October 9, 2015

Furniture as fantastical art


Judson Beaumont creates imaginative home furnishings that blur the line between practicality and sheer whimsy

Judson Beaumont in his studio

By CHRISTINA SYMONS

After a tour amidst the bustle of his East Vancouver studio, Vancouver designer Judson Beaumont pauses to show me his first piece of curved furniture. The quirky and colourful bookcase was custom-built more than 24 years ago and Beaumont has borrowed it for an upcoming interior design exhibit. He reaches out to touch the case and introduces it to me as though it is an old friend. “This is Jesse,” he says, grinning. “Where it all began.”

There are new curiosities and cabinets in the works surrounding us, including 2015 Hudson, modelled after a typical apartment building in New York City’s Meatpacking district. As a piece of sculpture, it’s beautiful in and of itself, but it also holds books or anything else.


Beaumont, known for his animated furnishings and generous philanthropy, loves the twisted irony of naming his practice Straight Line Designs, but he doesn’t stop at whimsy. “Everything I do has to have a function, a purpose,” he says. The limited-edition House Shelves series expresses this utility literally. Each fantastical shelf is a mini architectural icon, reimagined through the eyes of a furniture designer and made with recycled scraps from around the studio to hold personal items or tiny collectibles.

“They’re floating shelves, a functional place to put your keys or phone,” says Beaumont. “But they are also doll houses for grownups.” The first series was modeled after mid-century modern bungalows in Palm Springs with names like Desert Breeze Way, Point Roberts Street, Poquito Drive, Marigold Circle and Vista Sol. Latest releases are inspired by other building types including grain elevators, pool houses and warehouses.

“I grew up on the prairies surrounded by these different shapes, the grain elevators, etc.,” says Beaumont. “And of course, I work in a warehouse.” That warehouse is at 1000 Parker St., where Beaumont has housed his workshop for more than 30 years and keeps a full-time staff of six to seven busy while hosting interns from around the world. After graduating from Emily Carr Institute (now University) of Art and Design in 1985, Beaumont worked briefly in set design for the film industry before setting out on his own, with his unique concept of furniture as art. He was the first artist to move into the now celebrated Parker Street Studios.

And today, although he could likely work anywhere, Beaumont clearly loves the space and community of artists where he continues to blur the line between furniture and art, practicality and delight. A nearby model on the edge of a work table drives this notion home. This “house” will be much larger in scale than the House Shelves, and even more playful when fully realized. Called a Trailer Up in a Tree, it’s a sturdy and safe slide-playhouse being designed by Straight Line for a children’s area at the domestic terminal of the Vancouver International Airport, to be installed shortly.

Beaumont travels extensively, for speaking engagements and large-scale project installations. He recently returned from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he addressed students in the industrial design program. The designer says he is honoured to speak to the next generation of furniture designers and artists, sharing his work ethic and studio ethos. “I still want to be silly, but I take it all really seriously,” he adds with a smile.

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