Galerie CO owner and founder, Sarah Richardson, and her social media manager, Lee-Anne Bigwood, had a chance to sit down with Maude Eloïse Bouchard Furness just before Christmas to have a chat. They started to plan their trip to Toronto for the Interior Design Show (IDS14) and discussed the origins, inspirations and processes of Maude’s design work that will be exhibited at Studio North.
From rifling through the sewing box at her grandmother’s house in Northern Quebec to inventing new ways to use scrap pieces she finds on her Montreal studio floor, Maude has always maximized her resources and minimized waste. She has taken this natural tendency, infused it with her creative energy and her passion for her home province to produce a sleek, fresh, distinctive collection of contemporary furniture. Remarkably, she accomplishes all this using sustainable methods at every stage of the process.
Maude’s pride in her creations is evident and infectious.
Galerie CO: Can you remember how or why you first started to create?
Maude: When I was little I started with my grandmother to make little puppets out of balls of wool. We would use old clothes, sweaters and other materials to make the dolls and their dresses. It was more than that though. My mother worked, so I was with my grandmother a lot. We were in a big house in the country. When we weren’t playing outside, she would really encourage us to create. There was a big sewing box full of supplies for us to use. We’d trace images onto paper with glue, and stick pieces of wool to make art pieces.
Galerie CO: How did that creation develop into furniture design?
Maude: I studied Fine Arts at CEGEP, but soon realized it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go down a traditional Fine Arts path. So after CEGEP I took a break and then went to university to study Industrial Design. But I realized that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do either because it was too restrictive. What I really wanted was something that mixed Fine Arts with Industrial Design.
At CEGEP, I focused on sculpture and I always wanted to give my pieces a function, like making them light up or something, and my profs would say “No, no, no, that’s not ‘art’”. At university, in Industrial Design, I was always trying to make my work beautiful and artistic, and the profs would say “No, no, no, it has to be about manufacturing and creation”.
So, basically, I trying to make art functional at CEGEP, and functional pieces artistic at university, and no-one was happy with it. And I wasn’t happy with it.
I really liked the theoretical part of my program because I liked to see what other designers were creating. And I did discover design work that I found interesting and conceptual, as opposed to simply focusing on the functionality of a product.
Galerie CO: You mention in your artistic statement that you have an ‘eccentric horror of waste.’ Can you expand on that a bit more?
Maude: After university I became an artistic director with a video production company, and was always scrambling to make do with very small budgets. I was the designer, the maker, the finder, and the producer. Because of the limitations, I was always making things.
Then I started doing a little bit of interior design and was looking for environmentally friendly materials to use for my clients, and I realized there was just nothing out there. All around people were talking about the importance of the environment, but when seeking the materials and the products, I just couldn’t find the pieces. There is a lot of furniture that is designed to use for a while, and then discard. Or I found retail outlets selling “eco-furniture” from really far away like Indonesia and I thought, what’s sustainable about it if people are being paid two dollars an hour to make it and it’s shipped across the world using all that fuel. So I was saying what the f***?
So I decided to find an atelier where I could make things myself that I needed for my design business and also just for me. In my own designs, I tried to be as efficient as possible in production to maximize the use of my materials to make them go as far as they can.
For example with the Yamaska arm chair, I can make two chairs with two 4’ x 8’ sheets of nu green board. There is no waste. I got really excited about this and began to look for more environmentally friendly materials and materials which I could use every part of. Environmentally responsible materials are more expensive than mainstream materials, and you’re doing everything by hand, so you have to be more efficient. Unless you’re being very efficient, the price skyrockets and is not accessible for anyone to buy.
Galerie CO: What are the biggest challenges you face in manufacturing your pieces sustainably?
Maude: It’s been quite hard to find the raw materials to put into the chairs. I’ve also had to work really hard to convince my suppliers of fabric, foam, and upholstery to sell me very small quantities. Normally they require huge orders, but I’ve worked on the relationships with them so that they’ll let me buy the smaller quantities that I need.
To be honest, sometimes I feel as though, from a business perspective, there’s not a huge reward in making furniture sustainably. Many people care more about affordability and, in some cases, brand recognition. But one reward of creating this furniture is that I’m super proud of my work. Everyone from woodworkers to other suppliers told me I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but I’ve managed to work sustainably.
I’ve found and sourced the materials, the wood, the beautiful grained veneers and the fabrics. When I was starting, I went searching for colours that were transparent but rich, so that the grain of the wood would come through. I was told that it was impossible to find such pigments and particularly ones that were environmentally friendly. But I found natural pigments and mixed them by hand to create beautiful dyes. I’m incredibly proud that all my hard work has paid off. I haven’t compromised my original ideas and I’ve found a way to do it. So I feel satisfied.
