Entries Tagged as 'Interview'

Interview: Beau Oyler from Urbio

May 28, 2014

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We snuck in a lunch-hour phone interview with Beau Oyler, the co founder and spokesperson for EQ3+ partner Urbio, just before he left for New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF)! Beau is an industrial designer based in Oakland, California. Together with his business partner Jared Aller, Beau started up Enlisted Design, a classic design agency that develops products for clients, including branding, packaging and industrial design. “It’s a super collaborative approach to design,” says Beau, “where we actually design with our clients here in the studio to create products with them.”


Then in 2010, after working on countless projects for other clients, Beau and Jared decided it was time for their studio to design a product of their own. They began brainstorming where there was a need for a well designed product, and what would make an impact in the world, not just in the design community. They came up with Urbio, an award-winning modular wall system that can be used as vertical garden in small urban spaces, as well as for wall organization and storage. Urbio launched in 2010 with a profitable Kickstarter campaign that raised close to $80,000 (one of the highest grossing Kickstarter campaigns in its time), and soon after they received a call from ABC’s Shark Tank inviting them to appear on the show.


The show was a huge success, and Urbio has gone on to win major design awards such as the prestigious Red Dot award and International Design Award (IDA).



Portrait of Beau Oyler, Co-founder of Urbio and Principal at Enlisted Design


EQ3  How did Urbio come about?


BEAU OYLER  I grew up in Carmel, California – it’s just a small town on the coast – and my business partner grew up in the Midwest in Kansas City. So we both grew up in these quaint, suburb type towns where we had a garden and we had a yard. Then we up and move to San Francisco and Oakland and we no longer have space for anything like that and have no access to any types of gardens. I really wanted to re-connect with that idea – the idea of planting something and growing something.


So we began to design this modular magnetic wall planter system, where you’re able to take the pots off and water them and put them back on; and, to design it in such a way that every modern home and small space will want this on their wall – not just because it can grow their plants, but because it’s also beautiful.



EQ3 What are you working on right now / next?


BO  We have a bunch of new products that we’re going to be rolling out over the next 12 to 18 months, that are really going to expand the Urbio business. Our new product line, which is Urbio Organize, are very simple, very colourful plastic inserts that slip into existing Urbio posts and are dividers so you can divide mail, cards, pens, pencils, scissors and whatever is cluttering your desk. You are able to get it off your desk and organized within the Urbio system.


Because we do so well in the small space market like apartments, flats, and condos, lots of times people are renting and they’re not allowed to screw the plates into the wall. So we created this product called the wall puck. It’s this little powder-coated metal piece that you can screw with one screw into the wall. Or it comes with adhesive and you just peel the adhesive off and you could stick it on your bathroom mirror, you could stick it in a shower, or you could stick it on your wall. The Urbio pot just sticks to the little puck.


So it’s very simple, and that’s what all of our product line is going to be. It’s going to be simple products to help us organize in small spaces.






EQ3  It’s obvious that you had a very clear vision from the get go. Did you have any specific inspiration or mentors that lead you in this direction?


BO  No, it was all pretty internal. Big companies and small companies come to Enlisted because there is this collaborative magic that we have. We are able to develop products that meet the needs of their consumers. So it really honestly did come from us saying, “we have done this for dozens and dozens and dozens of clients around the world, at what point do we do this for ourselves?” We turned a portion of our efforts from outward and fulfilling our clients’ needs to inward, using the skills that we have and kind of the magic that Enlisted has to design it for ourselves and design it from the ground up. It gave us creative freedom that we generally don’t have with clients, where we own the brand and we make those decisions.



EQ3  So if this was your first time being the client, what kind of client were you?


BO  That is a very good question. Being your own client is challenging. It’s great in some ways, and it’s challenging in some ways. Making the decisions as a team, rather than having the client make the final decision is a challenge because even though the general vision is shared, we have different perspectives on how that’s rolled out.



Jared Aller, Co-founder of Urbio and Principal at Enlisted Design



Christina Rotundo, Senior Graphic Designer



Julian Bagirov, Senior Industrial Designer


EQ3  What are some of the most interesting ways people have used Urbio?


