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Deep Dialogue

Toronto-based design firm Objects & Ideas combines high design with traditional craft to create bespoke furnishings with a voice.

By Lauren Gallow

Handmade from solid maple, the Mono chair by Objects & Ideas playfully combines spirit and functionality.

When designers Di Tao and Bob Dodd,

founders of Objects & Ideas studio, wrote in their company’s manifesto that they want their furniture to speak for itself, they probably didn’t anticipate how far interviewers might run with this statement. “Each of your products has a distinct personality—they’re like characters in a story,” I say during a GRAY interview with the two. Dodd laughs in response. “When you said that, I thought of the movie Night at the Museum, where all the objects come to life,” he says. “It’s a bit like that!”

FROM LEFT: The Paradise chair is constructed from sustainable Canadian maple by master artisans in Toronto. Designer Bob Dodd says of the Mono collection, “We depend on expert craftspeople for advice on engineering and construction issues, such as how to make the curved parts of the table and chair in an efficient way.” Objects & Ideas co-founders Bob Dodd and Di Tao.

Playful and idiosyncratic as its highly curated collection of furnishings may be, when it comes to the production process, the Toronto-based studio is all business. A deep attention to craft informs the brand’s practice, with each piece hand-made by regional master artisans. For example, the Mono chair, part of a collection the studio released earlier this year, is composed of several pieces of hand-turned wood meticulously joined in a single undulating line to form the back and three legs. A minimalist study of line in space, not to mention a feat of ergonomics and woodworking know-how, the chair also has an undeniably spirited personality. As Dodd says, “You look at it, and somehow it is talking to you.”

This interest in creating products that communicate at a deeper level is what drives Dodd and Tao, who met in Helsinki in 2000. At the time, Tao was studying for his master’s in product design at Helsinki’s University of Art and Design and Dodd was working on UX design for electronics brand Nokia. After collaborating on side projects for years in Helsinki, the duo reunited in Canada in 2015 and started talking seriously about launching their own design studio. “It took us about two years of going through the initial prototyping process to build things we were happy enough to show people,” Dodd says.

Three years after the brand’s official launch, an iterative, time-intensive process still drives Objects & Ideas. Although they rely on artisan expertise to craft their furniture, Dodd and Tao still hand-sketch many of their designs before creating digital models and rough initial prototypes in their studio. “We both came from a high-tech world where everything was made from plastic and glass,” Dodd says, “so to come back to natural materials like wood, we had to stop and rethink.”

While every piece presented by Objects & Ideas starts from a deeply conceptual place—the Wye rocker, for instance, was inspired by the movement of wind through swaying bulrushes—it’s the hands-on, give-and-take exchange with woodworkers, metalworkers, and upholsterers that brings the furniture to life. “Our products are not made by industrial machines; they’re made by humans, so each one has its own differences and character,” Tao says. “We talk about our products having a soul, and our process is part of that,” Dodd adds. “When you look at our pieces, each one is telling you about its history and sharing a story about how it was made.”

FROM TOP: The Aero coffee table is an airy, lightweight complement to the Paradise chair. Made from polished aluminum, the Flow coffee table is a ribbon of complementary colors. The Wye rocker—the product that helped launch Objects & Ideas—won the European Product Design Award in 2018.

Images courtesy Objects & Ideas; Portrait by Kuba Los


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