Friday, July 9, 2010

The Journey Begins (Pt. 3)

By 1978 my father was busier than ever. His reputation for doing quality work had grown considerably, and his order book was now filled with a variety of custom bars, wall units, and assorted built-in bookcases. He now employed 7 full time and 3 part time employees.

In spite of this he had two serious concerns regarding the business.

First, he was serving a market that was heavily dependent on a large General Motors auto factory located in nearby Oshawa. A strike there some years earlier had illustrated how easily the local market could shut down at a moment's notice.

In addition, he had recently experienced a health scare that made him seriously question whether the business would survive if anything ever happened to him.

These concerns prompted him to develop a line of standardized wall units that could be sold wholesale to Toronto area retailers. I was still attending university as I began to help him develop these products. The resulting collection was heavily Scandinavian in design, thanks largely to an aesthetic that was very much in vogue at the time.

In 1982 the best seller from this collection won a Trillium Award at the Toronto Furniture Show. The photo shown below shows my father (on the left) being presented with this award.

Later that same year a visitor from the U.S. happened to see some of our work, and was impressed enough to recommend us to a friend in Chicago.

This led to our first export sale: to a showroom in the Chicago Merchandise Mart called Charles L. Orr Inc. We soon found our wall units displayed alongside exquisite lines such as Karges, and Cado Royal Systems.

Although I was happy to see us transitioning ever further away from refinishing pianos, I have to admit I felt less than challenged by the inherent simplicity of modular wall unit design.

At this point it was 1983 and I was barely 2 years out of school. I was ambitious, and restless, but couldn't put my finger on what I was looking for.

Little did I know that within a year I would find the inspiration I sought - in Chicago, no less.

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