BO  There is this woman in New York who’s an interior designer, and she does a lot of work for the high-end retailers out there. She is actually amazing and she has used Urbio on drywall, on mirrors and on brick. She’s done a grass wall. Then she’s used the puck system and she’s hidden those into this grass wall, and then the Urbio pots were just used as the face.


It’s also really interesting where moms’ will use Urbio at a changing table. Evidently it holds perfectly diapers and wipes, and all those things that you need at a change table.



EQ3  You’ve had a lot of success in a short amount of time. What would you say has been one of your proudest moments or biggest accomplishments over the last few years?


I’m going to portion it into three categories – two of which are business, and one of which is just personal. For me being a product designer and a design entrepreneur, I love seeing products that I helped develop in retail. I love walking into EQ3 and seeing a standalone display of Urbio, or at The Container Store, or wherever.


The second one would be media. Shark Tank has been almost a life-changing experience. I say ‘almost’ because obviously getting married and having kids is more important and has been more life-changing, for sure. However, filming that show was very cool. My business partner and I have never been so much in sync as we were on the set that day. And just to be on the show where for four years I sat almost every Friday night and watched that show, and thought to myself one day I am going to be on the show.


And then third, just to get a little more local, is when friends text pictures of “hey I was helping my girlfriend unload the back of her car and check out what was in there.” And it’s the Big Happy Family. And they had no idea, they just saw it and loved it. Or friends who texted me in New York and said “hey check it out. I just walked into my friends flat and this was on the ground.” And it was the Urbio box that had just been delivered. Those are big wins! I’m still waiting for the big win for Michelle Obama to ask us to come and sell Urbio at the White House so she can grow an indoor wall garden!



Visit myurbio.com to learn more about Urbio product line. Also, follow the Urbio Facebook Page and @myurbio on Twitter and Instagram to see how others are using the products!


Image source: All photographs credited to Urbio

Interview: Tracey Ayton from Vancouver Vanishes

May 16, 2014


Tracey Ayton is a Vancouver-based interiors and lifestyle photographer, whose work has appeared in prominent publications such as UPPERCASE, Style at Home and House & Home, as well as online at Kinfolk and House of Fifty. Tracey takes great interest in history and appreciates the quirks and character found in old architecture. She, herself, bought a turn-of-the-century-home in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood 11 years ago, and has since renovated it with her husband to celebrate its original beauty.


Vancouver’s popular West side (east of Kerrisdale) was once populated with the kinds of architectural gems that Tracey loves. The area boasted a vibrant family atmosphere and classic Arts & Crafts style homes. But in recent years, homes in this sought after neighbourhood have been disappearing. “Once you see a “For Sale” sign in front of it,” says Tracey, “you know the red fencing is sure to go up soon after. Old homes on Vancouver’s West side are like sitting ducks.” These homes are being scooped up by developers or wealthy investors who are looking to tear them down and make a profit. Most Vancouver residents are unable to compete with the prices these investors are willing to pay, and are forced to move out of the city and raise their families in more affordable suburb areas.


Enter Vancouver Vanishes, a community Facebook Page that is a lament for, and celebration of, the vanishing character homes in Vancouver. Tracey stumbled upon the page last year and immediately wanted to be apart of it. She now joins Vancouver Vanishes’ founder and author Caroline Adderson in documenting West side homes slated for demolition.




EQ3  Tell us about Vancouver Vanishes.


TRACEY AYTON  Vancouver Vanishes is a Community Facebook Page. My co-worker who started it all is Caroline Adderson. She started taking pictures of these homes that were slated for demolition and documented them. It got to be so much that she started a Facebook Page, because she thought she should draw attention to what’s going on in our city.


I stumbled upon this page and I just thought “Wow, this is amazing.” She wrote down the year it was built, the first owner, and the owner’s occupation. I found this really interesting. One of the reasons why I live here is because I have a great appreciation for history and heritage. So I approached Caroline and I said “Hey look, I am a photographer, my subjects are homes and interiors, and I do have a passion for history.”


