A New Canadian Aesthetic: Canada's Top Ten Designers and Collaborations

Photo of Alexia Wulff
4 January 2017

Offering up a broad range of design practices and aesthetics, Canadian design is promoting itself to the rest of the world. Typically Canadian and yet simultaneously new and unexpected, we can expect to see a lot of wonderful design coming from Canada in years to come.

Canadian design, it seems, is very much like its people – warm, fun and eclectic. The country itself is one of extremes: extreme weather that ranges from searing hot summers to 40 degrees below in winter, extreme landscapes from the vast forests to prairies to rocky mountain ranges, and of course the exciting cosmopolitan cities. In Canada, good, innovative and forward thinking design is important. The featured designers exhibit a broad scope of talent and exquisite craftsmanship in their work that is indicative of their country of origin.

‘Softhousing’ | © Molo


Based in Vancouver, Molo is a collaborative design and production studio led by Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen. Dedicated to the research of materials and architectural explorations of space, Molo create and distribute unique and innovative products for clients around the world. Perhaps one of their most exciting creations is the softhousing concept. A not-for-profit project, softhousing seeks to create private space within the existing shell of a building. By creating make-shift partitions from concertina’d paper, these individual shelters provide a solution to homelessness in the wake of a disaster. It allows for victims to retain a modicum of privacy, and is additionally easy to construct numerous pods within a large space. The material gives the spaces warmth, and makes them feel almost homely as opposed make-shift and cell-like. A truly exciting innovation, this is a design that will transform lives around the world.

‘Clouds’ | © Mason Studio

Mason Studio

Having exhibited at the 2013 Toronto Design Offsite Festival, Mason Studio are a highly conceptual design duo made up of Ashley Rumsey and Stanley Sun. With extensive experience designing and managing retail, commercial and hospitality projects, Mason Studio create interesting and innovative spaces for clients the world over. At the Toronto Design Offsite Festival, Mason Studio filled an empty warehouse space with luminous paper clouds. Installed with motion sensors, the clouds would begin to glow as one walked towards them, and then fade again as the person walked away. Intended as a calming space amidst the hustle and bustle of the festival, Mason Studio wanted the installation to draw the festival-goers to some sort of tranquility, if only for a fleeting moment.

‘Oi’ | © Craig Alun Smith

Craig Alun Smith

Describing himself as ‘a Designer, once a Soldier, now a Parade’, Craig Alun Smith has set up a number of influential design studios in his time. These include plastic buddha in 1998 which developed product design and strategies for manufacturers, and Motherbrand in 2003 as a side project to plastic buddha. Motherbrand was a non-commercial design collective through which Canadian cultural identities and stereotypes were explored. In fact, the collective’s first international exhibition, Cabin, is credited with launching a new Canadian design vernacular. In 2010 Smith’s Oi ‘cellular’ Furniture system debuted in New York at ICFF after four years of development. Created with Blair Fox, the Oi ‘cellular’ Furniture system is formed of seating, surface and lighting ‘cells’, that can be reconfigured to created infinitely expandable ‘cellscapes’. Ever eccentric and always with a sense of fun, Craig Alun Smith’s designs are both imaginative and innovative.

Tandem Cycle | © Will McDonald

Will McDonald

Receiving his Bachelor of Industrial Design in April 2012, Will McDonald has a surprising amount of work already under his belt. With a broad range of skills and creativity, McDonald is highly multidisciplinary in his design practice. His projects range from furniture and lighting such as his Stacking Lamp, which allows lighting to be altered by means of a stacking system, to transportation systems. Here, he has created some very exciting developments with regard to transportation in his Adaptive Tandem Cycle. This is a wheelchair in tandem with a bike, which provides an accessible cycling experience for those who use assistive devices for mobility, as well as their caregivers. Providing a logical transportation solution, this design is something that will hopefully be more accessible in the future.

