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An Inside Look At GRAY’s Inaugural Design Conference


GRAY’s Destination DesignCon 2023 launched in Victoria, British Columbia, with a splashy celebration of the city and its vibrant design scene.


Inner Harbor, Victoria, B.C.

Victoria's Inner Harbor. Image courtesy Destination Greater Victoria.


A passion project that has been on GRAY’s bucket list for the past decade kicked off last month in Victoria, British Columbia.


Destination DesignCon (DesignCon)—an immersive symposium slated to pop up in a different city each year—is a collection of all of our favorite kinds of content and festivities. The event centered on a conference session with talks from some of the brightest creatives in the region. They left us with fresh insights and ideas, such as info on a new material for sustainable building, they inspired us to repurpose objects (no matter how large they are!), and even had us pondering whether we are at the beginning or the end of mankind’s time inhabiting Earth.


Why Victoria? It's a bold, forward-thinking city. Known for its idyllic Vancouver Island setting on the traditional territory of the lək’wəŋən people, Victoria is just a two-hour ferry ride away from lower mainland Canada. As the locale experiences a population boom, city leaders acknowledge its past while addressing its present and future needs, ever mindful of environmental, cultural, and social impacts. From GRAY's perspective, it's a strategy worth emulating and celebrating.


And, we certainly did celebrate. In addition to the conference, DesignCon included a plethora of events that provided opportunities for delegates to really take in the city and get to know the incredibly talented residents. The luxurious opening party (did someone say caviar tasting?), an afternoon of city exploration in partnership with the newly launched Design Victoria festival, and an unforgettable after-party rounded out our two days on the island.


Here are all the exciting details:


Missed this year's conference? Don't worry, join us next year at DesignCon 2024: Palm Springs! Pack your sunglasses and reserve your ticket today.




The Opening

Party

Victoria International Marina building

The Victoria International Marina—Canada’s only green superyacht marina—was designed by dHKarchitects, Western Design + Build, and Landstory.



DesignCon opened with a sunset soirée at the Victoria International Marina where Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto welcomed delegates, speakers, sponsors, and design teams.



Tyson Villeneuve, Villeneuve Creative.

GRAY partnered with event producer Tyson Villeneuve of Villeneuve Creative on both DesignCon parties. Tapping into the local design scene—and procuring some of the city's top food and beverage options—Villeneuve paired beverage bands with renowned Victoria designers who created bespoke bar installations based on their chosen libation. The creativity ran high, with culinary displays of caviar, craft cocktail, and spirit tastings, and a grazing board piled high with perfect bites. While enjoying the sunset, guests enjoyed marina views to soothing piano music, followed by Girl On Wax's DJ Vanessa (aka “Ness T”) who curated the perfect vibe as the night progressed.


Details of Western Design+Build's DesignCon Opening Party signature bar including color scheme and theme influenced by the Olé Cocktail Co. brand.



Western Design+Build (the design firm behind the interiors of the Victoria International Marina) partnered with Olé Cocktail Co.—which offers Canada's first tequila variety pack featuring four premium cocktails: margarita, paloma, chili mango, and tequila sunrise—to create a feature bar that combined classic references of Sandro Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus in a mash-up with an anime-style underwater swim-up bar.


Western Design+Build (the design firm behind the interiors of the Victoria International Marina) partnered with Olé Cocktail Co.—which offers Canada's first tequila variety pack featuring four premium cocktails: margarita, paloma, chili mango, and tequila sunrise—to create a feature bar that combined classic references of Sandro Botticelli’s iconic ‘Birth of Venus’ in a mash-up with an anime-style underwater swim-up bar. With flora nodding to the blue agave cactus plant and Pacific Northwest’s massive kelp forests, the bar also featured bubbles, seaweed, and sparkle, all enhanced by aquatic lighting effects that CDM2 Lightworks projected on the stretched textile installation of visual artist GI Blunt.


man playing piano in a waterfront building with a bar in the background

Background: Cascadia Architects, Parker Johnston Industries, and Benson Cabinetry & Millwork DesignCon opening party signature bar; Foreground: local pianist setting the mood as guests arrive.



Cascadia Architects, Parker Johnston Industries, and Benson Cabinetry & Millwork collaborated to create a signature bar serving wines by Unsworth Vineyards and Sea Star Wines. Represented by B.C.-based Storied Wines & Spirits, the bar delivered wines for all palates ranging from a dry Chardonnay to a Pinot Noir complimented by dark cherry flavors—a hallmark of Vancouver Island Pinot Noir.


The bar’s curved form referenced the idea of the circular economy, and its detailing and materiality— composed of modular elements to permit reuse—reflected the concept that well-designed products are durable, repairable, and reusable. Following the opening party, the structure was disassembled and re-arranged as an eye-catching seating arrangement at the DesignCon After Party.



Left: Large puzzle pieces made up Puzzle Lab's bar in their signature unique shapes; Right: Wayward Distillery's featured spirits.