We travel to the west side of Vancouver 2-3 times a week, and go into houses that we have permission to enter and take pictures, both inside and out. Then we document them on the page.



EQ3  For our readers who may not understand Vancouver’s real estate market, can you explain what’s going on there and why these homes are getting torn down?


TA  Vancouver is an interesting and beautiful place to buy property. The west side is extremely popular. People with money will buy up anything and most likely tear it down in order to suit their needs. A lot of times it is just investment interests. They will tear down a house with a front and a back yard, and then they’ll build something that covers 70% of the lot, the maximum allowed.


After that you expect a family to move in, but often they don’t. They just sit on the house for profit, and they’ll sell it for quite a bit more money than they bought it for. It’s sort of diminishing the feel of our neighbourhoods because one-by-one these pockets of the city aren’t vibrant anymore.




EQ3  What are the conditions of these houses?


TA  It could be an elderly person’s home that’s out of date and out of shape, but most recently there have been homes that are in perfect condition. They’ve been renovated, painted and brought up to date with electrical, you name it, but it just doesn’t matter when the house is bought as a building lot. The new buyer, who may not be living in the house, doesn’t want the upkeep of a garden.



EQ3  You’re a sought after interior and lifestyle photographer for some very prominent magazines in Canada. What goes through your mind when you’re shooting for Vancouver Vanishes?


TA  I think I tend to shoot in a bit of an artistic way. I’ve got a certain eye and it’s kind of artsy, and I try to apply that with these homes. The character of the homes – the bones – they immediately stand out, and that’s exactly what I want to photograph. Some of them have beautiful stained glass, chair rails, and fireplace mantels. I somehow seam it all together in one shot, or I break it up, just as long as it shows the character. But on the other end, I like to show the destruction of the house. So I might shoot a broken window that used to be stained glass – perfect, beautiful stained glass broken.


It evokes a feeling. I think I want people to be touched by these homes and what they used to offer. It’s sad, but they’re still standing with so much beauty in them, no matter how much people have ripped out. I guess I just try to capture that.



EQ3  You mentioned that it evokes a feeling. What feelings do these homes evoke in you?


TA  It’s bittersweet because they are such beautiful homes. It’s stuff that you just don’t see being built anymore. You see these good bones, and you know that whatever is going to be built after this is not going to be as intricate.




EQ3  We really loved the post you recently published on The Dorothies – a pair of homes that Vancouver Vanishes recently helped rescue from demolition! How did you manage to save these two homes?


TA  Well, WE didn’t save them! They were saved by the city’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement, which is one of the few heritage tools the city has. Caroline had noticed the houses and approached the developer, who was going to tear them down to build his own house and one for a friend. She arranged to get a key and go inside to photograph. Later, when the development application went forward, Caroline posted the photos and encouraged people to write letters in support of saving the houses. The press got wind of it and articles appeared in The Vancouver Sun and the Province, provoking public outcry. The developer eventually had a change of heart when he realized if he moved the houses, the city would relax some of its zoning requirements, which made the project financially feasible. It was a win for the houses, the developer, and heritage.



EQ3  If you could get one message across, what would it be?


TA  Just to make people aware of what’s happening. The more people that are aware of it, the more we can help change the laws to save these buildings. All I can do is document these homes and show people what Vancouver used to look like when I was here. I’m a fourth generation Vancouverite, so I have pictures of when my parents lived here. And, I have pictures of when my grandparents were here, and when my great-grandparents were here. I hang onto that dearly.


If there is a way that we could figure out how to stop tearing down homes that shouldn’t be torn down, then maybe that’s all I hope for.



Image source: All photos by Tracey Ayton for Vancouver Vanishes

Interview: Tiffany MacKay, EQ3 Calgary’s Shop at Home Consultant

Mar 21, 2014

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Buying furniture is an investment, and EQ3 wants to make the shopping experience as fun and stress-free as possible! Our store staff love to inspire customers with beautiful and creative room settings, but many customers need additional help to envision the furniture they see in-store, in their own home.


That’s where EQ3’s Free In Home Consultation program comes in! We’ve equipped each EQ3 retail store with a Shop at Home consultant – a trained designer who will meet you right in your home and offer advice on furniture selections and layouts, right down to the colours and accessories that’ll complete your room.


