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Michael Garman's "TBL," all photographs courtesy Michael Garman

On Canal Street, Organic Forms Take Shape

Well over a year has passed since designer Michael Garman’s “BNCH” was recognized as the “Best Prototype” at Toronto’s 2009 International Design Fair, as chronicled in Cite 80, and although he steadfastly continues to work in his Woodlands studio and his chosen medium of plywood, his design concept continues to evolve. Plywood, a weeklong exhibition ending on Saturday, April 30 at Canal Street Gallery, features Garman’s familiar repertoire of ONE3CREATIVE designs, such as the angular “ZZZZ” bed and “BLOK” stool, but the majority of work on display indicates an artist unwilling to rest on his laurels.

The low-slung “CURV” is the artist’s first chair. For the seat’s padding, Garman incorporated ¾ inch thick industrial-grade felt to create an aesthetic that’s more Joseph Bueys than Jo-Ann Crafts. Always keeping a close eye towards environmentalism, the padding is sourced from an all-natural supplier. He is also moving to a darker palette, from lighter maple, to a darker, subtly more mature walnut plywood.

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But the most significant shift in Garman’s thinking comes in the works’ shape. Gone are the sharp edges of his 2009 collection, replaced by lithely curving frames. “I think that some of the particular things that I was doing called for softer shapes,” he explains. “I wanted to make a round table, for instance. Structurally, it lent itself to curved beams. The form informs itself.”

The table (or, “TBLE”) of which he speaks boasts an at-first unsettling cantilevered surface. “I like to distort the initial appearance of the design, making it look not sturdy and unbalanced,” states Garman. Yet his craftsmanship imbues “TBLE” with an uncanny durability not present in many models of the same archetype.

Regarding his exploration into new forms, he says, “As a designer, it’s easy to become absorbed in making the same thing – I’m really good at making the bed. Or I could sit around making 100 “BNCH”s, but I’m trying to do new things.”

His ingenuity is producing design dividends: “So far this year, I’ve had more commissions than I have my entire career,” he attests. Garman returned to the Toronto fair for a second time this February, where he was met with instant recognition, notably because he was the only designer working with plywood. A soon-to-be launched Canadian design magazine will feature his work. At the fair, he introduced a new line of wall-mounted shelves, for which he utilized laser cutting to fine-tune design elements.

While he delves into a lighter aesthetic, Garman seeks further ways to make his products greener. “I’m also working on having imported a type of plywood that has no formaldehyde in the actual glue,” he says, “and then I’ll be completely green.” (The irony of a carbon footprint associated with importing plywood is another matter.) Otherwise, he has hit the threshold in water-based, minimum V.O.C. materials.

Regardless of the noble green goals and articulate design, Garman and his company, ONE3CREATIVE, refrain from pretension. As the designer elaborates, “On a very basic level, I want to open people up to different materials and the way that those can be used in a higher way. I can manipulate the shapes and adjust the compositions – but I’m just showing that plywood can be beautiful.”

Canal Street Gallery is located at 2219 Canal Street. The exhibition space is open Friday and Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

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