Puzzle Lab's bar concept was playful and grounded, paying homage to its eco-friendly, laser-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles. On offer were tastings of Raspberry Gin Liqueur and Krupnik Polish Honey Liqueur from Wayward Distillery, represented by Storied Wines & Spirits. Puzzle Lab's signature oversized pieces result from Andrew Azzopardi’s proprietary parametric algorithm, which mimics the growth pattern of coral reefs. The bar design spoke to that moment of pure potential when a puzzle is poured out of its box. From the mess and chaos, with a little bit of time and patience, order will inevitably emerge.


decorative embroidered panels

Panel installations by Dana Batho of Peacock & Fig for the DesignCon opening party.



The interior window installation by Dana Batho of Peacock & Fig highlighted the beauty of botanical patterns—damask, moody florals, and folk art detailing—inspiring the viewer to dive into the world of exuberant maximalism. The designs nodded to vintage surface patterns and historical influences (the Arts & Crafts Movement, particularly William Morris’ interlocking botanical designs, comes to mind) but still felt part of the modern era. Panels were grouped by color or mood and featured a variety of art techniques such as watercolor, dip ink pen, vector illustration, and even gouache painting. The materials in the panels were four varieties of wallpaper (grasscloth, pebble, woven peel-and-stick, and smooth), as well as a range of fabrics including Belgian linen, two types of velvet, Crepe de Chine, and a variety of weights of cotton.



Left: Charcuterie grazing board by L'Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro; Center & Right: Caviar De Neuvic tasting experience presented by Christopher Bos of GC-Synergy International.



Throughout the evening, guests indulged on an oversized charcuterie grazing board by L'Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro featuring fine cheeses, meats, fruits, and spreads, and capped off the evening with a luxurious Caviar De Neuvic tasting experience presented by Christopher Bos of GC-Synergy International.




The

Conference

exterior of an old-church-turned-theater

The exterior of the historic Belfry Theatre, Victoria, B.C.



Day two of DesignCon two kicked off at Victoria's historic Belfry Theatre, with speakers and attendees gathering to enjoy a jam-packed half-day of thought-provoking talks and presentations focused on the future of design and the built environment.


Speakers from top to bottom, left to right: Luke Mari, Aryze Developments; Danielle Pope, Spruce Magazine; Erica Sangster, D'AMBROSIO architecture + urbanism; Ann Squires Ferguson, Western Design + Build; Nick Van Buren, HAVN; Joseph Herrin, Heliotrope Architects; Matt Herbert, Sherwood Outdoor Kitchens; Ali Kenyon, hcma; Garret Cord Werner, Garret Cord Werner Architecture | Interiors; Brent Comber, Brent Comber Originals; Jason Santeford, Gensler Vancouver; Michael Green, MGA + Workshop; Brandon Gaston, GRAY (moderator); Jeffrey Montes, Blue Origin; Craig E. Norris, Victoria International Marina.


panel of people sitting on stools on stage
Panel discussion left to right: Danielle Pope, Erica Sangster, Luke Mari, Ann Squires Ferguson, Brandon Gaston (moderator)

With an overarching theme of "Design for the Future," the DesignCon talks and presentations began with an enthusiastic panel discussion comprising local Victoria designers, builders, and media discussing how their city manages its rapid growth with thoughtful development and strategic solutions to ensure a sustainable and inclusive future.


With speakers from around North America, the day's programming covered topics including the Blue Economy, the path to net-zero practices, a discussion on building with perspective and prioritizing a project's existing community, and a conversation on the role of wellness design in the workplace. Additionally, two short films showed: one looking at the inspiration and process of creating unique spaces and one exploring the transformative experience of an artist's recent project connecting to nature and landscape.


people sitting on the edge of a stage

DesignCon conference Speakers at the edge of the stage for Q&A with the audience.


Following a thought-provoking final talk thinking about the future through space architecture, the house lights raised, and speakers gathered at the edge of the stage for a rousing Q&A with the audience.




Offsite

Events

Design Victoria Logo

Sample of Design Victoria events, left to right: Design Trail: Malahat Skywalk; Mural Mixer with Gallery Merrick; Open Studio with MGA + Workshop; Beer & Build with RBW and Above90



Following the conference, delegates explored the city and enjoyed the off-site events debuted by the newly-launched Design Victoria. Attendees popped into open houses, studio and project tours, workshops, cocktail events, and hands-on experiences. Continuing into the weekend with over 30 events to visit, Design Victoria kept us all coming back for more!




The After

Party

sunset building exterior

Exterior of the Thomas and Birch Kitchens + Living showroom, Victoria, B.C.


people dancing at a party
Guests dancing at the DesignCon after party

Concluding GRAY's 2023 DesignCon was the highly anticipated after party at the Thomas and Birch Kitchens + Living showroom. Several spaces in the building underwent significant transformations in anticipation of the event. Signature bars and bespoke installations peppered the first and second floors, including a pop-up lounge and separate speakeasy that set the stage for an unforgettable evening!