Galerie CO: Have the challenges associated with sustainable production affected your designs?
Maude: Very much so. Form followed function in this project. The goal was to create an environmentally friendly piece of furniture and the design grew from that. Because I didn’t want to waste any materials there’s really nothing taken away that doesn’t need to be. Even the fabric is measured and the cushions sized so that there are no off-cuts. Nothing is going to waste.
Galerie CO: Can you describe your typical work day?
Maude: There is no typical work day. However, normally, I begin by walking my dog to the studio, drinking two cups of coffee and checking my email. At the studio, I am often working on several things at once: preparing and testing colours and upholstery, communicating with customers, working with my ebenistre – whatever needs doing. And I’m always figuring out something to make, almost like I’m still going into my grandmother’s sewing kit. I’ll come up with new ideas for feet by picking things up and saying ‘what can I make with this?’ What is typical is that it’s always different. I can’t handle routine. I can’t do the same thing day in and day out or my creative spirit dies.
Galerie CO: In your artistic statement you write, “When we love something and feel a connection to it, then we hold on to it. We keep it in our homes and cherish it because we know someone put thought and care into producing it.” Did you have a specific piece from your home/past that inspired that quote? Can you describe it?
Maude: I’m not actually terribly sentimental about objects or things. I still have one of the puppets I made with my grandmother, but I don’t have a lot of things from my past. The few pieces I do have are important. In general, sometimes you see things in peoples homes, they’re hanging onto things that are old and worn out but when you ask why they hang onto it, they say it’s because it’s important, it has meaning — they remember the person who made it and they understand how much work went into it. It’s those sorts of things that make people pay attention to what they have. When things are mass produced and you don’t know who made it or where it was created you tend not to form an attachment. When people follow trends as opposed to looking for a deeper meaning, they might get rid of perfectly good furniture and I find that kind of sad.
Galerie CO: You are clear on what your inspiration is, your home province. But what is the spirit and cultural heritage of Quebec, to you?
Maude: Winter. “Mon pays c’est l’hiver.” I come from the north of Quebec, so I have a lot of memories of snow, of the Fall, of wood, big spaces, raw materials, rugged, natural beauty. It’s kind of primal.
On one side there’s this history of the settlers, the original inhabitants who didn’t have anything who were obliged to create things in and from the harsh landscape. There’s an artistic creation at the very basic level. It’s like you have to save and create because you have no choice. So there’s this whole cultural heritage of creation by necessity.
On the other side, there’s a whole romance about the adventure of going into the unknown. There’s the idea of lumberjacks, beautiful nature, and stark dangerous gorgeous landscapes. There are these strong, proud settlers, the coureurs de bois, who fought the weather, the elements, and who became strong, solid, proud characters as a result of their experiences.
Galerie CO: Aside from this, who inspires you? Are there designers who have influenced you?
Maude: There isn’t someone specific. There are lots of people I admire, but no one I follow in magazines or blogs. A lot of people in design are looking for inspiration, but my head is a vortex of ideas and I’m pulling out little inspirations randomly all the time. I’m not looking for what the latest trend is. That’s not what moves me.
Galerie CO: What is the best design advice you’ve ever received?
Maude: I had a professor in university who instilled in me the importance of defending my ideas: if you have a good idea you should pursue it. If it doesn’t work, that’s ok, the idea is what’s important. In other words, it’s more important to come up with good ideas that might not work, than it is to come up with shitty ideas that could become be really popular. It’s crucial to experiment. He encouraged me to keep working on the good ideas and working towards something more interesting, important and bigger even if the final product wasn’t perfect.
Galerie CO: What excites you most about what you’re doing now? What are you looking forward to?
Maude: I’m excited about working for myself again and advancing my furniture business. Even if I’m working 15 hours a day, I’m doing what I love. I’m looking forward to moving beyond this, and bringing new products to the market. I’m working on some lighting, shelving, and on applying the knowledge I’ve gained in these projects to continue to prove that I can do this sustainably and still make beautiful pieces. I’m really excited about attending Studio North where I’ll be able to share my designs with people outside Montreal. I’m excited about showing my own work, but also about seeing what else is going on in the design world and to meeting other young designers and design lovers.
Galerie CO: When you’re not designing or making furniture, what keeps you busy and makes you smile?
Maude: My dog, Chinook, I call him “wolf”. He needs me always, but he makes me smile.