Kaly Ryan and Bram Sawatzky of Willow & Stump Design Co., have been cleverly marrying form and function since 2014 — all with an ethos of sustainability. Their multidisciplinary studio in East Vancouver has garnered national attention, thanks to the duo’s steam-bending and 3D fabrication techniques, seen on smart, stylish items like the canoe-inspired Fluyt bench that doubles as a storage unit, and the Corian chair, which incorporates thermoformed curves and complex patterns carved into the seat and back.
Ryan and Sawatzky met while studying industrial design at the University of Alberta, later independently deciding to move to Vancouver to explore more design opportunities. “Vancouver is kind of a magical city and we really wanted to live here. Having the mountains and the ocean less than half an hour from our front doors was a huge draw for both of us in terms of quality of life,” says Ryan. “Then we started discovering the cool emerging design scene.” Excited by the possibilities, the two teamed up to start a design business.
Willow & Stump began with the desire to create furniture for small urban spaces. The piece that catapulted them into the spotlight was the Ballast nightstand. Innovatively multifunctional, the modular walnut Ballast has storage attachments adjustable to different bed frames, and two optional Corian legs that convert it into a freestanding unit. “We wanted furniture that would adapt [to] you throughout your life,” says Sawatzky. The Ballast prototype design earned them a People’s Choice Award in 2014 at IDSwest (now IDS Vancouver), setting the tone for the rest of their work and providing the boost they needed to move from their garage-cum-studio to a proper workshop.
Thanks to their unique mix of modern technology, woodworking and tinkering with interesting materials, their pieces continue to snag industry nods. Last year, they were given Western Living’s Furniture Designers of the Year Award. “It was really exciting to be recognized for our work and it really motivates us to keep doing what we’re doing,” says Sawatzky.
01 Willow & Stump Design Co.
Formerly an old transmission shop, Ryan and Sawatzky’s 2,700-square-foot studio in Vancouver’s East End is brimming with all kinds of equipment, machinery and wood, which they describe as “organized chaos.” They split the by-appointment-only workshop studio with fellow designers and woodworkers — a setup that allows them to share both equipment and rent. “We all own our separate businesses, but it has a bit of that collective vibe,” Sawatzky explains. Case in point: A myriad of ideas have come to life, including the whimsical Traverse ash furniture collection, a collaboration with a friend — prints and patterns designer Annie Chen of home accessories label Lemonni. 1295 Frances Street, Vancouver, B.C.; willowandstump.com
02 Piet Hein Eek
The HQ of renowned green Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek in the city of Eindhoven used to be a factory building. Now a cavernous, light-filled gorgeous space, it is home to Eek’s workshop, showroom, gallery and store, where he sells his own work alongside other artists. There’s even a restaurant on-site, replete with his signature one-of-a-kind upcycled furniture, including the colourful bar fashioned from stacked old steel pipes. The Willow & Stump duo explored Eindhoven and dropped by Eek’s studio during Dutch Design Week 2018 — a visit that was, recalls Ryan, “very inspiring.” Halvemaanstraat 30, Eindhoven, Netherlands; +31 (0) 40-2856610; pietheineek.nl
03 Ironwood Australia
It’s hard to resist the lure of Ironwood, especially when you’re “into reclaimed wood and nerdy like us,” says Ryan, who discovered the showroom while travelling in Australia. The family-owned business, located in a suburb in Sydney, is the country’s leading supplier of reclaimed, recycled Australian hardwood timber, everyone’s wood of choice, from architects and interior designers to hoteliers and restaurateurs. “I’d never seen so much reclaimed wood in one place,” she notes. Stand-out finds include massive reclaimed beams and hard-to-come-by grey gum, a tree species native to Australia. 21 Unwins Bridge Road, St. Peters, New South Wales, Australia; +61 2 9818 1166; ironwood.com.au
The Japanese household goods store known for its quiet, understated minimalism is a designer favourite. From portable diffusers to ceramic bowls, Muji’s signature elegance and simplicity permeate every item. “The quality is just innately in the product and that’s how they’ve built their company,” says Sawatzky. The Robson location is a frequent haunt of theirs, and for Ryan, especially the notebooks. “So many size options,” she enthuses, “perfect for sketching!” 1125 Robson Street, Vancouver, B.C.;604-628-9526; muji.com.ca
Walking into the Manhattan showroom of buzzy design studio Apparatus is an immersive experience. Designers reverently describe the space as temple-like — stone, high-end metalwork, dazzling light fixtures. “Everything is elevated to another level. They pay attention to the smallest detail,” says Sawatzky. “It’s almost overwhelmingly detailed.” Plus, carefully crafted, curated and, of course, perfectly lit. 124 West 30th Street, 4th floor, New York, N.Y.; 646-527-9732; apparatusstudio.com
By Mishal Cazmi – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Spring 2019
Photography courtesy of: Brenda Liu