Friday 30 January 2009

In Conversation with Bruce Wilson

As seen in SNAP VICTORIA - February 2009 - "Design Feature"

Bruce Wilson is one of “Canada’s 100 most talented designers” according to House and Home, and his work has been recognized internationally. His company, Bruce Wilson Canada, specializes in creating exterior and interior concepts for new homes. Bruce’s attention to detail and ability to create custom pieces for each of his elegantly refined spaces always results in a stunning building – inside and out, residential or commercial, in a style all his own.

Bruce Wilson

Iván Meade – "What is your favourite design find? Where did you get this item – how long have you had it?"

Bruce Wilson - My 2 Arne Jacobsen Egg Chairs. I bought them at an auction in Denmark about a year ago.

Iván – "Why is it important/inspirational to you?"

Bruce -These chairs were designed in 1958 for the Radisson SAS Hotel in Copenhagen in 1958. What I like about this designer ~ and so many others like him at the time ~ is that he took a total design approach to the project that he worked on. In design spaces for his clients, he attended to every aspect of the project ensuring that everything turned out perfectly.

He not only designed the interior and exterior of the hotel, but created a harmonious line of furniture, lighting, carpets and other related furnishings. We take a similar approach in our projects. Typically when we are hired to design a house for a client, we create the landscape and garden plan, the architecture, a fully detailed interior including all the finished and materials, including the fireplaces, banisters, mouldings and other trim appointments, kitchen and other cabinetry. We are also asked to do the interior furnishing and decorating, providing a comprehensive and personalized interior.

Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair
Photograph by Iván Meade

Iván - How does this item reflect upon your personal design philosophy?

Bruce – One of the biggest challenges facing a designer is to breathe soul into a project. These chairs are well used and the leather is worn in all the right places. They look like a couple of old friends and have history that new store-bought purchases cannot be expected to have. They add that element of ‘quirky’ that personalizes a room.

Iván – "Can you tell me more about your new design concept “Design Butler”?

The Design Butler provides people with an opportunity to have a slice of the creative work we are known for at a fraction of the cost. It is an affordable solution to design challenges of the average homeowner. For a flat fee, I will spend three hours with a client helping them with everything from selecting paint colours, to purging existing items or purchasing new ones, to furniture arrangement, lighting recommendations and even renovation consultation.

Iván - What was your first experience with design?

Bruce – My father was an appliance wholesaler and would bring me home refrigerator boxes out of which I would make houses. I would fashion doors, windows and window boxes and fill them with flowers from the garden. By the time I was 11 or 12, mother entrusted me to decorating the house choosing carpet, wall colours, furniture & fabric art and accessories.

Midland Residence
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Midland Residence
photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Midland Residence - Dining Room
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Midland Residence - Dining Room
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - Who or what has influenced your style?

– That’s always a tough question. It’s like asking about one’s favourite authour. Joe D’urso, Thomas Pheasant, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Michael Graves, Christian Liaigre & Issey Miyake.

It would be an understatement to say that my travels have influenced my work. I went to school in the south of France when I was 18 and lived in Rome when I was 22. Certainly my experience in architecture school in Los Angeles during the 80’s has shaped my approach to design. It was the hotbed of new design with the likes of Gehry & Morphosis leading the pack.

Moo Manor
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - What is your design process?

Bruce – I am not a designer who imposes my preconceptions on a client. If fact, my role in any project is to listen and interpret, provide supporting information and to make the process as pleasant as possible. I don’t take pen to paper until I have established a budget, a programme and wish list from the client. My only desire as a designer is to do my best work and to delight the client. I work hard to cultivate a good working relationship with my clients and most often we become friends. I take a very holistic approach to design, typically starting with a landscape plan, house design both inside and out and often I am retained to do the furnishing and decorating.

The Temple Restaurant
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - What do you consider to be your greatest strength and weakness?

Bruce – I have always struggled with paint colours. One time early in my career, I specified a paint colour for a 10,000 square foot office. The colour was fleshy and looked to be the colour of ‘bad nylons’. The electric blue trim colour I chose didn’t help. I walked in for the first time to meet with the client and I tried desperately to hide my alarm. The truth was, they liked it, but I don’t think I ever recovered from that design blunder.

Barclay Penthouse
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - What is the most unusual request that you have ever received from a client?

Bruce – That I would be available to read bedtime stories to the client. I’m not sure that his intentions were entirely noble.

Duncan Residence
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Duncan Residence - Dining Room
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - What project are you most proud of?

– The Vancouver AIDS Memorial. I won the commission in an open competition to sculptors, artists and designers around the province. Arthur Erickson ~ my lifelong hero~ chaired the jury and voted for my entry. It was an unpopular project at the time ~ fuelled mainly by homophobia ~ and it was a struggle that required tireless commitment by all those involved. My proudest moment was at the unveiling where I was asked to speak about my experience in completing the project.