Left: Bidgood's signature cocktail bar; Right: detail of the Tom Dixon chandelier featured in the installation.



Local design firm Bidgood joined forces with florist Rook & Rose to create a show-stopping signature bar for the DesignCon After Party titled Dopamine Dreams. The bar explores the restorative potential of the built environment with this dream-like installation designed to make viewers feel good. At its heart, a circular bar—designed to encourage guests to gather and interact—served an Aperol-infused slushy and spirit-free lemonade by Hey Happy.


wooden topped seating at a party
The Cascadia Architects, Parker Johnston Industries, and Benson Cabinetry & Millwork opening party bar reconfigured into a conversational seating arrangement.

Adjacent to the Bidgood signature bar, Cascadia Architects, Parker Johnston Industries, and Benson Cabinetry & Millwork reconfigured their DesignCon opening party modular bar into a seating arrangement meant to show the diversity of the design and represent their support for a circular economy.







Left: Top to Mike Randall's signature bar, the Dekton Gk07 Ceppo by Cosentino; Right: Detail of the Y-shaped trestle leg chosen for the bar for its strength and styling.



Heavily influenced by his love for European midcentury styling, Mike Randall of Mike Randall Design utilized the combined strength of the Y-shaped trestle leg system and bent-wood construction for his gorgeous, stream-line custom bar. Like all trestles, the Y Trestle allows for a wide variety of tabletops. In this application, the top is Dekton Gk07 Ceppo from Cosentino. The distinctive blue-grey multiform structure of the Italian Ceppo di Gré stone inspires its unique color.


Playing against the calm tones of Randall's bar were the colorfully packaged plant-based cocktails by Sake Bomb. Guests could enjoy the drinks as a traditional cocktail or try their skills at a Sake Bomb favorite: the "Ski Shot," drinking a quick shot of Sake Bomb with three others from holders fixed to an actual snow ski (pictured at right)!





nest bar made of hundreds of pieces of wood featuring Maker's Mark whiskey

The mesmerizing Nest bar by Robert Blaney Design, Inc.



The signature bar Nest by Robert Blaney Design, Inc. was inspired by the vintage industrial brick-and-wood beams of the top floor in the Thomas and Birch building, where carriages used to be hauled up and repaired. Seabirds notoriously spent time here where they felt safe and hidden. Tucked upstairs in a loft-style speakeasy, Nest is a contemporary interpretation of a complicated nest structure.


Ambiance of the DesignCon after-party speakeasy.



The concept behind this space, designed in collaboration with Maker’s Mark, was meant to be moody, swank, warm, and inviting. Serving two signature cocktails—a traditional Old Fashioned and the Maker's Mark Southern Hospitalitythe loft space was a hit for engaging in lively conversation, relaxing with a smooth beverage, or even playing a little foosball with friends.


close up of origami seagulls

Hundreds of origami seagulls hung from the ceiling, creating the art installation Guano by Shape Design.


origami seagulls hanging from the ceiling

Spanning two stories in height and hanging through the center of the back stairwell was an installationby Shape Design. Titled Guano, the piece featured hundreds of origami seagulls above a plinth covered in their feces embodied the natural collaboration between birds, humans, and our local ecosystem. Guano refers to seabird excrement— one of the most effective natural fertilizers thanks to the birds’ nutrient-rich diet. The story behind this work was a playful take on an all-too-common occurrence in Victoria and an attempt to take a seemingly mundane (although agreeably unpleasant) experience and show how pivotal it is to our coastal environment.





sofa lounge with light sofa and dark furniture

Pop-up sofa lounge featuring Montauk sofas & furniture, Mike Randall lighting, & Atelier Dimopoulos fine furniture.



sofa lounge with light furniture and chair and dark sofa

A pop-up sofa lounge—featuring Montauk contemporary furniture in collaboration with lighting designs by Mike Randall and fine wood pieces by Atelier Dimopoulos—created a luxury seating area and gathering space for a comfortable, conversational atmosphere. Following the DesignCon after party, the sofa lounge remains in Victoria at the Thomas and Birch Kitchen + Living showroom.






guests eating a charcuterie at a party

After party guests enjoy the charcuterie grazing board by L'Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro.



Completing the evening was a lavish charcuterie grazing table by L'Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro featuring fine meats and cheeses as well as a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and spreads.


From start to finish, there is no denying the 2023 Destination Design Conference in Victoria, B.C. was a feast for all of the senses!



 

A note from GRAY:

To all who were involved in Destination DesignCon 2023: Victoria, B.C.: thank you. This event could not have been the incredible experience it was without all of the sponsors, partners, designers, planners, builders, venue hosts, our amazing tiger team, and guests. We are fortunate to have built such lasting relationships through our many events and travels and look forward to what the future holds for us all!



 

Join us for Destination DesignCon 2024

May 2-4, Palm Springs, CA




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Sponsors and partners


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