Geof Ramsay’s studio overlooks the harbour in Saint John, New Brunswick. Each day, he watches as ships arrive in port and others disappear into the Atlantic. As with any designer, his surroundings are an important influence. And it’s been his mission to incorporate the Maritimes vernacular — the way his home looks and feels — into contemporary housewares and furniture since establishing his eponymous practice in 2009 and the label Harbour in 2016.
For instance, the Compound bowl, exhibited at DesignTO in January, is composed of two converging aluminum ellipses, forming a third object-holding compartment at their intersection. The gesture — “between stillness and motion,” Ramsay says — was inspired by stroboscopic photographs of a ship docking.
Hex chair — part of a larger series called Euclid, which also includes the stained solid oak Rhom and Tri tables — is a nod to the Victorian character of his hometown. Canada’s oldest incorporated city, Saint John is one of the country’s best troves of Victorian architecture, Ramsay says. At local estate sales, auctions and sometimes even curbside, you’ll find the period’s furniture. With a rigorous hexagonal logic from its silhouette through to its joinery, the seat channels that ornate tradition in a modern, geometric form.
Other pieces find inspiration closer to the heart. Recalling his grandfather’s beloved recliner, he conceived the Saturday chair (upholstered in a modern corduroy by Raf Simons for Kvadrat) so his partner and their cat had the perfect place to curl up together.
For many, a nautical aesthetic evokes a quaint, salt-caked brand of rusticism: reclaimed wood, rope motifs and folksy renderings of marine life. “It can get kitschy real quick,” Ramsay says. His interpretations, though, incorporate the familiar in nuanced and sophisticated ways. “If you look at the landscape of the Maritimes, and you look at the houses, and then you go to a place like Denmark or elsewhere in Scandinavia, it’s very similar — the rock, the homes on stilts. They evolved a design language. Why can’t we?”
From vessels to tables, the New Brunswick creative is updating Atlantic Canada’s tropes.