So it has been a while since my last post… In the interim, we have survived the end of the school year, traveled halfway across the globe to spend a month traveling through Europe, another month with family in Canada, house guests upon our return home, the start of the school year (lunches, homework and all that other fun stuff), and various projects, commissions, and adventures along the way. The upshot of all this, I have about 20 blog entry drafts ranging from Charles and Ray Eames, to the launching our kids line – none of which seems to be the right place to pick up again. Rather than jump head first (or seat first, as the case may be) into the saddle of writing, I’ve spent my time putting together a little visual smorgasbord of some of the things we’ve worked on – in the hopes that I’ll be inspired. Procrastination can be a wonderful thing…
I managed to persuade our eldest into the “dirty part” the other day with a promise of a dollar if he could make himself useful and spread some glue on the panels I was gluing up for a custom piece that’s in production (more on that in another post). Well, as with most of my endeavors to engage my kids in the production process, it didn’t quite turn out as planned. Apparently, spreading glue is not only “gooey and sticky”, but it is accompanied by lots of frowning, grimacing, and complaints about “now I have to wash my hands”. And just as I was about to give up, and acquiesce to the inevitable request to play with my phone, fortune smiled upon me and renewed my faith in all things good – I heard these magical words “can I help you turn these red handle things?” A HA! I tried to be very nonchalant in my response and said “sure, just remember ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’”. And presto, not only was he focused enough that he didn’t notice me taking a photo, but he did a pretty darn good job, and he was impressed enough with his efforts, that he has asked me every trip to the shop since then, if he can help some more. Now all I need is to train him on the table saw…
So I am heading back up to British Columbia (Sunshine Coast to be exact) on Wednesday to check on the progress at Nanaland. And I have to say, I’m really looking forward to it. Just to clarify, I am not originally from BC. In fact, I am a born and bred Torontonian. And when I say that, I really mean – downtown downtown. I grew up in an apartment at Avenue Rd. and Bloor St. watching the skyline of Toronto slowly mask the view of Lake Ontario.
But I digress… Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast (which, according to my iPhone won’t be full of sunshine whilst I’m there…) belong to my adult life experience – grad school, friends, husband, first job, the launch of Studio North, first child. And as such, hold a special place in my heart, and have me very excited about spending a couple of days up there. In addition to seeing my sister-in-law and her lovely family, there are also other perks – friends I haven’t seen in at least a year, Kit Kats (the Canadian version is superior both in its wafer and chocolate), NeoCitran, Lipton’s Chicken Noodle Soup in the little baggies, Dressew, and (for strangely nostalgic reasons) the Starbucks in Kerrisdale to name a few. Oh, and I almost forgot, the little single serving of Dad’s Oatmeal cookies the steward on the put-put plane that flies up the coast, gives out in the little wicker basket after take-off. Home sweet home…
So I have entered the realm of social media.
Let me back up and give some context – almost 37 years ago, on a sunny summer day, I was born… Just kidding, I won’t go that far back – only about 3 years ago: Dylan and I had just moved to sunny Southern California from not-so-sunny Vancouver 2 years prior and were still on the “we’ll stay 3 years and then go back” track, when we were approached by a retailer who was interested in our furniture and home accessories we had designed way back when we were fresh out of Architectural Grad school. So we talked about it for about 10 minutes, and decided to re-start our design company (studio north design). Long, complicated, fraught with high’s (our Block and Board Modular Shelving was photographed in the only Oscar Neimeyer designed house built in the US) and low’s (half of our first shipment to the retailer’s warehouse suffered catastrophic damage during shipping) story short, we survived the first year, and then the second. We were blessed and cursed with only one client. On one hand, my biggest problem was figuring out a way to make of our pieces fast enough to fill the ever-increasing number of backorders. On the other, I never got around to looking for my back up, when things went pear-shaped (which they inevitably do). Somewhere along the way I acquired a decent sized workshop with spray booth, machinery, pallets of buttery douglas fir in various shapes and sizes, and many, many, many grey hairs.
