After learning Lori’s gorgeous collection would soon be available through Blueprint Home on Wellington St., I leapt at the chance to profile her on the blog. While she currently lives and works in Toronto, Lori is an Ottawa native, so it is a pleasure to welcome her work to the city. -Ed.
Where did you grow up in Ottawa?
I actually grew up in the valley and moved to Ottawa when I started high school – although I was still splitting my time between the country, near the town of Almonte, and the city. I would commute with my father into Ottawa leaving the house at 6:30 am so we would miss the traffic. That was fun as a teenager!
Where did you go to school?
I went to Canterbury High School in the fine arts program. Then, Queen’s University to complete a BAH in Political Science and Sociology and Concordia University for a BFA in Design. I did two undergrad degrees because I loved Queen’s but I really missed the opportunity to be in a creative environment; so even though after my first year I knew it wasn’t for me I finished the degree and then went on to Concordia. Needless to say I had very supportive and patient parents!
Can you connect your love of art and design to your experiences here in Ottawa?
Definitely, but it all centers around my father. He exposed me to art and music early on in life, often taking me to the NAC and the National Art Gallery. My first memory was when the gallery was located on Elgin Street, way back when. I definitely got my cultural education from my father.
On another level, my experiences growing up in the country, being in nature and in a small city like Ottawa (with a lot of green space) have definitely had an impact on my aesthetic as an artist and informed my work as a designer.
When did move away from Ottawa, and why? How often do you return?
I left to go to Queen’s University, then moved to Montreal for 7 years, finally settling in Toronto where I currently live. I visit about 4 times a year. My parents still live in the Ottawa area and I have a few high school friends that I still keep in touch with. One of my favourite things is to take the train to Ottawa – watching the landscape, often rolling farmlands, pass by – it is so beautiful!
Before opening Lori Harrison Design, were you already working in the field?
I have been a designer and artist my whole life although I have taken a few small career detours now and then. Before launching my design practice I have been fortunate to work in graphic design, designed interiors, developed brands and even helping to save the planet. Many of these things I still do or have incorporated into my business. Now I get to tell a compelling story that is close to my heart through the products I make and sell.
What inspired you to create a collection and launch your own company?
I wanted to do something that would allow me the creative freedom to explore and realize my vision and would allow me to be my own boss.
What advice would you give for creative types who may be considering a similar path?
Have something unique to say. Have a plan. Have a mentor and be prepared to keep at it for a long time.
Tell us about your work. Your textiles, furniture, and art are contemporary in style, yet warm, organic and very distinct. Where do you derive your artistic inspiration, and what is the thinking behind your designs?
Both my design and art practice are characterized by my observations of entropy in both our natural and manufactured environments. Deconstruction and natural decay leave behind texture and pattern – remnants and allusions – usually overlooked, but from which can be found both narrative and great beauty. I use textile and furniture design, as well as my painting and mixed media work as a means to explore this creative vision.
I have always been drawn to patterns and textures and I take great pleasure in consciously making an effort to look at my environment with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what you can see and how great ideas can flow.
A perfect example of this, which led to one of my first textile designs, was on a trip to the Bay of Fundy with my father on our semi annual father/daughter hiking trip. We were driving along this winding coastal road and passed this weathered clapboard shed with peeling paint and I got so excited. I told him to pull over and back up. I took several pictures and later turned these photographs into the Fundy pattern. It was the tension between the straight edges of the wood siding and the random peeling paint that I thought would make a great pattern – and it did!
This has lead to an entire vision about what I want to say as a designer through my products. I don’t want to just create another cushion or table – I want to communicate my passion for connecting with our environment. I want people to slow down, put the smart phone away and marvel at what is right in front of them. It’s amazing what astonishing and beautiful things can exist in the most unlikely places.
It is my vision to communicate the idea of finding “beauty in unexpected places”
You take sustainability seriously. How does this manifest in your collection?
All of my work is made in Canada and I do my best to source materials that are local and sustainable. I have been asked to make my furniture in exotic woods and I won’t do it.
Describe your creative process. How do your ideas take shape? What steps are necessary to translate your vision into reality?
The process really begins with taking time to explore, travel and see what’s around me. I take a lot of photographs and some of these I use to create my textiles. Beyond that I am also a design magazine junky, always combing through the pages for inspiration and to keep an eye on what’s happening and where the trends are – not that I necessarily follow trends but it can inform the work I do. All of the things I design are pieces I would want to have in my own home but I also try and see what niches might be out there that need to be filled. In the end if people buy my work I know that I am hitting the mark.
Do you have a design philosophy?
Have a point of view, take some risks and pay attention to the details.
Where is your workspace or studio? Is it an ideal place to work?
My work space is in my home. I have a nook in my living room where my desk is and a wall covered with inspirational images – this is where the designing happens. I often spread out on the floor and my large custom built dining table when I am doing story boards for new collections. I also have a studio space in my basement where I can do messier stuff.
What about the notion of home? How do you approach the space where you live?
I think space is one of the most important aspects of a healthy, harmonious and joyful life. Home should be beautiful, personal, comfortable but also considered.
What I mean by that is really being conscious of the things you put in your home. I think it’s ok to have a few things that are beautiful and not all that practical. I think the things you buy for your home should take time to acquire – I think many people feel the need to fill up the space right away so they go out and buy all this furniture, often matchy matchy because it’s some how easier but it ends up looking very sterile and boring.
One of my current pet peeves: if I see another house with dark espresso flooring and beige walls and beige micro suede furniture I am going to scream! Consider the pieces you buy – are they beautiful, do they serve a purpose, is it well made, where is it made etc.?
I often say people should invest in a few quality pieces. Save up for it, spend the money and invest in something that is well made and could be passed on to the next generation. For example a good sofa, dinning table or bedroom furniture and then save elsewhere. I practice what I preach – I had my dining table custom made out of beautiful walnut and then purchased IKEA chairs that I then slip covered in crisp white linen. I think the chairs where on sale for $30 a piece.
And I’ll say it one more time: say no to beige everything and espresso coloured floors – it’s done people, DONE!
Images provided by Lori Harrison Designs, used with permission.