We called up Tiffany MacKay, EQ3 Calgary’s Shop at Home Consultant, to talk about the program and what a customer can expect from the Shop at Home experience. Tiffany also shared her best tips for furnishing a home.



Portrait of Tiffany, EQ3 Calgary Shop at Home Consultant


EQ3  What is your educational and work background?


TIFFANY MACKAY  I started in theatre and film. I got a degree in set and costume design from the University of Calgary. What’s kind of interesting, and why I think that is so key to my success, is that when you work in theatre you design spaces for a character, and how their home looks represents what they’re wearing and how they behave. So when I got to somebody’s house it’s about them, not necessarily what I think they should have.


After university, I worked for many different companies doing visual merchandising, and really focused on spacial relations.Then I started doing private consultations and working for a building developer, and now I’ve been with EQ3 for four years.



EQ3  What does the Shop at Home design process look like? What can a customer expect out of the experience?


TM  Typically, per room, the consultation’s about an hour. It’s a no obligation service, but hopefully the client is interested in EQ3 products and styles. When I go to somebody’s house, the first thing I always try to ask them is what they’re thinking of their space, what they’re hoping to get out of the consultation, maybe what they’re struggling with. Is it room layout, is it scale, is it colour, is it size? I always say to them “It’s your hour, so let’s talk about what you’re struggling with.”


Most often than not, I’ll go to appointments regarding upholstery. I try to think through the entire room, so that even if the client can’t afford to do all the pieces right now, at least they’re set up for success.




Condo featuring EQ3’s Replay Sofa and Simone End Table (room shot from Tiffany’s portfolio)


EQ3  What services do you offer?


TM  It depends if the client is in their home, or if they’re building their home. If they are in their home, I’d show up with a giant suitcase with all the fabric swatches. I’d move in for an hour and we’d layout the space. We’d look at the colours. I always bring paint samples too in case someone wants to paint based off of the materials they select. And then, at that point, if they’re still struggling with visualization, I like to measure (the space) when I’m in the home, and then I can provide a 3D rendering.


Typically when somebody’s not in the house, and they just have blueprints, that’s when we do a lot of 3D rendering. I always prepare a little package for them. They can take home all of the swatches that they picked and we do some before and after pictures.


And then, with most appointments, I do invite clients back into the store one more time. I refer to it as the last ’bum test’ on the sofa so they can make sure they love it and feel confident that what they’re purchasing is the right choice for them. Because there’s no point in selling someone furniture that they’re not going to love. I always joke with people that I don’t want to see them back again unless we’re doing another room.




Condo featuring EQ3’s Reverie Sofa, Solo Chairs and Cast Floor Lamp (room shot from Tiffany’s portfolio)


EQ3  Tell us about a favourite project or two that you’ve worked on.


TM I hate to play favourites. I’ve done everything from 500 square foot condos to 4,000 square foot homes. I fall in love with the people I deal with. It’s really satisfying to have somebody come back into the store and tell me how much they love it and show pictures.


In this one instance with a client I worked with, she said to me that the consultation felt more like a friend giving her advice on what would work, but with her best interest at heart. Because I think sometimes when you get advice from friends, it’s their opinion instead of what’s going to work best for (your) lifestyle.


We also did a huge crown suite in the Westin. That was quite memorable. When Presidents and dignitaries from other countries come and stay at the Westin Downtown, we did that suite for them. That was tons of fun!



EQ3  What are your favourite EQ3 products to design with?


TM  I love the Reverie Sofa. I love it because it looks cool, but it’s also super comfortable. I’m a big fan of mid-century design. I love that we carry Herman Miller, and I love that products like the Reverie can be complementary to their high end designs.


I quite like the Mesa Dining Table as well. I love marble. I think that there’s something polished and elegant about it, and if you can’t afford granite, quartz or marble countertops, it’s a way to incorporate that element into your home.