And then the breakup. It was not unlike a breakup I had in grade 11, the relationship just sort of petered out. No acrimonious blow out, just lots of miscommunication, “you’ve changed”, “no, you’ve changed” back and forth and the retailer and I went our separate ways. So – now what?
Enter the retail store at http://www.studionorthdesign.com, and my re-entry into the world of Facebook. I did have a Facebook account a few years ago, but was a little freaked out by the randomness of people I was running into – people from high school I haven’t talked to in twenty years, undergrad, grad school, summer camp, and the list goes on. And frankly I was a little unsure about the whole Facebook etiquette thing, so I deactivated my account. Then about a year ago, we were skiing in Tahoe with some friends and I was cajoled into re-activating my account. Since then I have been working hard to broaden my number of friends – I have gone from 9 to 13 to my current figure of 28 (!). So how does that relate to studio north design? Well, I’ll tell you - in the course of my re-entry into Facebook, and the whole social media thing, I feel like I’m in one of those movies where the main character wakes up and finds themselves 500 years into the future and people can teleport themselves around, and no one works because everything is done by robots. Not only have I had to re-acquaint myself with the personal/social side of Facebook, but now there is all this stuff out there that goes along with that – apps, business pages, groups, networks, “like this” buttons for your website, “like this” buttons for your Facebook page. Suddenly it’s not just about finding someone you went to highschool with, it’s about reaching out, networking, marketing, putting yourself out there!
And that’s the point where I start to feel like I am standing in a crowded room, in my underwear. It’s the “putting yourself out there” aspect to this that I find challenging. I mean, it’s one thing to update your status to your 28 friends, and it’s another to promote your blathering on your blog, or to advertise sales on your website through the business Facebook page. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly thankful that I have 3 people who like the studio north design Facebook page, (thanks Ayme, Val and Jen), but I don’t think they will round out my fiscal projections for the year… So in addition to all the administrative, legal, manufacturing and traditional marketing tasks I have had to get a handle on in the past three years, it looks like I’ll have to brush up on my social networking skills. I guess I’ll have to get some new underwear…
One of the most satisfying aspects of furniture design is the immediacy of it:
- doodle on the back of an old envelope
- some creative criticism from Dylan
- more refined doodle maybe on a clean sheet of paper with some dimensions
- some experimentation in the shop, and a splash of creative language when things don’t go together the right away
and usually, at least the prototype is done.
An architectural project, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Not that this is any real surprise (I mean, even a casual observer understands that it takes time to build a building). And yet, to be honest, it still surprises me. Part of it is that in designing a building, you are constantly looking forward, rather than being in the moment (like when you are standing over a piece of furniture where the glue is setting, and you realize the joint isn’t square, at which point you frantically try to either jam it together properly, or wrench the whole thing apart – neither option is typically very successful…) In an architectural project, you are looking to get the job, develop an idea, determine what you think the costs may reasonably be, anticipate the needs of the client, foresee any regulatory bumps in the road, envision how it goes together, think about how details in construction can be resolved… And the list goes on. As a consequence, when construction starts, it is usually a pleasant, if not naive surprise to see tangible progress. I think I can say with some confidence that most architects have experienced that feeling of “hey, the ______ has gone in, I remember thinking/sketching/drawing/drafting that!”
We have been working on a cabin up the coast of British Columbia, which we affectionately call Nanaland because the driving force behind its construction (i.e. client) is my Mother-in-Law, who is equally, if not more affectionately, called Nana by her 6 grandchildren. Compared to most architectural projects, this one has progressed fairly smoothly; it started as a renovation which rapidly became a demolition and new construction, and is located in a part of the world where most materials have to be brought up the coast from Vancouver by barge, and subject to 4-6 months of rain and cold which can make for an interesting construction schedule. Having said that, we’ve got walls, sub-floors, a roof, and now, even windows and doors – all elements that were drawn on paper almost a year ago, and which started to go up, about 9 months ago. And so, even though I currently have my head immersed in kitchen and bathroom details, when I do raise my head and see that corner window installed, and hey(!), it looks just the way we had drawn it a year ago, I can’t help but feel that though it has been a wait, it has been well worth it.
