Christian Woo’s Perfect Vancouver Day
The designer’s itinerary involves woodworking, tacos and architectural tours.
The gritty East Van location of Christian Woo’s workshop is a bit of a contrast against his finished pieces, to be sure—he transforms raw wood into world-renowned minimalist furniture—but the building is the ideal headquarters for Woo. Though he now lives in West Vancouver, he grew up in Vancouver proper—a few years on the Drive, a few right downtown—and still feels at home in the city. “Up until last June, I spent pretty much my whole life here, and I still spend every day here for work.”
Woo spends his weekends exploring the North Shore, but on weekdays he makes the most of his studio location: shopping in Gastown, popping out to Kits to meet his wife for lunch, or squeezing in a Seawall run. His life in B.C. has inspired much of his work in ways both subtle and obvious. His material of choice is wood—walnut, oak, ash—a clear reference to his home province. Asymmetrical benches showcase beautifully oiled hardwood; black walnut stools with a heavy grain pattern celebrate the best of nature. But the province’s vast landscape inspires the scale of his simple, modern pieces, too. “I feel that my time spent here, our geography, spending time outdoors, has, in a sense of place, influenced me,” the 42-year-old designer says. “It’s large: we have large trees and huge mountains, and that sense of proportion finds its way into my work.”
Though he’s always been the mindful type (as artists tend to be), Woo has been particularly reflective and appreciative of the place in which he lives and works since he survived a cancer diagnosis in 2014. “I went through a rough year,” Woo says, a minimalist to the core. Thankfully, he’s recently been given a clean bill of health, and has used this new lease on life to push forward with his work in a new way. “It was a real struggle, but everything since then has been better than I can ever imagine.”
Like this new development: Woo’s furniture line now has representation in the U.S., which brings a whole new dynamic to the business—his pieces debuted in New York last May and have found homes in Soho and San Francisco showrooms. “It’s busier than it’s ever been,” says Woo. “We have only enough time to work on so many projects, and we’re lucky to work on diverse things that we enjoy.” Some of those projects branch beyond furniture and into interior design, like an upcoming collaboration with celebrated Vancouver architect Michael Green, and a restoration of a West Vancouver home that was originally designed by modernist architect Brian Hemingway. “It’s this incredible house that cascades down a cliff, with an Escher-type staircase,” says Woo.
His clean designs and down-to-earth itinerary of a perfect day (starting on page 34) showcase that, despite his successes, Woo, at heart, loves the simple things. “I love those days that I’m not out running around having meetings. It’s the woodworking that I love most,” he says with a small smile. “To be honest, my perfect workday is a day alone in the shop on a Saturday.”
24 Hours in Vancouver with Christian Woo
8:00 a.m. I always head first thing into the Union Market on the Adanac bike route, a little hidden gem owned by a sweet family. I’ve been coming here for almost a decade, religiously. They make a lovely morning coffee and freshly baked croissant.
8:30 a.m. I then head into my studio only a few blocks away to put some hours into our projects. Strathcona is one of the few places we have commercial manufacturing within the city limits, so I feel quite fortunate to be able to work out of one. I like the vibe, and that it’s near the bike route—there’s lots going on, there are lots of other manufacturers and designers nearby. It’s sweet and peaceful…there’s a school across from us and we hear the recess buzzers.
10:30 a.m. For brunch, I love to meet my wife, Talia, at the Epicurean in Kitsilano for a pizza buongiorno with eggs and pancetta. This is so delicious. I tend to frequent the same places over and over again, because once I find a great place, why would I want to mess with success?
12:00 p.m. We’ll then head into Gastown and visit some of our favourite stores: Inform Interiors to see the best in furniture and product design (they’ve been super supportive with my work), Dutil for denim and Neighbour for clothing.
4:00 p.m. With some time to kill, I’ll take my crazy dog-son, Buff, for a run in Stanley Park and let him burn off some steam. He’s an Australian blue heeler; he’s pretty cool.
6:00 p.m. We would then get together with friends and head to Tacofino in Gastown for tacos and a drink. The tequila selection is so impressive, and I love the hot peppers. Everything on that menu is amazing. Why would you ever go and try to find a better taco than the ones at Tacofino?
8:00 p.m. We like to head home early and take out our 1957 cedar speedboat on the water for an evening cruise in West Van. The boat used to belong to my grandfather, and I restored it. There are some incredible pieces of West Coast architecture seen from the water side (my favourite is Barry Downs’s), and I find it inspiring to spend time out there admiring the homes nestled between the trees, and enjoying the passing sea life and the smell of the water.
10:00 p.m. We’ll end the night either at home by the firepit (designed by our friends Julian and Alison of Considered Design) or head into our local pub, the Olive and Anchor, in Horseshoe Bay for a beer. They also have an incredible food menu—it’s worth the trip.