In terms of accessories, I love the Sitara Rug. I like the idea of a summer and a winter rug. I feel like that adds an element of longevity. The Sitara’s great in the winter for its cozy, knit appeal, and I like the Ori in the summer. It has a little thinner pile, so it’s easier to maintain if you’re in and out of the house with your flip flops.




Condo featuring EQ3’s Elise Sofa and Rubix Ottomans (room shot from Tiffany’s portfolio)


EQ3  Do you have any tips for any readers who are furnishing their homes?


TM  I think less is more. I know a lot of people are in a rush to get things done. If you take your time and make the right choice – no band-aid solutions – you get the right piece, in the right space, and you actually don’t spend as much money.


You can always add, but it’s difficult to take away, especially furniture because it is a larger investment.



EQ3  What does your own home look like?


TM  I’m an artist, so I have lots of artwork on the wall. It has a very beachy, California vibe. I’m bold: I have a coloured sofa. It’s Key Largo Teal, which is a vibrant blue. I’m a bit of a book nut, so I’ve got lots of bookshelves, and I organize the books all by colour. I also have lots of pieces from EQ3 and my travels.


Need help selecting the perfect furniture for your home? Click here to arrange a free in-home consultation with an EQ3 designer, or call your local store today.

Interview: EQ3 Product Development Team

Mar 12, 2014

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Meet the product development team; Carla Zacharias (accessories), Enri Tielmann (upholstery) and Madi Cash (casegoods).


EQ3’s spring collection is centered around natural materials like felt, hand woven wool, undyed linen, solid wood, and raw marble. With the use of these materials, EQ3’s product development team has created a cohesive collection to help make your home both comfortable and inviting. We sat down with Carla, Enri and Madi back in January, while EQ3 was busy with the spring catalogue photoshoot. We asked them how they began working at EQ3, what inspires them, and of course about the new spring collection!


A condensed version of this interview can be found in the 2014 Spring Supplement Catalogue. Watch for it online and in-store starting next week!



Portrait of EQ3 Product Developers: Enri, Carla and Madi



EQ3  What is your background?


Madi  My educational background started with business and then shifted towards design by enrolling in a cross-disciplinary undergraduate program in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture. During my time at the U of M I took a furniture studio, taught by the talented and inspirational Deb Scott who influenced me to pursue furniture design after graduation.


She gave me a great understanding of how certain things fit together – not only physically, but also conceptually. I think she was really good at pushing her students to really use their mind in ways that they may not have organically.


Carla  I too was part of U of M’s Faculty of Architecture. Both Madi and I graduated with an Environmental Design degree, specializing in Interior Design.


Enri  I grew up in Germany. After a mandatory year of social service I went to study Theology in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Afterward, I started a second degree in Business and Economy back in Germany. It was then that I had the opportunity to intern at EQ3 in 2010. I joined EQ3’s product development team shortly thereafter. I was very excited to combine my educational background in business with my interest in design.




EQ3  What influences your work?


Madi  In product development, our work is a response to different needs. I think my friends and family have a lot of personality, and they all have a lot to say, all the time. I’m definitely inspired by them.


I read a lot of magazines and newspapers and I’m on the internet all the time so I take a lot of influence from what is happening in the world. I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on nationally and internationally and relate that back to what we’re doing here at EQ3.


Carla  There isn’t one specific thing I look to – I take a lot of inspiration from my day to day. Oftentimes on weekends when I’m not working, all of a sudden, things will come to mind. Or, I’ll see something on the internet and not think anything of it, and I’ll think of it later as being great inspiration for a new project.


Enri  I think everybody has a unique background, filled with special people that you admire, different places you have visited, where and how you’ve grown up and what you’ve been exposed to culturally. I believe it’s a mixture of all of those things that have influenced my life and certainly my perspective on work.




New Stumpy Wall Hook (Large), designed by Carla



EQ3  Is there a specific designer whose work you’re inspired by?


Madi  Right now is such an amazing time with so many exciting things happening in architecture, furniture and fashion. There are just so many people doing great things both here in Canada and globally that I’m continually inspired by what I see. Furniture, and even fashion to some extent, have traditionally been boys clubs, with men often dictating the forms and materials that influence what we live with. Now we have crazy-talented women like Phoebe Philo, Mary Katrantzou, Inga Sempé and Patricia Urquiola at center stage shaping the trends that are influencing the entire industry. I love that so much.


