difference between shape and form. The shape is two dimensional and the form is three dimensional so now we’ve moved from shapes to form.” In practical, technical terms, that means “there’s a lot more carving that goes into our work,” says Dodd. There’s a fluidity to their pieces that comes, in part, from observing the contours of things out in the world and how they move. The Beaver Tail chair, comprised of 16 layers of stack-laminated wood, draws on the action of those industrious animals that live in the pond by Tao and Dodd’s country house in the Kawartha Highlands in Ontario. The Mono chair and tables can be traced back to their experience of an airshow in Toronto, looking at the “patterns in the sky from the jets,” notes Dodd. The Gossamer desk is like a continuous “ribbon” of wood.

Tao comes from an industrial design background while Dodd’s experience was in digital design. The duo, who’ve been married for years, started working together around 2015, experimenting with simple furniture pieces. Tao takes the lead when it comes to the look and feel and execution of each design, while Dodd is more involved in the conceptual stages. “The most fundamental criteria is that we both love it,” says Tao. “If I showed an idea to Bob and he disliked it, I wouldn’t continue.” Dodd adds that “it’s a conversation, but we can’t have design by committee, so the final say is always [Tao]. It just can’t work otherwise, you end up with very average pieces because you’re trying to please too many people.” What helps them is allowing ideas to gestate: “Sometimes you want to let an idea sit there for a while and come back to it,” says Tao. And they see their work as an ongoing learning process, building from of each previous piece, in order “to transform it into something newer,” he adds. As Dodd says, “We’re slightly like butterflies, we’ll hop around. So, it’s not that a thing is ever really finished, it’s that we’ll hop onto something else that’s there and then go back. You move forward and you look back.”