September 26, 2019

10 Questions With… Kate Duncan

Furniture designer/maker Kate Duncan. Photography by Brittney Kwasney.

What you see is what you get with furniture designer/maker Kate Duncan, and what you get is increasingly impressive. Duncan’s furniture is meticulously crafted and her new collections are always refreshingly original. Her latest work, which she developed while completing a studio fellowship in Rockport, Maine earlier this year, was shown with great success at curated Manhattan design event Next Level in May. And the Kate Duncan brand is now represented by Dmitriy & Co in New York, and Salon in Boston.

Duncan has been at the center of the Pacific Northwest design scene since launching her brand in 2014 and is the founder and co-curator of Vancouver’s annual designer/maker showcase event Address. Now in its sixth year, Address (which runs September 25-29) will present the work of 40 exhibitors from all over North America, including Portland, Toronto, Texas, and Los Angeles. The show has also been picked up by DesignTO (formerly Toronto Design Offsite Festival) and will run for a week during the Toronto Design Festival (January 17-26, 2020).

Interior Design sat down with Duncan to hear about her latest work, how Address has taken on a life of its own, and how wiping out on her motorcycle led to her successful design career.

Interior Design: What was the thinking behind your latest collection, Ribbed?

Kate Duncan: I wanted to take a bit of a departure from where I was—drawing inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement, mid-century modern, Japanese joinery—I really wanted to take a break from all that, stop dreaming in that language and pick up something different. So, I went back to the rolltop desk. It was a sculptural element. I started to look at sculpture, what sculptors were doing, what ceramicists were doing, not furniture makers, what everyone else was doing. And then I took a look at architecture, and specifically the Brutalist movement of the ‘70s. It was cool to start from scratch. It took a long time. I got to the fellowship in Maine in early February and I don’t think I did anything for the first four or five weeks. I just sat and sketched.

Ribbed credenza by Kate Duncan with black leather veneer and brass pulls. Photography by Sierra Kristen Photography.

ID: What pieces resulted from this?

KD: A credenza with a black veneer. It’s a bit elegant. It’s got a tuxedo vibe, and the drawer pulls are pure brass. I designed them and had them manufactured. Then there’s a writing desk—all pieces come in white oak, black walnut, and maple—with a green leather top, so really riffing on the traditional writing desk. And then there’s a dining table and bed.

ID: What has the reaction to this collection been like so far?

KD: I showed a few pieces in New York this past May and I did really well with it. Sold a piece right off the show floor and got picked up by a showroom in Manhattan. They’re now sending me all kinds of work.

Ribbed desk by Kate Duncan. Photography by Sierra Kristen Photography.

ID: Address is now in its sixth year. What can people look forward to seeing this year?

KD: It’s going to be huge. We’ve got a 9,000-square-foot warehouse and 40 exhibitors from all over North America. Some of the designer/makers participating are Nike Schroeder from LA, Djuna Day from Toronto, Tretiak Works from Portland, Vancouver quilt designer KTWP Studios, and jewelry designer Erica Leal.

ID: Address has also been picked up by DesignTO. Can you tell us about this?

KD: The show is going to change a little bit from Vancouver to Toronto. Instead of 30 or 40 exhibitors I’m going to scale back the show to 12 tops and focus on more established designer/maker brands. There’s a language more established brands have versus younger brands, and though I love to create a platform for younger and up-and-coming brands—it’s really fun—it’s also really challenging.

Address in Vancouver showcases designer/makers from across North America. Photography courtesy of Kate Duncan.

ID: We understand you’re partnering with Lightform Toronto for this?

KD: They’ve got a showroom warehouse that’s right in the heart of the design district. We’re talking about incorporating their lighting into the work of the 12 exhibitors to make it flow. I feel really good about Lightform, DesignTO, and Address all pooling our brainpower for this one beautiful aesthetic.

ID: When did you first discover your love of furniture making?

KD: I took woodshop classes right from when I was 12 years old through to when I graduated. Both my parents were accountants—they don’t even know which end of the hammer to pick up—so I don’t really know why or where it came from. It was just a really big pull. I wanted to make the thing. I wanted to see what the thing was, whatever it was.

The Heather bed by Kate Duncan. Photography by Brittney Kwasney.


ID: You were a high school woodshop teacher and set up a pilot program for inmates at a Greater Vancouver detention center. When did you make the switch to full-time furniture designer/maker?

KD: When I was 28, I was sideswiped in a hit and run and knocked off my motorcycle at a really busy intersection. A bus came up in the lane beside me and ran over my helmet. The paramedics couldn’t believe I essentially walked away, but I was off work for a year-and-a-half having surgical reconstructions (hip and arm) and I kind of rehabilitated in the woodshop. I made furniture for myself, which was kind of wonky. But then the orders started coming in and I was like cool, this is like a job. Let’s do this.

ID: What does your apartment look like?

KD: Sometimes it looks awesome. It’s been featured in magazines before. Sometimes it can look super dope and then sometimes not so much.

ID: Why, what changes?

KD: Sales. I sell something and then there’s this big gaping hole, like oh the mattress is now on the floor. Whoops! All the prototypes go to my house and eventually I sample sale them off.

Kate Duncan (left) with designer Amber Kingsnorth, co-curators of Address. Photography courtesy of Kate Duncan.

Read more: 10 Questions With… Jody Phillips

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