Enri  I would say for myself, I totally agree with Madi on the amount of designers and artists that you can name. I’m personally fascinated by the work of Oscar Niemeyer. He was a Brazilian architect who just recently died at 104 years of age. What I really admire, in general, are designers who strive to question the status quo and who reinterpret things that already exist.


Carla  I was always very interested in Richards Serra’s work. How his work affects space by using scale and volume, and how people respond physically and emotionally.




EQ3  What is your favorite design that you’ve done for EQ3?


Enri  I would say I particularly liked working on the Eve Sofa collection. Besides the aesthetical aspect, we were able to introduce high end components such as feather seating and a die cast aluminum leg at an affordable price.


Carla  This is always changing, and my answer would probably always be something that I’m currently developing. In the beginning it was probably one of our rugs, like the Corfu. You learn about the different techniques and then when you finally see your design being developed – it’s pretty cool. In terms of a current favorite, the Stumpy Wall Hook was a fun project to work on.


Madi  Definitely the Reclaimed Teak Bedroom. It was fun to work on it because I spent a lot of time in Indonesia learning where the reclaimed teak originates. I really like that this material has a story and has had all of these different lives. Each piece has all this history literally engrained into the material, and when you buy the finished piece and take it home, the material embarks on a new journey.




Eve Chair, designed by Enri



EQ3  What tool or resource do you find most important to your job?


Madi  Definitely a notebook – pen and paper.


Enri  I carry a Muji passport notebook that perfectly fits into my back pocket. When we travel to furniture shows overseas, this is where I put all of my notes and sketches down. It becomes a chronicle of all of our experiences.


Carla  Pantone colour swatches are important for my work. It’s a common language across all the countries that I work with and I reference it daily.


Madi  I’m travelling a lot so my iPhone has become a fairly essential tool and if it left me while I was half-way across the world I would cry – but I stick with my original answer – pen and paper is the most essential. You can do everything. You can take your notes. You can do your sketches.




EQ3  Tell us about the spring collection.


Madi  Our focus was toward really comfortable, wholesome, natural products that could fit into someone’s life in a very easy way. I would say warmth might be a way you could describe it. I used a lot of solid woods and clean lines – nothing too decorative.


Carla  I used a lot of weaves and natural materials – cottons, wools, natural felts and linens. I focused on softening the table setting with the use of textiles and subtle colours.


Enri  The natural materials we’ve used allow the collection to be integrated into various contexts from, perhaps the most obvious one, a cottage at the lake, to the minimalist condo.


With upholstery specifically, we have introduced a new design language with skirted slip covers. This is a new addition to our product range. It’s interesting to offer something to our customers that will broaden our product offering.




Reclaimed Teak Low Dresser, designed by Madi



EQ3  What does your own home look like?


Enri  Well, that’s a good question. Are you visiting today? If we are expecting a visitor, then it is very clean, but if not, I’d say it’s a very eclectic mix of shoes, clothes and bags everywhere – so really messy.


Aside from that I would say it’s a collection of pieces here and there that have been added overtime that we have become emotionally connected to, such as, a set of molded plywood dining chairs that we got from my grandparents and refinished. But then there are also very utilitarian, very useful objects that we just try to combine with the rest to make a cozy home.


Madi  I don’t know how to describe my home…


Enri  As an art exhibit.


Madi  (laugh) Yeah, it’s not so much a display, but I’ve collected a lot of little objects and books and prints and photographs throughout my life. It’s sort of a mixture of smaller items – a lot of things, but I like to think that everything I have is very intentional.


Carla  We just purchased our home this past fall. It was built in 1929 and has all the original oak floors and oak banisters. It has a lot of character details, which is what made me fall in love with it in the first place, and now we’re just slowly furnishing it. Currently it’s a mix of old things that we’ve kind of always had, and a mix of new things. For the most part it’s not overly cluttered. Most things we have pose function, except for the large amount of pillows and textiles throughout.