‘Selection’ | © OnOurTable


Not simply a design studio, OnOurTable was set up by Geoffrey Lilge and wife Cindy in early 2012 as a meeting point for those who are passionate about food, design and craft. Their goal is to create original and functional objects for everyday kitchen use via design collaborations. The hope is that these beautiful, crafted pieces will stand the test of time and be passed down from generation to generation. After years of prototyping and restaurant testing, OnOurTable have a diverse collection of kitchen and dining wares, all made from carefully selected woods. These pieces are simple in their design; the grain of the wood is the only decoration necessary, and there is a warmth there that invites one to use the items for their original purpose and certainly not to leave them to gather dust on a shelf.

‘Bowls’ | © Loyal Loot

Loyal Loot

Formed in 2004, Loyal Loot is a design collective featuring individual and collaborative work from Doha Chebib Lindskoog, Carmen Douville, Dara Humniski and Anna Thomas. With each designer bringing a unique perspective and artistic process to the collective, Loyal Loot share a common desire to create objects that have integrity and timeless beauty. Their Log Bowls are a clear example of this timelessness combined with a fun and attractive update for the 21st Century. Handmade using carefully selected, locally reclaimed trees (whether fallen or felled) in a variety of species, Log Bowls display the beauty of a tree in its natural state on the exterior. The interior of the bowls are then finished with a high-gloss, vibrant finish in a wide range of colours to create a product that is both beautiful and fun. Loyal Loot have also collaborated with OnOurTable on similar projects.

Bowl Series | © Zoe Mowat

Zoë Mowat

Based in Montreal, Quebec, Zoë Mowat Design is a furniture and object design studio operated by Mowat herself. Emphasising simple form, her work has a strong sculptural feeling to it and often uses bold colours and unusual material combinations. Valuing material integrity and quality of craftsmanship in her work, Mowat aims to inspire the user with an object that stands the test of time, and won’t need replacing. Having also collaborated with OnOurTable, she has a sensitivity towards the materials she uses as well as an interesting aesthetic that is both familiar and yet completely new. The interesting material combinations and simple clean shapes create items that are modern without being cold, and ultimately highly desirable.

‘Lights’ | © Derek McLeod Design

Derek McLeod

Founded in 2008, Derek McLeod Design is a company dedicated to creating quality furniture and objects to be used in day to day life. Functioning as a manufacturer of exclusive products, and providing a professional design service for contract and residential markets, McLeod creates furniture and objects for ‘…people who like to live with quality’. Simple, comfortable and useable, these are products that enhance living by doing the job that they were designed to do, and doing it well. Simple and verging on Modernist, the furniture is pared down, with any unnecessary elements removed to create clean lined, functional objects. This more minimalist vision does not detract from the overall appearance of the products, which are warm and inviting. Clearly comfortable and obviously stylish, this is furniture to be lived with.

© Trunk Studio


Following her studies, designer Jess Tasker pursued a career as a carpenter’s apprentices, allowing her to experience hands-on experience in working with wood. This opportunity inspired her to set up her furniture firm, Trunk Studio where she designs and creates furniture using the traditional and modern joinery techniques she learned as an apprentice. Blending the clean lines of the Danish Modern furniture tradition with her own Canadian aesthetic, Tasker’s furniture is beautifully crafted as well as functional. Playing with shapes, angles and exploring combinations of wood species, she creates subtly designed pieces that evoke the Canadian culture and landscape, using the grain of the wood as decoration. In order to ensure that her designs are built to a high quality, Tasker works with small woodshops located in the Nova Scotia region of Canada.

© Castor


Interested in the middle ground between art and design, Castor is formed of the design duo Kei Ng and Brian Richer and was established in 2006. An important part of their design aesthetic is the use and reuse of materials, recontextualising and ultimately upcycling everyday objects into something exciting. The furniture and lighting they create are done so with a sense of irreverence and form an aesthetic that carries throughout the space. Since their inception, Castor Design has worked on custom furniture and lighting design, not to mention numerous interior projects. Parts & Labour, a restaurant space that combines fine dining with a punk rock venue, was set up and designed by Ng and Richer, inspired by their love of good food, good music and ultimately, good design.

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