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Industrial designer Mario Paredes tackles every project with rational tenacity: if it can be made, he’ll make it out of wood.
It’s fitting that a workbench is one of the projects that earned Mario Paredes our 2022 Industrial Designer of the Year award. After all, it’s the same functional piece of furniture that inspired the very name of his design studio, Workbench, and it’s also one of many pieces that connect him to his late father—an engineer who was always working on one thing or another in their family’s garage in Barcelona. “My father was my role model and mentor,” Paredes shares.
Paredes started Workbench Studio in Vancouver in 2018, but he began his career in craftsmanship as a teen. “I have known what I wanted to do since I was 15,” he says. “I’ve always been very into building things.” Restoring four 100-year-old workbenches was one of the last projects he and his father completed together, and while Paredes’s 2019 take on the workbench is more modern, it maintains the strength and emotional importance of that father-son restoration.
The white oak workbench has a hardy, four-inch-thick surface, with vises streamlined into the design. According to Paredes, it took a month of full-time work to build it—so much time that it caught the attention of his neighbouring makers at Parker Street Studios. “There were other woodworkers that asked why I was spending so much time on it,” he says, “and I was like, ‘I want to use this for the rest of my life—what’s a month?’”
READ MORE: Meet Western Living’s 2022 One to Watch in Industrial Design
Paredes works on each project with an intensity that borders on obsession—and the results are stunning. “I cannot cut corners. I wish I could, I would make more money,” he jokes. “But I just can’t.” That all-in attitude has resulted in a growing list of clients, including a family doctor’s office with an unusual request: custom clinic beds. Paredes created a bed with all of the required functionality (think fold-out stirrups, a medical-paper dispenser and three seating positions) but in a modern, playful design. “Clinic beds are so boring and serious—they make you think something bad is going to happen,” Paredes says. “This one is happy, colourful and modular, like Lego.”
If the clinic bed is an example of Paredes’s dynamic design, his wooden bicycle pushes that envelope even further. The designer has a background in architecture, so he’s always excited to take on projects that move (“Architects are always designing things that are static,” he points out), and the bicycle was a magnum opus of sorts: he first dreamed up the idea 12 years ago. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic began that he had time to make it a reality. That’s when the obsession kicked in.
“You know when you just focus so completely that you forget that you’re hungry, or you forget to go to the bathroom? I was in that state. Like I was in a trance,” he explains. The charming ash-wood bicycle is fully functional: Paredes rides it around the city. “It’s way better than a business card,” he quips.
Just a few months ago in our summer issue, we named Paredes One to Watch—and what can we say, we nailed it. Judge Katrine Jopperud, design manager at Helly Hansen, noted that Paredes’s body of work “showcases the true understanding of product design, and the value and possibilities of the materials” as well as “a clear understanding and value of history.” It’s evident that the designer’s soft spot for the traditional is what makes every project so strong. “I try to make things that are very honest and humble, that will last a long time,” he says.
What’s your go-to material of choice?
Wood, for its natural beauty and honesty as a material.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Light Is the Theme, which is about Louis I. Kahn’s work at the Kimbell Art Museum. Another book I’m reading is Omer Arbel, published by Phaidon.
What’s your dream project?
Designing and building a prefab tiny home that is highly modular, compact and versatile. A perfect machine that can be transported to site flat-packed and assembled with ease.
What’s changed for you, personally or business-wise, after the last couple of years?
Everything. I have been able to turn a dream career into a physical practice where I can thrive.
READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2022 Designers of the Year Awards
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