Zoë Mowat - Studio portrait

Our next interview with Toronto Design Offsite Festival participants comes from Zoë Mowat, a Montreal-based maker of exquisitely crafted furniture and objects.  Mason Journal recently had an opportunity to speak with Zoë about the importance of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival and how Montreal is a distinctive center for design in Canada.

Mason Journal: How would you describe your craft/discipline?

Zoë Mowat: I design and fabricate furniture and objects out of my studio based in Montreal, Quebec.  I do custom commissions and work on new prototypes and small production runs.

My pieces tend to be quite sculptural, incorporating simple, pure forms that combine contrasting textures, materials and colours. Underlying concepts and ideas kick-start my designs but I rely on my visual and emotional responses to take projects to completion. I know that my practice is continually evolving and I believe it will continue to evolve as I do.

MJ: What personal experiences led you into the profession of design?

ZM: My plan was always to be a sculptor, like my mother. When I was growing up, we would spend afternoons in her studio, assembling materials and just building things. It was in high school that I first discovered the Bauhaus and I remember feeling powerfully drawn to the pairing of functionality and form. I liked the thoughtfulness of design — that everyday items could be designed by a governing philosophy. I wanted to make objects that could be touched and used. I’m drawn to that intimacy.

Zoe Mowat - Cache cabinet 1

Zoe Mowat - Cache cabinet 2

Zoe Mowat - Circumflex chair

MJ: Describe the development of your work from process to product.  Is there anything in your procedure that you can describe as distinctively you?

ZM: My ideas may develop differently, depending whether the design is meant for a client, or a specific show (like the two I’m in for Toronto Design Offsite Festival), or if I’m producing a new prototype for my portfolio.

I try to let designs and ideas linger in my mind for a few days or weeks. Once they’ve distilled, I try to communicate them with sketches and drawings on the computer. I also do lots of full-scale drawings and models that I leave around my home and studio so that I can contemplate their size and proportions.  After letting the design percolate some more I begin to source materials, study paint chips and then I build a prototype in my studio.

MJ: Explain how you choose the materials for your products.   

ZM: My work is very material driven and I tend to select materials that I’m drawn to for their colour, tactility, density, opacity, softness, hardness, warmth, or for their contrast with another quality. I value honesty in materials as well as longevity. I incorporate a lot of solid woods that will only enrich over time. I’m always looking to use and find inspiration in new materials and processes in my work.

MJ: Do you collaborate with other designers or artists?  How does this change your process or work flow?

ZM: I’m actually collaborating on a design right now. I like working with others. I don’t collaborate very often, but when I do, I enjoy working with another perspective. It helps to shift and broaden my own perceptions. Recently I collaborated with a friend and made a prototype of a time machine for his short film, The Decelerators.



MJ: How does Toronto Design Offsite Festival impact the Canadian design community?  How does it impact you personally?

ZM: Very positively on both counts. I first exhibited at [Interior Design Show] as a student six years ago, and have continued to observe the festival’s growth and evolution since. I have made friends in the community over the years and I enjoy and benefit from the energy and talent of this very vibrant design community.

MJ: What benefits are there in having a Canadian-based design practice?

ZM: I think Canadian designers possess a lot of freedom – the freedom, perhaps, to pave your own way, your own practice and method. Canada is still developing its design identity. I feel that this encourages exploration and freedom of expression.

Zoe Mowat - Pedestal Table


MJ: How is the design community in Montreal distinctive from the rest of Canada? 

ZM: Montreal is a very culturally engaging city and its inhabitants are very design and arts aware.  I believe that a huge benefit to the design community and the arts in general has been affordable and accessible studio space. There are numerous buildings in Montreal that function as creative hubs for artists, woodworkers, dancers, illustrators, ceramic artists, glass blowers, banjo makers, art collectives, musicians, and designers. It has allowed for the growth of creative micro communities where artists have greater access to ideas and resources through these relationships and proximity to each other. I’m fortunate to share a studio space and workshop with many other creative individuals and my practice has profited from this. Groups and city planners are actively trying to preserve these creative spaces from inevitable condo development.

MJ: Can you tell us what we can look forward to seeing from you next?

ZM: I’m excited to be showing new works at Toronto Design Offsite Festival 2013 in two exhibitions. For ‘Shiny Pretty Things’ I will be showing ‘Arbour,’ a geometric jewelry stand, and for ‘Not Forkchops,’ I will present ‘Table Service,’ a series of stackable ceramic bowls. I’ve produced limited editions of each. I have also just finished a vertical storage cabinet and would like to continue to focus on storage pieces in the near future.


To learn more about Zoë, visit her website at www.zoemowat.com

All images courtesy of Zoë Mowat.