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Furniture designer Sholto Scruton creates pieces that are made for the individual and appeal to the masses.
Down on Union Street in Vancouver’s first neighbourhood, Sholto Scruton carries on a near century-old tradition. The studio space behind his home—where he designs and builds the pieces that make up his Emerald furniture collection—has been host to entrepreneurs for about a hundred years, from recycled-cloth bag producers to a (likely not above board) liquor storehouse.
The day I visit is an unusually steamy one for Vancouver. Scruton slides open hand-hewn fir doors that he crafted from wood passed down from his late father—serving as a reminder of the man who, in the way he cared for his own furniture, inspired him to build pieces that mean something. “I try to think, when I’m making furniture, this has got to last 300 or 400 years,” says this year’s Furniture Designer of the Year. “Not that I’d be so presumptuous, but if I can make something that somebody will really love, that they can keep for that long, then how will they care for it? How can they take it apart and fix it?”
While Scruton spent years working and studying with just about every Vancouver-based furniture manufacturer—from Niels Bendtsen’s factory to Van Gogh Designs and the now-defunct Upholstery Arts—his philosophy eschews broad market appeal in favour of personal stories. “When I first started to do my own thing, I thought, I’ll make the right thing for one person, wholly,” he explains. “I’ll ask what side of the bed they sleep on, if they watch television in bed, or use a tablet. Is this a piece that they want to pass on to somebody, or is it only a 15-year commitment?”
Scruton’s design philosophy always starts with the practical first—and the aesthetic follows. The coffee table in his Emerald Collection, for example, he designed for his wife. It’s six-sided to fit perfectly with the seating the couple has in the living room, and it’s topped with a tougher-than-standard quarter-inch veneer because his son likes to beat his toys on it. The Emerald Collection’s credenza is a large piece—96 inches across, so it maxes out storage—but its chamfered edges help diminish its volume visually, as do the fine metal legs it rests on, making it perfect for smaller Vancouver living spaces. And a one-of-a-kind piece he made for a client of designer Jennifer Scott includes a uniquely individual approach: Scruton marked the growth rings of a reclaimed piece of Spanish chestnut with coinciding historic occasions: when the first troops landed in Normandy, for example, or the year Terry Fox ran across Canada.
It’s this quiet practicality that was so commended by judge Barbara Barry. “Scruton’s pieces have a resolve that is in perfect harmony with the past and the present,” she writes. “They function quietly and, on close inspection, one sees the attention to detail and understanding of structure that is what makes these pieces beautiful.”
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