A Winnipeg designer goes against the grain of straightforward furniture.

A white-oak sawhorse, scored with slots that accommodate a sleek nickel-plated lamp. Candle-holders that evoke the recycled beer bottles from which they were made. Pieces this varied make you wonder just what unifies a particular collection of work—and about the fertile mind of the designer who dreamed it up.MKroeker_HutJ-Camila_side_jrOur judges independently praised the unifying sense of “humour” and “romance” exhibited by Winnipeg-based designer Matthew Kroeker. “Those aspects of my work aren’t necessarily premeditated, but they’re there,” says the designer. “I enjoy thinking about the smile that might come to someone’s face.”Kroeker has applied his multifaceted skills to a dizzying range of products since graduating in 2001 from the Ontario College of Art and Design. But it’s the combination of playfulness, practicality and economical beauty in his furnishings that has drawn raves at trade exhibitions in New York, Chicago and Milan. His work’s international appeal doesn’t mute its very Canadian identity. Indeed, judge Tobias Wong described one Kroeker work as “a beautiful expression of ‘Western-ness.’” Kroeker himself says: “I’m a product of my environment and my work is a product of myself. Maybe that stems from spending summers on Lake Winnipeg. Or it trickled down from my Mennonite heritage of farming the southern Manitoba soil.”In the esoteric world of design, Kroeker’s expertise in fabrication is a refreshing quality. “I often limit myself to materials that are readily available and that are efficient, to produce one piece or in much greater quantities.” Careful selections of wood, fabric and metal provide a palette for his work. Describing his aesthetic, Kroeker says: “The core ideas are rooted in a craft-based tradition but in the execution there’s something oddly futuristic. I guess. Sorta.” It’s a definition as exquisitely fractured and as seamlessly united as his own Splinter bench. -WL