Great expectations

Visitors attend a big trade show such as IIDEX – Canada’s National Design + Architecture Expo and Conference, presented by the Interior Designers of Canada and Architecture Canada/RAIC, held this September at Toronto’s
Exhibition Place – expecting to be wowed by certain things. Invariably, however, it is the things you don’t expect that end up making a major impact.

My own IIDEX tour started out exactly as planned. Pre-show hype for The Bunkie, a concept cabin produced by ad hoc design team Evan Bare of 608 Design, Nathan Buhler and Jorge Torres of BLDG Workshop, and business developer Jim Moore, proved spot on. Fascinated show attendees quickly surrounded their innovative, 100-square-foot structure, a prefabricated prototype making its debut at IIDEX. Framed in reclaimed barn board, Etch-A-Sketch aluminum outlines of a traditional house silhouette, complete with stylized chimneystack, trace their way around a pair of 11-foot-high, opposing glazed curtain walls with tilt-and-turn doors. The cunningly crafted interior, featuring a queen-size Murphy bed, built-in shelves, a small, ventless Ethanol fireplace, a pull-down table and wooden folding chairs that fold neatly into the side of a cupboard door, provides a place to sleep, eat and play away from the madding main cottage crowd, and offers its occupants the next-best sensation to living in the open. Once any last-minute bugs are worked out – including how to keep out any real bugs – the Bunkie would make a practical and architecturally stunning addition to any vacation property.

Although not an official part of IIDEX’s “Glamping” showcase, the Bunkie fit the new international trend mash-up of “glamour” and “camping” far better than the disappointing display of plastic blow-up furniture, decorative iron cauldrons and wood-plank dining tables presented by Toronto’s Mason Studio. For my money, the adjacent Woodshop exhibit made a far more convincing statement of what I’ve decided to dub “Canadiana Glama.”

Conceived by the City of Toronto along with 15 members of the Toronto design community, including the always-vital Brothers Dressler, the Woodshop finds new use for at least a fraction of the 200,000-plus ash trees estimated to be destroyed over the next five years as a result of an ongoing infestation of Emerald Ash Borers. Lars Dressler is a particular fan of ash wood, which, he says, “is extremely strong and has a nice, long grain to it.” He and his brother Jason contributed the Elbow Ollie lounge chair, a bent-wood seat built for relaxation and “reclined creativity,” which comes with a detachable side table and ash wand LED light that can either be clamped to the side of the chair or cradled on its own desk stand. Other intriguing Woodshop prototypes include the snowshoe-shaped Kôna lounger by Miles Keller; the Keela coffee table, with its pseudo-campstool legs, by Paus + Grun; and National Design Collective’s Ubagaan, a foyer seat crafted as an upside-down tribute to the toboggan. All very “glama-rous” indeed, and distinctly Canadian. 

Another Canadian treat was the Nienkämper booth, whose debut furniture products Gateway and the Pleat Series both won Gold Innovation Awards at the expo. The latter, designed by Toronto’s Four O Nine, includes a low-profile, cantilevered dining chair in rotation-moulded polyethylene that’s bent slightly in the middle and dramatically along the sides, back and legs, in origami-like homage to the pleating techniques found in fashion design. Gateway, designed by the dynamic Danish duo of Flemming Busk and Stephan Hertzog, headquartered in London, England, employs minimalism to provide “technically neutral” tables, media walls, lounge seating and accessories that can be informal or formal, and configured physically or technologically however the end user wishes. The office grouping’s plain styling gets humanized by softened lines, rounded edges and sinuous curves that amply demonstrate simple doesn’t necessarily mean simplistic.

Unique seats also captured attention at DesignYouEdit, a first-time-at-IIDEX Italian firm, based out of Saonara, a suburb of Padua that specializes in transformable and multifunctional furnishings. The company showcased, among other things, the curlicue Sissi chair that allows you to sit in three different ways, and the question mark-shaped Aleaf – billed as “the chair that hugs you” – whose broad, cushy back encourages a variety of seating positions and big, wrap-around arm can function either as a book, computer tablet or arm rest.

But of all the stories swirling around IIDEX – an engrossing Modernism At Risk exhibit, sponsored by World Monuments Fund with support from Knoll; a new website,, that puts small creators in touch with a large online buying community; and Get Better!, the UIA-PHG + GUPHA International Healthcare Design Forum & Expo, held for the first time in Canada – I did not expect to get enraptured by commercial carpeting.

Interface’s new Net-Works Project and resultant Net Effects modular carpet tiles are not only great design (winning the LaGrange, Georgia–based company a Gold Innovation Award) but also great sustainable design. Initiated as a pilot project by Interface and the Zoological Society of London, in conjunction with global synthetic-fibre manufacturer Aquafil, Net-Works has now been launched into a full-scale business venture that gives real import to going green. 

Non-biodegradable, discarded nylon fishing nets represent a serious biological and environmental hazard to oceanic life. Partnering up with impoverished fishing communities in the Philippines, Net-Works provides financial incentive to local residents to gather up these “ghost nets,” which are then recycled into carpet yarn. In an everybody-wins scenario, the villagers receive much-needed supplemental income, as well as a healthier environment for their primary source of income, the local marine life. The world’s environment is thus improved and, rather than Interface using virgin raw materials for their carpeting, the company’s ecological loop is now one step closer to closing.  

“It may seem a little crazy that a commercial carpet tile company has ended up working with the fishing community on a remote double barrier reef,” says Miriam Turner, AVP Innovation for Interface. “But that’s the beauty of seeing design as more than just product. Co-innovating with experts from lots of different disciplines has been brilliant – together we’ve
re-imagined what the value chain could look like. Sustainability is the mother of all collaborations, after all.”  cI