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Edmonton
October 14, 2019

The 100-Mile Decor Diet

Where to find all your “home” made design needs close to your front door.

Photography by Adam Goudreau

Picture a table factory. A thousand halogen lights humming in between the sounds of hundreds of buzzing saws; the deafening shriek of cut wood bouncing off the steel walls. Each table is cut precisely, identically, and runs down the line to be sanded and beveled to mechanical perfection, just how the customer wants it. Or at least how the company thinks the customer wants it. Tables with imperfections are shredded, and the uniformity of hundreds of thousands of tables is an art in and of itself. There can’t be any blemishes or different curves. These tables will be shipped nationally and across the globe, and the industry standard demands perfection.

It’s a concept of perfection to which artisans like Holly Carmichael don’t adhere. Truwood Artisans – led by Carmichael and her all-female team – have a philosophy that’s embedded along the wood grain of their products. Case in point: Truwood’s Japanese-styled Wabi-Sabi table takes its name from the Japanese philosophy of taking the imperfect and seeing perfection. “In manufacturing in Canada,” says Carmichael, “it’s the standard to cut out all of the knots, mineral markings, sapwood and cracks. All of those are seen as blemishes or defects. We decided to go against the manufacturing standards and create something including all those natural occurrences in woods.”

The monolithic table, The Gathering, which seats 22 people comfortably when fully expanded, demonstrates the company’s dedication to imperfection. Not only does the table itself fill a room, but so does its character. The knots become a focal point, just as a watch or necklace might make an outfit.

In Edmonton, there are a host of artisans who can add a personal touch to your furniture and, ultimately, your home. And the style of the artisan can be as varied as your personal taste. Oliver Apt., led by carpenter Landon Schedler, has done interior woodwork for some of the trendiest spots in the city, including Corso 32, Duchess Bake Shop, Cavern and Three Boars Eatery.

Schedler is an active part of the Edmonton downtown community, often finding projects through the venues he frequently visits. Large projects take up most of his company’s time, but this new foray into dcor is Schedler’s current area of focus. 

Unlike TruWood’s approach to high-design, Oliver Apt. appeals to a simple and clean aesthetic. “It’s bare-bones basic. Clean lines with no real details, which are the details.” Key and knife racks are made from simple blocks of dark walnut, each embedded with magnets. Oliver Apt. also designed a set of wood-block puzzles, things for children to play with that also serve as table centrepieces you’ll want to leave out. A dark computer desk has built-in slots to hold folders and other office accoutrements, but its table, the Axe Throw, is where things get creative. 

“I remember seeing chisels and axes, some finely designed implements, and I started wondering how I could incorporate them [into my designs].” The table replaces one of its legs with an axe, the head of which is embedded into the table’s slab.

Many local artisans use Edmonton’s craft fairs to experiment with smaller pieces. Matt Heide of Concrete Cat frequently sells vases and bowls at the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair, using it as a testing ground for some of his latest experiments in concrete. He’s also done casts of precious keepsakes and custom molds of everything from leather belts to Canon cameras. With Heide’s garage converted into a workshop, his home becomes its showroom. One wall features a mounted painting that’s actually made of 38 pounds of concrete. Another holds a concrete baseball bat so true to life you’d think it was petrified. 

“I used to have a lot of preconceived notions about what you could do with concrete, and now it’s to the point where we could be doing anything, really,” says Heide. Concrete Cat also specializes in larger pieces for the home including fireplaces, bathroom sinks, feature walls and concrete countertops. But Heide finds his inspiration outside the typical job site or factory.  

“What inspires me is organic, natural looking shapes, like dry creek beds,” says Heide. “We’ll vary our grinds and place stones specifically so you get a flow of rock showing.” Heide also recommends using thicker widths for the countertops, as this provides a solid worktop and more thermal mass, which allows frozen cuts of meat to defrost by resting on the counter. 

If you’re considering fitting concrete into your decor, Heide recommends including elements in your home that will contrast the look.

“It’s important to pair it with something that’s drastically different,” says Heide. “If you were going to do concrete countertops with a marble backsplash, it just doesn’t have the same impact. Glass and steel are the most obvious choices because of the juxtaposition, and because they’re the top three materials for industrial building in the world.” 

Steel can be an especially bold statement in a home, and bolder still when bent beyond its usual straight lines and chrome exterior. Sam Cupelli of Simply Steel has done pieces for Daryl Katz and Mike Comrie, as well as civic projects such as The Gathering – a steel representation of community through a gathering of figurines – displayed along High Street. 

Tables and chairs are only a part of his oeuvre. His portfolio includes candelabras, indoor sculptures and house numbers. Of particular note are his unconventional approaches to wine racks, bowed and slanted, and his steel wine-cellar doors, which work as both stand-alone pieces or inserts within a door slab.

Cupelli’s designs often incorporate burnished steel, vibrant colours and elastic curves – everything unconventional in the metal’s modern application. However, he’s willing to work with customers on how they want to approach their project, one of the huge boons of working with a local designer. “At the end of the day, there are no surprises,” says Cupelli. “I’ll bring a client in and they can tweak it through the design.”

Carmichael has worked on many unique custom design projects – she’s even converted an upright piano into a computer desk. Carmichael describes her preferred customers as having solid ideas for what they want, while also maintaining flexibility and truly appreciating handcrafted pieces.

Cupelli often works on his projects personally, giving each his attention. Heide changes our preconcieved notions of concrete. Oliver Apt. designs for the look and feel of Edmonton, taking inspiration from the scene as Schedler sees it. And Carmichael finds perfection in imperfection. Each item is delicately designed, ignoring traditional standards, making every piece one of a kind. 

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