Vancouver’s furniture and interior- design community always makes a strong showing both here and internationally. But our national reputation—crafted by an overwhelmingly Toronto-based media—rarely moves past the perceived bulwark of contemporary, clean lines and functional, condo-sized pieces. The so-called West Coast movement has been the industry’s de facto identity for nearly two decades, with little change in the aesthetic narrative. While familiarity may not always breed contempt, it certainly doesn’t drum up much press.
But at last month’s Interior Design Show (IDS)—the Toronto-based big brother of Vancouver’s IDSwest—something unusual happened: the media scrum was gathered around Booth 1510, where a decidedly Vancouver-focused collaboration was being unveiled. The fact that the newly launched Douglas Coupland for SwitzerCultCreative furniture line had internationally renowned author, artist, and all-around Renaissance man Coupland’s name attached to it was part of the draw. But beyond the artist-designer-writer’s star power was the underlying story of brother and sister team Allan and Renee Switzer’s triumphant return to the family business.
“It was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” says Renee in SwitzerCultCreative’s Railtown show room, which is located inside a converted warehouse. “Our booth was mobbed—Wallpaper*, the New York Times—and it just kept on coming.”
Born to legendary Vancouver-based luxury furniture maker William Switzer, the siblings worked for 25 years in the family business, designer Allan on the creative side and older sister Renee on the administration side. But in the summer of 2011, they left their father’s company after it was sold to a third party whose interests didn’t align with those of the newer Switzer generation. In April of the following year, the pair opened SwitzerCultCreative in a show room cheekily located only a few doors down from their former offices at William Switzer.
Using their industry connections, the Switzers quickly built a portfolio of exclusive furniture brands for residential and hospitality projects, including the Italian AHRPA Collection by veteran designer Umberto Asnago, the First Nations–inspired Sabina Hill Collection, and the work of the eco-conscious Baumhaus Atelier of Roberts Creek, B.C. But it was an impromptu phone call from Coupland that put them on the international map.
“Allan and Douglas went to Emily Carr together,” says Renee, referring to what was then the college of art. “One day, Douglas basically called Allan and said, ‘Allan, there’s something I want to do. I have an idea.’ ”
It’s an unwritten but generally understood rule in the design world that when Douglas Coupland calls with an idea, you listen. The Switzers did. That fateful call launched a year-and-a-half-long project by the artist, the Switzers, and master craftsman Nicolas Meyer, of the aforementioned Baumhaus Atelier.
And while this latest collaboration isn’t Coupland’s first foray into home furnishings (a 2010 partnership with Canadian clothier Roots featured a handful of smaller furniture pieces), it may be his most personal, crafted in his favourite colours and with Asian-inspired influences gleaned from his stint at Japan’s Hokkaido College of Art and Design in the mid 1980s. The collection features a table lamp and a standing lamp boasting a checker pattern from Kyoto’s Ryoanji Temple, as well as the Osaka Bookshelves, modelled after a similar set that survived the 1995 earthquake in that region. The line’s signature pieces—the somewhat severe Bento Box Escritoire (writing desk) and Writer’s Seat—seem tailor-made for Coupland’s eclectic West Van home. (Prices run from about $1,325.00 up to $13,000 for the special edition with a signed certificate of authenticity by Coupland.)
“That personal quality, I think, was based on the relationship Douglas already had with Allan,” Renee says. “He wanted someone who understood how to design and make furniture, who he could trust to work with and who knew what quality meant.”
The collaboration will see the Switzers as the exclusive, worldwide licensees of the Douglas Coupland for SwitzerCultCreative collection, and the opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time for the startup, which is already fielding orders from New York City and overseas.