For over 40 years the Cabbagetown community has celebrated local artists through one of the longest running festivals of its kind in Ontario, The Cabbagetown Arts and Craft Show. Showcasing the work and inspiration of participants for their innovation is a fantastic way to pay tribute to the vast talent within our Toronto art community. The winners of this year’s Richard Silver Award are Pierre Quesnel and Coraline Allard of Q and A Design. The duo works primarily with wood and metal to make their projects both big and small go from vision, to design, to reality.
Most people don’t think of architecture as a stepping stone into the world of art and design. Can you tell me about the path that led you from architecture towards what you do today?
We worked for two years in architectural studios in France after completing our architectural degrees in Normandy. We decided it was time for us to travel and improve our English, so we picked Toronto, and that is where our path moved towards making. We met John, who needed plans at the time for a project making an aluminum riveted traveling trailer. Soon enough, the plans were drafted, and then John needed help building the trailer. Our first attempt was a mess, but John asked us to rethink the process, and we learned to design things to be made. We quickly moved from the computer to the shop, learning how to metalsmith, and constructed the first two prototypes of the Bowlus Road Chief Trailer.
We instantly loved the tight and bidirectional relationship between designing and building. It was great to design knowing you can make and create from scratch what you just designed. Sometimes it needed to evolve, which involved back and forth steps between drawing pads and the workbench. When this project came to an end for us, we wanted to keep on designing and crafting amazing projects, so we started our own design studio.
How do you decide which art shows to participate in and showcase your work? Why did you select the Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts Show?
We participate in few shows compared to other artisans, five to six per year, and all of them are in Ontario. We favour local shows to optimize connections we make during these events. We heard about the Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts Show from Nahid (a fellow artist) while participating in the One of a Kind Show, and she thought it would be a good fit for us. We were accepted to participate and love the vibes of that show.
Tell me about some of the work you’ve showcased at Nuit Blanche and how it compares to other works displayed at events like the One of a Kind Show?
Our participations at Nuit Blanche have been great experiences. We showcased in the Spadina Museum’s garden, in collaboration with LUBO, building small architectures around fire, and creating space for people to meet, gather, and share stories during that night.
It is much different from exhibiting at the One of a Kind Show, where we offer crafted Christmas gifts such as aluminum lunch boxes, or bird feeders. This is the beauty of participating in such different events, we get to show the full spectrum of our work, from crafted wood and metal gifts to architectural sculptured spaces.
Which artists, designers, architects, and people inspire your work most? How?
We developed a great group of artist friends here in Toronto, ranging from gigantic art projections to wood carving masks, which boost our imaginations, and create a great dynamic of inspiration. We also like to look at old scientists’ research (like Leonardo Da Vinci) and adapt them to create a new project.
We have always been interested in small architecture, and especially architecture made with natural materials, creating curves. We came across Ibuku‘s work in Bali, and dream of going there one day. Also, a BIG source of inspiration is Ibuku’s project explanation process – its simplicity with graphic diagrams – they design it for everyone to understand.
What are your favourite places in Toronto to look for ideas and inspiration?
Our friends LUBO and Scott Eunson share a studio on Dupont. They have been there for years and gather bits and pieces from past projects. The energy there is so inspiring. Then we also like to check out what’s new in the retail shops of local designers. Queen Street West is a good neighbourhood for that. When we have gathered ideas, we love to get out of town and disconnect for a few days at a friend’s cabin in the woods. Cooking over a fire and swimming in the river helps us reconnect with nature, our inner self, and develop a new project.
What’s the most challenging thing about working on projects in such varying size and scope? What’s the best thing about tackling projects that are so unique from each other?
Working on such different projects implies different ways of working, different set ups in the studio. When we prepare for craft shows it must be organized and rational, everything is pre-established like a mini-manufacture, and when we work on commission it can go all over the place. Usually it starts with a big space for the computer and drawing space, but it never lasts, materials and tools end up taking up the entire room.
Good thing is: It is never boring! We like this diversity. We learn things from each project and adapt them for the next one.
Your work is primarily in both metal and wood, how do you find a balance both aesthetically and functionally in using these two differing materials?
We’ve always loved wood. It’s warm, soft and so versatile, even flexible! But is has limits.
Metal is quite new for us; we started working with aluminum when we were working on the trailer. We mostly worked with sheets for the shell and interior furniture, and tubing to build the framing. One of the main reasons for using aluminum is that it’s relative lightweight compared to its strength.
Next, we learned how to work with copper sheeting by helping a friend with roofing on a complex porch that had curves all over. After we mastered the technique, we created a commissioned sculptured mailbox for his client. We directly adopted it, as it worked well with cedar. We like to use materials for their best application, and therefore wood and metal complement one another naturally in a way that enhance or improves them both.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since launching Q&A Designs in 2014?
Being an artisan is a complex job, besides always being creative and bringing new products to the table, you must get out of the shop, market your creations, and sell them. We have been lucky to meet people that have helped us to move forward with this, and therefore have learned so much since we started Q&A Design. And it is a challenge that we are happy to take on because it also gives us freedom to create and evolve the way we want / feel.
What has been the biggest inspiration towards creating your work?
I think our European / French culture plays a big part in our inspiration. But what we care most for is to create projects that will last physically and in people’s minds, using authentic and quality materials.
Which projects are you most proud of? Why?
In January 2018 we set up a trade show booth for Aya kitchens in Orlando. We worked with them on this design, creating an eye-catching space with the smallest amount of material possible. We used offcuts from the door department of their manufacturer to build a nest between art and architecture, encapsulating the whole 20’x30′ space. It was a great success; visitors were attracted to it and the company really enjoyed it.
What upcoming projects are you most excited about?
We are working with a developer on a permanent Urban furniture / Art installation to celebrate a neighborhood in the process of revitalization where we associate curves and lines to create a welcoming gathering place. Stay tuned for more.
What surprises people most about your work?
The fact that we craft objects, that we design, build, and setup a custom tent for our shows is something unique. We make wood and metal gifts, but we also build unique tent structures, and this surprises people. We also get noticed for our attention to detail and precision in everything we make.
What’s the best way for people to find out about your upcoming projects and see your work?
We post our most recent works on Instagram and Facebook. We also have a website that showcases all our finished projects, and an Etsy shop where we list all our crafted gifts. For those who’d rather see things in person, we will be at the One of a Kind Winter Show from November to December.