So the other day, I had our eldest son with me at the workshop – one of the perks/downfalls of having your own business, is that your kids spend a lot of time with you in various situations that they wouldn’t otherwise – i.e. meeting with clients, driving around to source materials, and LOTS of time in the workshop. Having grown up as the youngest child of two architects who had their own practice, I spent much of my childhood making forts under drafting tables, playing with letraset and learning how to collate and cerlox bind proposals. So it seemed only natural that our children would also tag along to the workshop and spend their afternoons making cities with wood off cuts, jumping on bubblewrap and you get the picture… Getting back to my story, the other day our eldest was doing his homework in my office (or was he playing Angry Birds on my phone?…) while I was busy with the table saw, milling pieces for a new prototype, when he appeared at the door to the shop, ear muffins on, to hand me my phone. It was Dylan wanting to know whether we wanted to meet for lunch. He also related his conversation with our eldest when he called:
“is Mummy there?”
“where is she?”
“she’s in the dirty part”
Ah yes, the dirty part. And here I was thinking that exposing my children to the creative process, surrounding them with tactile materials, doodles and sketches furniture ideas and architectural projects was serving to pique their interest in creative endeavors. When really, its “the dirty part”. Hm, not quite what I hoping for.
That first step in the design process – the “big idea”- it can be a doozy. Sometimes it comes to you in the most unlikely places, in the shower, waiting for a red light, just as you are about to drop off to sleep (at which point you are cursing yourself for not keeping that notebook and pen handy). Other times, it feels like it just won’t come at all or even worse, the ones that do come to you aren’t that great. And so you are trapped in some kind of creative purgatory where you can’t move forward, but you certainly don’t want to move back. So what do you do? Well, that’s the big question now, isn’t it.
Between you, me and the lamppost, I spent many hours, days and dare I say, weeks in the course of my architectural schooling trapped in the throes of creative rigor mortis. Staring at a crisp white piece of Strathmore paper, newly sharpened clutch pencil in hand – waiting… And when nothing came to me, I would sit there some more. And then sit some more. Until it felt like the whiteness of that piece of Strathmore was so blindingly clean and devoid of any creative effort, that I would pack up and go home. Meanwhile, my counterpart – sitting across the drafting table, was busy. Sketching, painting, doodling – it was like watching the Niagara Falls of creative endeavors; constant, overflowing, there seemed to be a never-ending stream of creative production. And boy it was exasperating to watch. And then in my second year, one of my instructors was so equally exasperated with my efforts (or lack thereof) that she told me that she wouldn’t come by my desk until I had put something to paper. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to critique nothing.
And so I looked to my desk-mate as an example, and I picked something a little obscure, not quite the answer to the architectural problem, but a process that interested me and I could sink my teeth into, and I started. Three weeks later I had a sectional perspective that at least sparked a conversation (I won’t quite go as far as saying it ended up being a full fledged architectural project). Needless to say, spending three weeks drawing a sectional perspective by hand isn’t a typical first step in an architectural investigation. But what I did learn (don’t worry, I’m getting to it), is that some of the best projects start with only a vague idea, or an obscure process, or better yet, a few hours of quiet and some interesting materials at hand. And that the “big idea” isn’t necessarily that bolt that strikes while sitting at a traffic light, but that more often than not, it is a vague itch that manifests itself once you sit down, warm up your seat (as my Mother would say), and forge ahead into potentially unknown territory. Not unlike posting a second blog entry…
And so it begins, the foray into blogging. In much the same way a skid of rough sawn wood holds the elusive potential of endless possibilities, a blinking cursor in a blog post signals the start of….. what? Thoughtful and elegant prose of a theoretical nature? Investigation into, and commentary on design topics? Anecdotes of running a small business with two small boys in tow? Ramblings of a completely incoherent nature? At this point, it is hard to say. In a way, this first post still holds all the mystery and allure of that skid of wood, still undefined and full of potential. And for tonight, that seems more than enough…