Christian Woo crafts sleek new furniture collection

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Christian Woo’s workshop is an oasis of order that’s surrounded by chaos. The muted, bold-fonted logo on a dove-grey wall outside his studio door is at odds with the pastiche of riotous colours marking the labyrinthine hallways of the 1000 Parker Street artists complex. That simplicity is fitting for the soft-spoken 39-year-old woodworker and furniture designer, who this month launched his first complete collection: a six-piece series of tables and beds in walnut that showcases his trademark aesthetic of clean, modern lines, solidity, and impeccable construction.

Walk through the door to Woo’s “office” and you’ll be greeted to a rousing chorus of barks from Indy, Woo’s shepherd-coyote cross, who acts as a doorbell of sorts, especially when his master is bent over a whirring power saw. Cured walnut boards waiting to be transformed into polished free-standing pieces line one wall, while against another sit the bones of an imposing wall unit, a custom piece for an office space. In his studio, Woo’s two sides—the tradesman who constructs modern kitchens and the artist who crafts cantilevered block tables—exist side by side.

“I guess you can say that wood is in my blood,” Woo says, leaning against the solid walnut countertop of what will shortly be part of a showcase kitchen in West Vancouver. (Like all his work, it will consist only of sustainably harvested, Forestry Stewardship Council–approved wood.) “My grandfather was a woodworker and handyman, and I learned craftsmanship and to love working with my hands through him. He once told me that no matter what you do, just get really good at it and you’ll be fine. And I always reflect on those words.”

Like his grandfather, whom he describes as a jack-of-all-trades, Woo came to furniture design in a roundabout manner. After high school he worked as a landscaper, and in the film industry building sets and rigging. That led to a stint as a cabinetmaker, where he says he learned to hone his craft. The turning point for the journeyman apprentice came in 2005, when he applied and was accepted at the Ontario College of Art and Design. At the last minute, he decided not to enroll and started a studio of his own, doing custom cabinetry and interior finishing work. “I was enjoying what I was doing,” Woo says by way of explanation. “I was already doing what I wanted to do, and so going to school would have meant doing it four years later.”

In those early days, Woo says that furniture design was more of an experimental hobby. “I was doing custom interiors for clients by day, and at night I was doing things for me—working things out and building pieces I liked. Eventually, I was supplementing people’s interiors with freestanding pieces, so I guess you can say that I’m self-taught when it comes to furniture design.”

Woo’s first commercially available piece—a simple yet graceful solid-walnut barstool composed of four finished planks—debuted in 2008. In 2010, he followed up with the Covert Series, an abbreviated collection of versatile, low-profile chests of drawers–cum–benches, each featuring a brightly coloured horizontal strip in green, blue, yellow, or white. Woo launched the series at that year’s prestigious International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York at the urging of his mentor and friend, acclaimed Vancouver-based artist and woodworker Brent Comber.

“I’d never really left Vancouver,” Woo says of that trip. “Luckily Brent took me under his wing, and it was a really big confidence booster to be in that arena with all of those contemporaries, and to be well received.”

The success he found at ICFF encouraged Woo to branch out further with this latest, as-yet-unnamed collection. “We’ve been calling it the ‘2012 collection based on core geometry’ but that’s pretty wordy,” Woo jokes.

However unwieldy the name, basic math is definitely part of the equation. Woo has attributed a specific number to each and every piece. (His new collection is available at Provide [529 Beatty Street].) The tripartite base of a glass-topped nesting table is “30”, thanks to the mitred angle used to cut the joint. A dining table is “20” for the angle of one of its bases.

“I never intended for it to turn out that way,” Woo says. “But in my head when I was working out these pieces, that’s what happened. Since I don’t draw or do prototypes, I work out every cut and angle in my head beforehand and then I just do it. So there was no conscious effort on my part to come up with a theme,” he explains, smoothing his hand over a polished plank and smiling. “The pieces came up with a theme for me.”

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