Vancouver Aids Memorial
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - I have to say that your “Aids Memorial Installation” in Vancouver I believe it is one of your most beautiful works. It was really interesting to see something modern, minimal and clean looking depicting a message of hope. How did you arrive at the design that became your end result?

Bruce – It was a strange and wonderful process ~ the brief was simply that it had to be a names memorial and there was no site chosen. Feeling under pressure to address such an important task, I looked to a playwright friend who had passed away from the disease. He spoke to me in a dream. He told me that it had to be about the names, removed. I knew it had to be indestructible and would be subject to vandalism and graffiti. For this, I chose a bridge-building material called Cor-ten ™ steel, which develops a protective coating of rust. Graffiti could be pressured-washed away and I design the panels and footings to withstand extraordinary forces. The names were water-jet through the steel, giving the otherwise opaque material a diaphanous quality, and creating an interesting light play.

Baynes-Channel Residence
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - Speaking of Vancouver, you have recently opened a second studio in Yaletown. How do you find the market in Vancouver different from Victoria?

– Vancouver has proved to be a difficult market to break back into, even though it’s my hometown. I have enjoyed the phenomenon of being a medium-size fish in the small pond of Victoria. I have done mainly retail design in Vancouver for the Boboli-MaxMara group. I recently completed a sweet boutique for them downtown called Blubird, a brand new store concept for them. Having said all that, we have a couple of houses under construction in West Point Grey for a developer-friend. With luck, they should open up some possibilities for us.

Donington Farm
Drafting courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Tuscan Villa
Drafting courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

View Royal
Drafting courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - You are extremely well know for your residential spaces in Victoria, but what some may not know is that you have created some of the most beautiful retail spaces in Vancouver as well. When you are designing retail spaces you often have to follow the requirements of the brand, how have you achieved cohesiveness between your style and creativity and the clients needs?

– Certainly retail and office spaces are the most design-intensive because there is an overriding need for function. These are working spaces in every sense of the word. Such projects really separate the men from the mice. Only a Master can find harmony in the requirements you have outlined. I love doing them, because they are always novel and challenging.

Suburbia Studios
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson

Iván - How do you help your budget conscious clients achieve an expensive look without breaking the bank?

Bruce – I started out in design during the recession of the early 80’s, working with shoestring budgets. Once such project was for my employer at the time ~ KARO ~ for whom I designed their 10,000 square foot offices. We built the entire project for $20 per square foot at the time, which barely gets you paint and carpet in today’s market. I created a simple floor plan which reversed the normal layouts for office at the time. The offices were centered in the middle of the space while the open workstations lined the perimeter, by the windows. I spent a lot of time in lumber yards and hardware stores seeking humble construction materials and industrial fixtures and fittings. That same year, I won the best in show from the IDIBC, a new category they created for my entry.

Nyren-Russell Residence
Photograph courtesy of Bruce Wilson Canada

Iván - What do you think most Victoria homes will have in the future?

Bruce – Sustainability and energy efficiency. I plan to be a certified LEEDS consultant this year. I think the era of concept-driven architectural expression is drawings to a close. It will take a backseat to greener buildings. Here is a link to TED that everyone should see:

Iván - What would be your dream project if you were given carte blanche? (Would it be a whole home or just one room? Would it be commercial or residential? And what would you do with it and in what style?)

Bruce – I have always dreamed of designing a public building, in particular, an art gallery, a performance art hall or a museum.

Nyren-Russell Residence
Photograph courtesy by Bruce Wilson Canada

I invite you to discover Bruce Wilson stunning body of work at his website

Ivan Meade is a local designer and principal of Meade Design Group, a multidisciplinary interior and graphic design studio in the heart of downtown Victoria BC –

MEADE DESIGN GROUP - THE BLOG. Copyright 2007-2011


Maria Killam said...

I love this interview and the images you have included. There are so many that I love but of course the last one is the best with the yellow chair & tulips! Looking forward to seeing you in this town soon!

christian barnard land studio said...

Great interview Ivan. I really enjoyed hearing the concept + inspiration behind the Vancouver Aids Memorial.

qerat said...

I loved this interview.
Bruce seems to be such a genuine person and comfortable talking about himself and his work.
I loved the pictures of his houses and interiors.
I like the design butler concept, innovative to say the least.
You are doing a wondeful job Ivan bringing designers from all over the world together to share experiences that otherwise would remain very personal and unexposed.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought Bruce does very beautiful work, and thought the aids memorial was stunning - I think I can appreciate it even more now that I know the concept behind it. Great interview!

Michelle said...

As always, Ivan, a great interview! I've always loved Bruce's work.

Anonymous said...

Great interview Ivan.I like the design butler concept, innovative to say the least.You are doing a wonderful job Ivan bringing designers from all over the world together to share experiences that otherwise would remain very personal and unexposed.

The Devine Life said...

Great post. Want to move into the Duncan house.