Q&A Sarah Gee & Lindsay Brown Of Ouno

April 2, 2009.

Ouno Design is Sarah Gee and Lindsay Brown – two Eastside girls who live and work in Strathcona. They have been a collaborative as Ouno Design since 2003, reworking vintage and collectible materials into modern, handcrafted decor and fashion accessories.

Tell us three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there: We live and work in Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood, close to downtown and Chinatown on the east side of the city. You could not make up the dialogue you overhear around these parts. It’s like a nature reserve, for some reason: nesting bald eagles, a pair of peregrine falcons who hunt squirrels on the elementary school field, Northern Flickers, lots of coyotes, a barred owl that follows my dog at night, and the usual skunks and raccoons. Benny’s deli at Union and Princess, which has been in the same location, and been run by the same Italian family, since about 1917, and sells extremely good cheeses at ridiculously fair prices.

Which Vancouver shops carry your wares or where can people get their hands on Ouno? We sell almost entirely online (www.ounodesign.com), though “m” in West Vancouver carries our pillows. And people usually buy directly from our studio, which is always open by appointment, even at odd hours.

Where do you enjoy shopping in Vancouver? Tell us about some of your favourite local haunts: For both supplies and clothes, we love vintage. We get most things from the rag house, thrift shops, and vintage stores like Mintage. JewellerBau on Main. Deluxe Junk, which sells fantastic vintage pieces.

Is there a local designer who you admire? Why? For fashion I really, really like Hajnalka Mandula. Her clothes have an element of fantasy but in a restrained, minimalist way, and that’s something we ourselves try for. Her style is what we call “space rags”: half-agrarian, half-space age. She uses organic fabrics and all her accessories are from recycled oddities she finds in thrift.
I like the guy down my street who made a little wooden ladder for his cat to go from the bedroom window down to the garden. Genius.

What inspires you? Japanese and Finnish design, and any interesting design solution that’s born from necessity. High design from the seventies, that mix of space odyssey and hippie.

Describe your workspace and why it works for you: We both work out of our own home studios as well as out of each other’s. Mine is in an open-plan converted wooden church. It works because being able to move furniture aside to make a big working floor space for textiles is great. Try making a large room divider or bedspread 120″ x 100″ without a big floor space – impossible. It’s cold, though, so you have to keep moving. My studio doesn’t work for me at all. It’s a cramped seven-by-twelve-foot room with a tiny window and piles of fabric, thread, sewing equipment and books everywhere. And yet somehow I still manage to design and construct – which means, I guess, where there’s a will …

What is your favourite Ouno design right now? Two things, actually, yet both are good examples of transformation of existing materials, which I think is at the heart of our design impulse: our bags made from vintage trench coats and our vintage scarf bedspreads.

What sort of music do you listen to when you are working? Hard to narrow it down, but lately it’s been Nick Cave, Destroyer, and, if it’s a panicky deadline, I’m sorry to admit it’s Led Zep. When I’m thinking: Brian Eno. When I’m working: something exciting like The Last Shadow Puppets.

Is there a Vancouver event (a craft fair, design show, farmers market) that you look forward to attending or taking part in? It’s a close contest but of all the Vancouver exhibits and design fairs we’ve been involved in, I like the Swell sustainable design exhibit organized by Propellor. It’s the chic-est, most radical and the most fun. And we’re looking forward to the first One of a Kind show in the fall.

Why is Vancouver a good city for indie design? Vancouver design has always had an off-beat, alternative, weirdly utopian, semi-conceptual side. The city is actually quite stuffy and parochial on the one hand, and yet also quite iconoclastic on the other, and those two things are probably related. This polarized tension is probably good for designers and artists because there’s something to push against. Because of this, and because Vancouver is a small market that is known for spending less on quality interior design than most other urban centres in North America, designers often look abroad for recognition, and this may not be a bad thing because one is forced to look outward. And thanks to the internet, you don’t actually have to leave Vancouver anymore. You can work here but be part of a larger design world. On the positive side, Vancouverites were one of the first groups to consistently ask for and buy sustainable design. Couldn’t say it better myself, although I would add that so much rain makes us want to play indoors more.

What are Ouno’s plans for the future? We have a steady market in the US and Europe, even Japan, but not nearly as much in Canada, and that’s where we’d like to expand. That sounds snarky but it isn’t – it’s just true. Currency exchange rates probably have a lot to do with it. As for new products, we’re producing a line of sustainable leather bags in limited editions by local leather artisans, because we haven’t been able to keep our own one-of-a-kind recycled leather bags in stock. And we’re coming out with a line of hanging room dividers, because that’s what people are wanting these days as they figure out how to live in small spaces.

If you were to choose one of your pillows as a gift to the queen, which one would you choose, and why? Which queen – Latifah, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or Queen Elizabeth? We could probably come up with something for all three. Queen E’s taste is not exactly our thing, but we do have a great chartreuse baroque paisley print that she’d probably think was adequate for the palace.



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