Since hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010, Vancouver has rapidly ascended to the rank of international hub of commerce and culture. Projects by local heavyweights Patkau Architects and Bing Thom Architects (now Revery Architecture) dot the city’s skyline, while structures by Bjarke Ingels Group, Shigeru Ban, and Herzog & de Meuron are taking shape. It’s a shift that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the city’s fledgling design scene. Though a number of prominent figures—from celebrated architect Arthur Erickson to artist-turned-author-turned-artist-again Douglas Coupland—have called the West Coast metropolis home, the past decade witnessed another cohort of multihyphenate creatives who have set up shop here.
And while much of this physical expansion and economic transformation has resulted in skyrocketing real estate prices, a new generation of designers continue to carve out their own space. With property values rising over 50 percent in the last five years, many studios have found unique ways of working autonomously and together. Among them, collaborative ventures and hyperlocal producers are forging bonds with manufacturers both at home and abroad. From a contemporary blacksmith to a dynamic lighting trio, here are five of the leading practices shaping design in the city.
What happens when you combine an experienced business manager, a Vancouver and Berlin– educated industrial designer, and an award-winning, Design Academy of Eindhoven–trained creative? The answer: ANDlight. Founded by Matt Davis, Caine Heintzman, and Lukas Pe et in 2013, the lighting design and manufacturing brand has become the go-to for well-crafted fixtures conceived and fabricated in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood. Recent releases include Heintzman’s single- and multi-pendant Vale series, featuring an undulating diffuser and an electrical assembly integrated within its thin frame, and Peet’s Pivot light, a line of table lamps defined by a balancing aluminum shade that orbits an opaque sphere.
From a spherical steel chair that riffs off of minimalist sculpture for American retailer The Future Perfect to inaugural lighting collection Bora, launched at NYCxDesign last May, the refined yet substantial work of Ben Barber’s eponymous studio has gained a significant international following. Having studied sculpture at New York’s Pratt Institute, Barber brings an emphasis on space and form to works like the Pluto Table, featuring a glass top fixed to a spun-metal base via a bronze fastener, and the precision-cut aluminum Sanora tables. Each is designed and manufactured in the Vancouver area and conceived to be fully customizable with various finishes and dimensions.
After a successful stint as one half of design duo Knauf and Brown—racking up accolades at major design events in Cologne, Stockholm, and elsewhere since their debut in 2013—the Emily Carr University of Art + Design graduate Calen Knauf branched off and established his eponymous firm in 2019. From their studio in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, Knauf and his team craft impossibly refined objects that push everyday materials and techniques to their aesthetic and conceptual limits. Their recent peach-toned Stutter Light fixture was carved from a solid block using a five-axis CNC machine, giving the sleek luminaire a seemingly lifelike slouch.
Honey dippers, door handles, chopsticks, and more: Nothing is off-limits for metalsmith Stefanie Dueck. First trained in ceramics and later in metal arts, Dueck carries the charm and sense of imperfection embodied in the craft of making into her hand-forged flatware. This approach is evident in the Smash Series—a line of stainless steel and bronze spoons whose bowls resemble delicate lily pads—and her most recent collection of steel flasks ornamented with hammer marks. In addition to being a staple of Address, an annual design exhibition that spotlights female, queer, and POC designers, Dueck also creates large-scale sculptural artworks and custom commissioned pieces.
Led by self-taught designer Henry Norris, New Format launched in 2016 and has since developed a distinct portfolio of furnishings defined by distilled material palettes and subtle references to the West Coast vernacular. His Lincoln lounge chair features a delicate bronze-cap accent, a blackened steel frame, and a coal leather cover, while the aluminum Mers collection takes its cue from the fishing boats lining Vancouver’s Coal Harbour. Offered in seven muted colorways inspired by the ocean vessels, the indoor and outdoor line of tables—like each piece by New Format—is carefully handmade inside the studio’s landmark 1000 Parker Street warehouse.