EQ3  How do you explore creativity outside of your regular work week?


Carla  We all have the opportunity to travel and it’s definitely an interest for all of us. Definitely going to new places, and seeing new cultures, meeting new people and the conversations you may have. Exploring the world is definitely something that inspires each of us.


I also love to cook and definitely would consider that a creative outlet outside of my day to day.


Madi  I spend a lot of my free time trying to get out to as many different galleries and shows in Winnipeg. There are so many talented people living in Winnipeg right now! Fine artists, musicians, chefs, film-makers – it’s insane. So I always try to make sure that, even when it’s inhumanely cold outside, I make it out.


Enri  I enjoy carving wood sculptures. What I find fascinating about carving, in contrast to other art forms, is that you take away all unnecessary material until you arrive at the piece that you had envisioned.




Corfu Handwoven Rug, designed by Carla



This interview was prepared for the 2014 EQ3 Spring Supplement Catalogue. Stay tuned for the announcement of the catalogue’s arrival next week.

Interview: Joe Kalturnyk from RAW:almond

Jan 30, 2014

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Winnipeg is known for its quirky festivals and unique cultural events, but there’s something really intriguing about events like RAW:almond, which have an almost unnatural ability to nudge people out of their homes on the coldest nights of the year to celebrate local talent and culture. Now in its second year, RAW:almond (#riverpopup) is a three week pop up restaurant erected on the frozen water at the historic meeting point of the Red River and Assiniboine River.


Joe Kalturnyk (Director of RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design) and Mandel Hitzer (Chef at Deer+Almond) are the creative visionaries behind RAW:almond. We dropped by the river pop up one morning, earlier this week, to chat with Joe about the festival, the structure’s design and what the future holds for this frozen gem.


Mandel was just waking up from a night on the ice when we arrived. He’s sleeping there all 21 nights of RAW:almond to raise money for three community organizations. Proceeds from the charitable adventure, now dubbed Great Canadian Sleepout (#GreatCanadianSleepout), will go toward Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, FortWhyte Alive, and Resource Centre for Manitobans who are Deaf-Blind. Donations may be made at RAW:almond, in The Forks Market, and via PayPal at TheForks.com.



Joe Kalturnyk, Director of RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design and co-visionary of RAW:almond


EQ3  In your own words, how would you describe the RAW:almond experience?


JOE KALTURNYK  It’s an adventure – for, I think everybody. For my team. For Mandel’s team. For the servers and the patrons.



EQ3  So you’re in your second year. What initially inspired the concept?


JK  We had both been doing something similar, some years back, and it was just a matter of getting a hold of Mandel and saying “hey why don’t we merge what we’re both doing.” He was doing secret dinners. I was doing pop up art galleries. And we thought, you know, this could be a really interesting new project.


Cyrus Smith is a painter-artist, and also a renowned chef. I knew him from the art world. I said “hey Cyrus, I have this idea. We should meet.” We met at the patio during The Fringe (theatre festival), and just said “yeah I’m thinking about this, what do you guys think?” They said “yeah, that sounds really cool. Where should we do it?” I had some ideas. They had some ideas. And then, I think at the table, we just decided that we’re doing it on the river.


I was thinking about it yesterday, we had such weird impressions of what this would be. Like, we had weird impressions that nobody would come, so we wouldn’t do anything on Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday maybe some soup. We just thought this would not be popular and nobody would be that interested, but maybe on the weekend some people would come. So it started gaining, I guess, momentum, and I can’t remember when the decision was made that we were actually going to do dinner every night, but once we found out that 3 weeks was our license, we thought maybe he (Mandel) needed someone to help him, because three weeks is a long time to do it by yourself. So he called in some friends, and called some more friends, and that’s how it turned into the kind of festival that it is.



EQ3  Interesting that the idea was formed in the summer, during The Fringe Festival.


