As Vancouver's design scene evolves, here's who has—and will—put our city on the map
When the first issue of the Georgia Straight hit the streets of Vancouver in 1967, the city’s design scene was ruled by figures such as architect Arthur Erickson, one of the founding fathers of West Coast modernism, and designer Niels Bendtsen, whose clean, Scandinavian-influenced furnishings still hold a place in many residents’ hearts—and homes—today.
But just as the newspaper has expanded its coverage over the years to champion diverse disciplines in the arts, so, too, has Vancouver’s design community grown to include a recognizable roster of fashion designers, graphic designers, industrial designers, and much more.
“There was really a resurgence of Vancouver designers on the international stage in the ’90s and early ’00s,” says Jennifer Cutbill, director and cofounder of Vancouver Design Week, which returns to the city from May 12 to 14. Among these names were shoe maestro John Fluevog, designer and sculptor Omer Arbel, and eco-conscious clothing maven Nicole Bridger, who joined names like Patricia and John Patkau, Michael Green, and the late Bing Thom to help put Vancouver on the design map.
In addition, the arrival of Canadian designers Steven and Jane Cox in the early aughts sparked a public conversation surrounding local design, thanks to the duo’s Movers and Shapers, a series of shows spotlighting various must-know creative minds that culminated with an exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver—then known as the Vancouver Museum—in 2008.
“The design community at that point was a little bit under the radar because there wasn’t really anything to glue them together,” recalls Jane by phone. “But there were plenty of people doing great work that we found was on par with what was happening globally.”
Local design agency Burnkit, talisman-inspired jewellery label Pyrrha, and makers of fantastical paper fixtures and furnishings Molo are just a sampling of players that were featured by the Coxes and that are still drawing international attention today. With the emergence of design fetes like IDS Vancouver and institutions such as Emily Carr University of Art + Design, however, comes a new generation of design-minded folks who are building their own portfolios.
“We’re seeing ourselves now in a place where there are mentors and there are mentees,” says Steven.
Below, we’ve highlighted a short—and in no way exhaustive—list of local up-and-coming design leaders to watch. From furniture and lighting makers to interior pros and architects, they represent the latest cohort of homegrown talent that, if we’re lucky, will shape the city’s design industries for years to come.
A former member of the City of Vancouver’s Art and Culture Policy Council, Chan is a spatial designer and the owner of minimalist jewellery line Grey by Becki Chan. Her handcrafted accessories draw from her architectural background, resulting in a collection of clean, geometric pieces that still manage to make a statement. In addition to her design ventures, Chan is also the Vancouver organizer of creative speaker event PechaKucha 20x20, a role she took over from Steven and Jane Cox last year.
Ste. Marie Art + Design
Led by interior designer Craig Stanghetta, Ste. Marie is responsible for some of the most photogenic restaurants, beauty parlours, and cafés in the city. Revolver Coffee, Osteria Savio Volpe, and Kissa Tanto, winner of our reader-voted Golden Plates survey for best new restaurant this year, are only a handful of spaces that have received the design firm’s magic touch, resulting in immersive dining experiences that are as memorable as they are Instagrammable.
The founder and president of Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week, Laroche is a champion of sustainable production, distribution, and sales practices in the textile industry. Since 2010, she and a small team have produced 12 editions of Eco Fashion Week across Vancouver, Seattle, and Toronto in an effort to spark a shift in the way we make, buy, and dispose of our clothing. As part of the annual event, she also participates in Collective Conversation, a series of talks that joins consumers and industry stakeholders in a discussion surrounding ethics and sustainability in fashion.
Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio
At the heart of Marianne Amodio’s eponymous firm is a desire to help Vancouverites live better. A graduate of the University of Winnipeg, the architect has earned a reputation around town for bold, artful spaces that combine whimsy and function while housing multiple residents, couples, and families under one roof. This focus on beautiful, multibrood buildings earned the studio the Architectural Institute of British Columbia’s emerging-firm award in 2016, carving a place for affordability-centred architecture in Vancouver’s design scene.
A former art director, Matthew McCormick realized his true calling when a friend commissioned him to produce a lighting fixture after spotting one of his handcrafted creations over dinner. That first project soon gave way to others, and four years later, the local designer’s custom installations—known for their exquisite, pared-down qualities—light up commercial spaces around the city, including Nectar Juicery and West Oak. A residential line of warm, striking fixtures—taking after the shape of rings and solid lines—brings the look home.
Only a few years ago, the wedding-dress market seemed limited to stuffy ball-gown and mermaid skirts. But local designer Gaby Bayona has blown a breath of fresh air into the industry, launching her brand of Truvelle frocks in 2013 that cater to the modern, iconoclastic bride with rose-gold sparkles, dip-dyed trains, and other unconventional details. Since then, Bayona has also produced a chic formal-wear collection while partnering with other like-minded makers to offer comfy lingerie, headpieces, and more.
Glasfurd & Walker
If you’ve dined, shopped, or had yourself primped in Vancouver, you’ve likely come across the work of local graphic-design and branding firm Glasfurd & Walker. A long-time collaborator with Ste. Marie Art + Design, the local studio has a knack for creating stunning brand identities—and the logos, digital content, and packaging that come with them—for restaurants, distilleries, jewellery labels, and more. Among Glasfurd & Walker’s past clients are Aritzia, Rain or Shine Ice Cream, and homegrown linen line Lissu.
Barter Design Co.
Founded by Emily Carr University of Art + Design grad Kenny Torrance in 2013, Barter is a B.C.–based design startup that gives local artisans a platform to showcase their handmade, home-oriented goods. As a seasoned stone-carver, Torrance understood how difficult it can be to make a living from one’s passion, and thus set out to establish a community in which his expertise in buying could help emerging designers meet the demands of the market while staying true to their craft. Thus far, Torrance has collaborated with makers to create terra cotta bowls, cedar-and-concrete tables, and other products.