Woodworker and furniture designer Kate Duncan grew up feeling like a square peg in a family of pragmatic accountants. She indulged in sewing lessons and endured charm school until she found woodshop class and fit right in. After years as a shop teacher, a motorcycle accident catalyzed the launch of her namesake brand. Shortly thereafter she also founded Address, an annual exhibit of designer / makers in her hometown of Vancouver, which dovetails nicely with another one of her talents: throwing a good party. Listen:
What is your earliest memory?
I remember building a lotta forts with my little brother in the basement. We were sooo good at forts. I really can’t remember which one is the first one… They all kinda just blend together into one giant super fort in my mind…
How do you feel about democratic design?
Oh this is a can of worms! Great question. I think democratic design is a great idea but actually putting it into practice is a little more complicated, such is life I suppose. I struggle with the low cost or easy accessibility piece. Yes, great design and great products should be accessible buuuuuut, I think accessibility really mitigates sustainability when put in the hands of consumers. Like, a simple bookcase for example. Shouldn’t everyone have one? And for $50 lots of folks can have one! Oh joy… Or maybe we just need to pass on our books at a thrift store once we’ve read them so someone else can read them. Less books; less bookcase; more sharing; more sustainable.. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally into democratic design, as long as it’s for products that folks actually need. Not just for the sake of consumerism and dusty book storage.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
That’s a good one!! Tyler Hays told me never to under charge for my work. He said, never over charge, but also NEVER EVER under charge. If I remember correctly, he even used all caps. When I first started out, I had no idea how to quote. I’d always just made things for the love of making things so it was a big transition to start charging for my work. Years ago I met Tyler (the big guy behind BDDW [Editor’s Note: Listen to our chat with Tyler in Episode 38]) and he had me make him a few chairs. I tried to charge him peanuts but he wasn’t havin any of it so he helped me price them and paid me accordingly. It was actually a really incredible experience and the whole thing was FULL of advice and tons of great tidbits. He also told me to “celebrate the screw”. But I still can’t. I’m a junkie for joinery.
How do you record your ideas?
Lots and lots and LOTS of notes. I have note paper, and notebooks and stickies EVERYWHERE! I’ve started to keep them now too. I used to throw them all out when I was done but now I just dump them in a box when they’re “done” and move on. Sometimes I go through them and put puzzle pieces together... It’s like a fun game. Some ideas are just utterly laughable and some fit together really well! Every now and then they’re greater than sum of their parts.
What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?
I’m super into red oak right now. Good ol’ flat swan, red oak. Like, yea, the stuff your mom’s kitchen was made out of in the 80’s. It’s cheap, and rock solid and the grain pattern is incredible. I stain it jiffy marker black to get rid of the red colour and bring out the texture.
What book is on your nightstand?
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. I love that guy…
Why is authenticity in design important?
If it’s not authentic, it’s just not real… Know what I mean? And good design has to be real.
Favorite restaurant in your city?
Hands down, Ask for Luigi. Pasta for the win.
What might we find on your desk right now?
A mountain of paperwork. Like, a whole mountain.
Who do you look up to and why?
Oh so many folks! Lena Waithe. Barbara Kruger. Ru Paul, Faye Toogood. Donald Glover, Cynthia Nixon… I generally look up to folks who are kinda other. I find it reassuring to know other other’s exist. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my own otherness and the pressure to conform. It can be so heavy (and also incredibly beautiful) to navigate through the world in a way that’s not really defined or easily understood… And I really admire people who just do life on their own terms.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?
I just wrapped up a new bed that I’m pretty excited about. It’s a new collection piece made of strips of tambour all laminated together. I just think it’s sexy af.
What are the last five songs you listened to?
Glowed Up - Kaytranada
Biscuit Town - King Krule
Masseduction - St. Vincent
Touch the Leather Redux - The Fat White Family
Made to Stray - Mount Kimbie