JK  Yeah, for me, I had been thinking about it for a bit. I am always interested in sort of nomadic architecture – temporary architectures – and, I was interested in different ways of programming this kind of space. I used to be a scaffolder, so I know this material and I find it very fascinating and a beautiful material in its own simplicity. Simple to make, simple to put up and take down. I mean, I taught my teammate who helped me in a few days and he’s up there doing what a professional scaffolder would do. So it’s such a beautiful material. Then I thought, “okay, well I want to explore this material further” and I’m thinking we could make an interesting shape…we could do all this other stuff. It could be a meeting of architecture and food…sort of push those avenues. Yeah, so it had been bubbling for a bit, but not really concrete. And then we had that meeting and it was like “yeah this could be really good. Let’s do it.”



EQ3  What was your vision for this space?


JK  I always start from the inside-out. I’ll place the table. And, I’ll place the kitchen and the lounge table and see how much space I need. So it really grows out of the necessity of getting people around a long table. We decided to do the kitchen inside this year, and do it a little more professionally, a little more finished. So that was a parameter. Then there’s all the environmental stuff, like it’s got to shed whatever amount of snow load that we get. It get’s quite heavy. It’s also got to be protected and strong enough to resist those 80 km winds we get. So those are some of the things that I’m always thinking about, in tangent of trying to come up with a form.


At first, I was thinking of doing platonic shapes, just to be, I don’t know, slightly ironic because they’re not overly clever. But then I thought “the problem with those is that I know what that looks like.” I can imagine what that would look like. The Geodesic Dome, it’s just outside (a partially built structure located close to the dining tent) and you can imagine what it’s going to look like in there. And, I kind of want to be challenged too, so I thought “what if I took a form and twisted it in space.” Ultimately, I wouldn’t know all of the parameters. I know the beginning and end, but I never know what’s going to happen in between. I thought that would be an interesting challenge. So I started that, and what I found was quite fascinating. Then I had to scale it back so it was a little more buildable. What I thought was really nice – it was a joy for me to build and see it come to fruition – is by just setting up that one parameter, every time you brace it, or every time you do something to make it stronger, it creates its own wave formation.








Mandel Hitzer, Joe Kalturnyk, Chef at Deer+Almond and co-visionary of RAW:almond



EQ3  What do you hope guests will get out of the experience?


JK  Obviously the food is a major component. I wouldn’t say it’s the only component, and that’s what I really wanted to emphasize this year. It’s an entire sensorial haptic experience: your nose, your ears, your eyes, (and) your taste buds.


I’m not interested in giving people stuff that is super esoteric, I really just wanted to bring some of the elements of my favourite artists to the table. So that’s a James Turrell inspired hallway (Joe points to the entrance’s corridor), where you’re just bathed in pure light. And you can change it, and it changes the atmosphere and the mood in here when it’s changed. The hallway very gradually contracts or expands, depending on which way you’re going, and the fun thing about it is that you kind of lose your body in that space. You kind of feel like you’re floating through it because it’s getting wider, like the 2001 Space Odyssey in the tunnel, where all of a sudden things are just opening up.


We’ll be projecting films and, I don’t know, maybe we’ll have some sound…have it cut in and out. Because it’s not really about watching a film and eating, but it’s more about being immersed in a different kind of cultural atmosphere. It’s all local artists and local filmmakers. It’s really about showcasing our talent here. That’s really my goal as a director and in this project, to not only showcase local Winnipeg talent, but also bring stuff to the table that perhaps is blasé in London because they’ve seen it a thousand times, but maybe it hasn’t come here and they’re still wonderful experiences to have.



EQ3  What are your plans for the future with RAW:almond? Do you have plans for this to continue?


JK  Yeah, this year is our year of investing. So we’ve been investing in more permanent goods, rather than last year, when we rented most things. I’m going to turn this over into an international competition. We’re writing the parameters now, like it can only be this much volume and it has to accommodate this table, and we’ll see what happens…see what comes out.


So that’s on my end. And, then I know Mandel’s always searching to bring more talent to Winnipeg. We’ve got 5 or 6 people being flown in (this time), so we’re just going to keep growing.



RAW:almond opened January 24th in Winnipeg and runs through to February 13th. We’re taking in the river pop up’s tasting bar this Friday night and will capture the evening on EQ3’s Instagram feed. Also, check back for a full recap of the experience here on the blog next week!

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