Students’ Handmade Homewares Go High-design at Vancouver Special

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By Roxanne Toronto

Posted on May 11, 2016 | Updated August 06, 2019, 9:06AM

The Georgia Straight features our collaborative course - Design + Make.

Article by Lucy Lau, The Georgia Straight, May 11, 2016

A salt box that would look as good on your vanity as on your kitchen counter, an expandable fruit basket shaped like a Viking ship, and a compact coat rack that collapses in a jiffy for easy storage: these are just some of the functional (and student-made) items that make up Vancouver Special’s latest shipment of home goods.

“People can’t believe that they’re handmade,” shop owner Anne Pearson says in a phone interview. “People keep asking me, ‘So, who designs them and who makes them?’ and I say, ‘Well, actually, students are making them, and they’re all handmade in Vancouver.’ ”

The six-piece collection—made primarily from wood and starting at $35—is the culmination of Design + Make, a semester-long course at Emily Carr University of Art + Design that tasks third- and fourth-year industrial-design students with producing a marketable home accessory that retails for a reasonable price. For the third year, Pearson has partnered with instructor Christian Blyt to mentor the students as well as to curate the pieces that will ultimately sell in her space.

Among the aforementioned items on display at the boutique at 3612 Main Street are three other objects seemingly designed for Vancouver living, including the Zazen, a portable meditation seat inspired by Japanese minimalism and the curved tiers of the traditional pagoda. Made from Baltic birch plywood, the lightweight bench can be easily assembled and disassembled for impromptu meditation sessions on the road.

“The fact that it has reference to Japanese culture with the pagoda makes it very distinct compared to the regular yoga blocks and bolsters out there,” says student designer Dylan Moffat by phone.

The Træ, meanwhile, is designed to maximize storage in the oft overlooked entryway. Named after the Danish word for “tree”, the sleek coat rack consists of six “branches” that remain hidden in the object’s elongated body until they’re extended outward. The result is a no-nonsense—and aesthetically pleasing—play on the typical coat rack that controls clutter and blends seamlessly into décor schemes when not in use.

“Many existing designs are these hooks that are at the top of the door,” says Sharonna Chan, one of four student designers who worked on the model, “so we thought we would utilize the vertical space as well.”

Designers Jordi Vilanova and Peter Orlowsky also tapped into the potential of Vancouver’s increasingly tight foyers with the Two-Up, a rounded double coat hook that takes after the shape of a bow tie. Vilanova and Orlowsky wanted to encourage residents to celebrate their preferred outerwear in a stylish and convenient manner rather than hurriedly tucking them away.

“That whole design—the bow-tie shape—was one that came from the idea of ‘suiting up’,” Vilanova relays by phone. “But then we were like, ‘Well, it kind of looks like two peaks,’ and we thought that was very fitting for Vancouver.”

All six home accessories—branded and wrapped in packaging that the students crafted themselves—will be available for purchase at Vancouver Special throughout the summer. If the items do well, Pearson notes that they may become part of the store’s permanent stock—an amazing feat for a set of up-and-coming designers who are still learning the ropes at school.

“It was quite a challenge,” Chan says, “but the payout—to see clients trying it out, and seeing it in-store, and seeing people very interested in and interacting with it—was really worth it.”