Designer Tanya McLean seeks out authenticity and craftsmanship (and a few great vintage finds) on and around Commercial Drive.
In her spare time—not that there’s much of it these days—Tanya McLean, creative director of Mango Design Co., paints. The subject? “I do a lot of little villages,” she says. “In my travels, I’m drawn to places that are honest, raw and real.” It’s that interest in authenticity that makes Commercial Drive one of McLean’s favourite haunts. “For as long as I’ve been thinking about design, I’ve been going to the Eastside Culture Crawl and exhibits around here,” she says, gesturing to the colourful, graffiti-covered expanse of Parker Street Studios. “That’s why I love this area. It’s the best for artisans—which is what we try to shop, rather than just going into big chain retailers.” That belief in artistic collaboration and community extends to McLean’s own business model. She founded Mango Design Co. in 2003, choosing the name for the mango tree’s iconic shape, as she explains: “I always wanted to have a company that was less about me and more about a group of people. I wanted it to be like an umbrella, like the mango tree.” As a start, she hired assistant Nichole Skladan, who shares her passion for sustainable design that marries vintage and heritage elements with modern style. “You don’t want your place to look like a time warp,” Skladan laughs—and, to that end, the pair looks for older pieces that add character, not kitsch, like a worn leather-and-rosewood chair they spot at a visit to By Design Modern. At Mango Design Co., that well-loved look is appreciated—largely because McLean has spent so much time travelling to older locales, from Paros to Paris. She loves hand-painted tile and is currently installing reclaimed timber flooring in a client’s home. Hand-thrown white cups, purchased on a recent trip to Greece, are her favourite pieces in a large pottery collection, though not the most functional—the thickness of the cups makes them difficult to drink from. But for McLean, they are infinitely preferable to mass-produced dinnerware: when you hold one in your hands, “you can feel the life, the person who made it,” she says. It’s a European attitude toward imperfection, unhewn edges and raw cuts that can be a tougher sell in a city as young as Vancouver. Fortunately, McLean is a master at balancing the old with the new. “When I started,” she remembers, “I thought I wanted to be more traditional. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized I love the heritage-with-modern mix.” That means she is just as at home perusing minimalist firepits at Solus as she is scavenging for antique treasures in The Found and The Freed. No wonder McLean calls the Drive—with its combination of 1900s architecture and avant-garde art—“my neighbourhood.”
Mango Design Co.'s Favourite Commercial Drive Spots
Parker Street Studios “The style I’ve always loved—sustainability, craftsmanship—is starting to become more mainstream,” says McLean, outside Parker Street Studios. “I want everybody to believe in this.”
By Design Modern McLean sources reclaimed vintage pieces from the ’60s and ’70s at By Design Modern. “The great thing about this mid-century stuff is that it’s sized right for smaller spaces and living in the city.”
Jeff Martin Joinery “Sometimes a live edge can look a little too hippie, but because this piece has modern elements, too, it works,” says McLean, admiring the handmade tables at the studio of Jeff Martin Joinery.
Lori Poadiuk “I met painter Lori Popadiuk at the One of a Kind show.” McLean is now a regular at The Mergatroid, a building that houses artist studios (including Popadiuk’s own workspace) and galleries.
Propellor “I love walking into Propellor and seeing light fixtures in the process of being made. Light fixtures double as art. You don’t want every light to make a statement, but you should invest in a few key pieces.”
Solus “I’ve used Solus’s firepits indoors—they really fill a place and make sense. I’ve been working with them for over 10 years. Their designs are so smart.”
The Found and the Freed “I had pennant flags hanging in my bedroom when I was a kid,” says McLean, exploring the trove of retro goodies at The Found and The Freed.
Prado Cafe McLean often holds client meetings at the bright and airy Prado Café. “There are so many coffee shops on the Drive, but this one is the most our style.”