Stylish Practicality; Designs narrow the gap between art and function
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote that “all art is quite useless.” That may have been true in the late 1800s when art was predominantly hung on walls, but if Wilde were alive today, he might just eat his own words.
Now, more than ever, art has expanded beyond canvases to functional, everyday pieces limited only by imagination. Plastic, glass and iron grace homes of all vintages, providing stylish practicality and narrowing the gap between art and function.
Serralunga produces among the best examples of functional art today. Begun in Italy 170 years ago, the company uses recyclable polyethylene to create stunning, futuristic pieces. “Serralunga’s Fanta Vase is on display at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal ,” says Rosanna Procopio, owner of Ag-Man in Montreal , which handles sales in Canada for Serralunga. “Also, a new product will soon be seen at a museum in Europe and it will sell for more than $20,000.”
That new piece is a lamp sculpture commissioned by architect Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker award, a renowned architecture prize. Initially, Serralunga will manufacture a limited number of these, with Ms. Hadid signing each by hand. Some will be displayed in European museums and contemporary art galleries. Eventually, a less expensive version will be made for worldwide distribution, Ms. Procopio says.
“Serralunga is about clean-cut, minimal design for people with modern tastes,” says Matthew LeDonne, president of Oakville-based Innovativa, which also distributes Serralunga. “There’s a lot of black and white and straight lines, which you see in the Romeo bench or the Time Out chaise longue. But there are also unusual curves and shapes seen in the Darling sofa and the Pisa vase.”
Prices vary for Serralunga goods: A 12-cm pot might be $50 and an 80-inch-wide vase $5,000, or $9,500 for a lacquered finish. Visit serralunga.com.
When Vladimir Fridman came to Toronto 10 years ago from Russia , he did not speak a word of English and had no business connections. What he did have, though, was 16 years of experience as a glass designer in Moscow . He focused on what he knew and set up CBD Glass Studios, a Toronto-based business that create one-of- a-kind glass sinks, furniture, railings and accessories.
His attention to detail and his love of the old European style paid off. Today, his company is among the biggest glass businesses in North America , with showrooms in New York , Chicago and Toronto . “We try to make all of our creations pieces of art reflecting style and refinement,” says Mr. Fridman. “Our designs are as functional as they are beautiful.”
One of CBD’s most popular is the Waterfall sink, dramatic glass cut to look as if the sink itself is flowing. There is a real feel of movement and texture, but the name did not come as easily as the glass seems to flow.
“When I entered the American market, I wanted to bring something Canadian,” recalls Mr. Fridman. “So I called the sink Canadian Ice. But the Americans asked why it was not called American Ice. Then I named it Niagara because Niagara Falls is on both sides of the border. But when I brought the sink to Europe , people there called it Viagara. Then it became Waterfall.”
As CBD has grown, Mr. Fridman has increased the types of pieces he creates to include countertops, floors, interior doors, indoor and outdoor sculptures and even buildings of 1?- inch-thick glass.
“I sell to many high-end homeowners who like to get things done in the historic European tradition. There are special skills I learned in Russia — like how to carve and make glass look old. There are a lot of trade secrets, like you see in wine making,” he says. “Everything we make is handmade here in Toronto under my control. Machines do some final touches.”
Mr. Fridman says the strength behind his business is his design background. He will do custom pieces based on specific interests of a client. “If I’m in a good mood, I look at the water or the city and begin to create.”
CBD’s prices range from $350 to $6,000; the smallest Waterfall sink (13 inches) costs $2,995. The CBD showroom is at 1440 Whitehorse Rd. , 416-398-6890. Visit contemporarybathdesign.com.
After years of running a construction business, Port Hope resident Greg Walsh discovered iron. He began bending the material and creating shapes and patterns. Soon he was hooked. In 1995, he began working full-time with iron and opened a retail store — Walsh Iron Works — and a workshop.
“I do all my work with a cold bent and jigs, which are pieces of metal in half-moon shapes,” Mr. Walsh says. “There’s a lot of trial and error, but the cold bent is much more controlled than heated iron where certain parts bond better than others.
“It’s a whole process. Although the end product may look simple, a lot of thought goes into it.”
As Mr. Walsh’s expertise grew, he created furniture and accessories that belie the senses: bed frames, window boxes, arbours, wine racks, coffee tables, dining room tables and, more recently, lanterns and shower doors.
He didn’t like clear shower doors so he placed iron on the glass. The result is a practical door with intricate mosaic design that is a work of art. The same can be said of his iron bed frames with their graceful arches that really stand out against a white wall.
“My clients are looking for something artistic, something that is going to stand out as a conversation piece,” he says. “I think of my work first as art, rather than as an object that must be functional.”
Prices for Mr. Walsh’s iron creations start at $1,800. Visit walshmountain.com.