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The exhibition “Canadian Modern,” on view at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum during the launch party for the city’s 10-day DesignTO Festival, posits that one thing that sets Canadian design apart is the way it represents the country’s landscape — either in its forms or in its material palette.

A view of a branch-like metal chandelier above a wooden dining table in the Toronto design showroom Mjölk as part of a 2023 DesignTO Festival exhibition.
In January, Toronto showroom Mjölk collaborated with Omar Gandhi Architects and Concord Custom Lighting to launch a chandelier, dining table and bench, all inspired by Gandhi’s upcoming East Coast hunting lodge. PHOTO: Severyn Romanskyy
The black Parkside Lounge chair by Coolican & Company, one of the best new designs at IDS Toronto 2023, features a leatherjackets cushion on a black wood frame.
At IDS Toronto, Coolican & Company introduced the Parkside Lounge, a handsome chair that rests a leather cushion on a woven rope net seat.

Building on that tradition, several of the standout introductions at DesignTO and IDS Toronto led design lovers on a walk in the woods (see: new launches from local showroom Mjölk and furniture studio Coolican & Company). Others channelled the bright, optimistic hues of a garden in bloom and the romantic allure of a glowing sunset.

The Sex on the Beech cabinet by Alison Postman, one of the best new designs at IDS Toronto, features a door painted with a pink and orange gradient effect.
Featuring a sliding tambour door painted with vibrant shades of pink and yellow, Alison Postma’s sunset-inspired Sex on the Beech cabinet brought a playful spirit to Prototype, an IDS Toronto section dedicated to emerging talents.
The Salt Frames glass dividers by Silvia Lee feature a black frame and strips of yellow, blue or green glass.
Sylvia Lee (creative and executive director of The Goodman Studio) used DesignTO to debut Salt Frames, a trio of screens that play off the resemblance between salt fields and stained glass.
One of the best designs at IDS Toronto 2023 was Julian Gregory's steel Farfarelle pendant reminiscent of a piece of bowtie pasta.
Previewed in IDS Toronto’s Prototype section, Julian Gregory’s butterfly-shaped Farfalline pendant is set to feature in an upcoming Philadelphia hotel from the team behind local design shop Yowie.
Shown in a sage green colour, Blaise Campbell's glass vases feature a textured finish.
Featuring organic shapes and tulip-like colours, Blaise Campbell’s glass Shadow vessels teased the promise of an early spring.
Rob Raeside's translucent Mykos vase resembling a small yellow mushroom was one of the best designs at IDS Toronto 2023.
Rob Raeside’s Mykos vase was another standout in The District, a new area of IDS Toronto dedicated to cash and carry designs. PHOTO: June Make
Some of the best designs at IDS Toronto 2023 were this trio of 3D-printed vases by Cyrc, featuring a variety of curvy forms.
Cyrc’s 3D-printed designs include (from left to right) the Fluke, Conan and Wicker vases. They were exhibited at IDS Toronto as part of Studio North, a showcase of independent designer-makers.

But designers also had nature on the mind in other ways. Made from recycled plastic filament, Cyrc’s 3D-printed vases can be mailed back — with free shipping — and melted down to support future production runs if someone ever grows tired of their original forms.

These circular homewares were one of several concepts highlighted at IDS Toronto’s “Moving Parts: Design for a Complex World,” an exhibition dedicated to sustainable solutions. DesignTO also kept sustainability top of mind during its two-day symposium, Trash Talk, and climate change–themed group exhibition, “Forecast.”

A poster featuring a map of Ontario Place that features scribbles over several areas set to be developed into a private spa.
The exhibition “Ontario Place: Narrating Past, Present and Potential” drew attention to new development plans that threaten the park’s public space.

Indeed, some of the festival’s best exhibitions set out to design a new environmental and social agenda. At the Stackt shipping container market, “Ontario Place: Narrating Past, Present and Potential” (by architect and educator Quan Thai and the collective OP-ED) held an informal referendum on a controversial redevelopment plan that would fell some 850 trees to turn a portion of the waterfront park into a private spa.

Two proposed designs for Canada's new $20 bill featuring Indigenous women.
As part of the DesignTO exhibition “Change the Bill,” artist Anna Heffernan illustrated Elsie Knott (top), while Mando Littlechild painted her late grandmother, Sarah Burnstick (bottom).

And over at The Local Gallery, the Native Women’s Association of Canada presented “Change the Bill,” a collection of proposals for new $20 banknotes featuring notable Indigenous women such as Elsie Knott, the country’s first woman to be elected as a chief. After all, part of celebrating Canada’s landscape is paying due respect to its original custodians.

Standouts from the 2023 DesignTO Festival and IDS Toronto

Even amid January snowstorms, the Interior Design Show (IDS Toronto) and DesignTO Festival inspired fresh appreciation for natural wonders.

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