Furniture Designer of the Year 2017: Kate Duncan
Designer Kate Duncan takes a simple, no-nonsense approach to furniture making.
Trying to find Kate Duncan at Parker Street Studios is like trying to find a two-by-four in a haystack. You know exactly where she is. And it’s not just because of her boisterous laugh or the happy golden retriever that trails behind her—she’s one of only two women in the wood shop.
It’s a dynamic our Furniture Designer of the Year is familiar with—Duncan spent two years studying gender equality in trades programs while completing her master’s degree at BCIT. “It’s traditionally so male-dominated,” she explains. “To get access to the information, to actually learn how to be a woodworker, you have to subscribe to this hyper-masculine culture.” And though she’ll be the first to admit that she’s lost some of her femininity along the way (“I have short hair, I swear a lot, I slouch”), there are some things she just won’t sacrifice.
“Some people don’t get it,” says Duncan of her tendency to stick with simple manufacturing and joinery techniques. “They don’t understand that I’m not trying to be trendy. I’m trying to be traditional.” At first glance, Duncan’s furniture designs—the angular Shelley dining chair with its leather-upholstered seat, the Alexandra bed with its secret compartments and drawers, the mid-century modern-inspired Nicole table with its three-legged base—are understated, but upon closer inspection, “there is clearly a sensitivity to material, form and detailing,” says judge Thom Fougere, creative director of EQ3.
Part of this aesthetic comes from wanting to build a piece of furniture that will last (“It’s not disposable, it’s not a waste of time”), but it also comes from taking a let-the-sticks-fall-where-they-may approach to woodworking. Duncan gleefully tells the tale of when she and her apprentice were given first dibs on a new load of black walnut: “We had this idea of making a dining table, and then there was this one super-wide stick and we thought, ‘That’s a bench,’ and now, all of a sudden, we’re making a bench,” she laughs. Or there’s the time she took her circle jig to a maple slab that was originally intended for a headboard—it’s now one of her two live-edge Pare tables. “It’s nice to let the sticks show up and let them do what they’re going to do,” she says.