Something spectacular happens where nature meets the urban, and Brent Comber knows all about that. Growing up on Vancouver’s North Shore, the designer’s childhood world was both city living and forest dwelling. Inspired by his surroundings, he began his career in landscaping, working with the raw materials that surrounded him. He acquired his knowledge of landscaping the same way he later acquired his woodworking skills: through his hands. Yet it was through his heart that his work began to transform. When Brent first introduced his work at an outdoor garden show in Vancouver, a woman approached his booth and sat on one of his benches. The woman closed her eyes and ran her hand across the smooth wood. When Brent approached her, she revealed that the fragrance of the cedar transported her back to her childhood, when she and her grandfather would spend hours walking on the the logs that had washed up on the shore. In that moment, Brent discovered the capacity of the wood to tell stories in its own rich and expressive language, and he resolved to continue to craft his pieces with a story in mind. From the 18 foot, one-piece communal table at Salt Tasting Room to the soaring western maple wall sculpture at Yew in the Four Seasons, his artistry can be found in many iconic Vancouver locations.
Three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there: My home is in the Hollyburn area of West Vancouver. I love being able to walk to the beach, to great restaurants and to my children’s schools.
When you finish a piece of furniture intended for a specific space, what do you hope to feel? I feel proud when our work compliments the designer’s vision and excited to see it in context.
What inspires your choice of wood for a given project? It really depends on the particular feel or story I wish to convey. Each wood species can engage people differently, depending on the texture and the finish. For example, our Shattered collection is about the physical energy and thought required to organize the split timber into cubes. It is about the process – the choice of material is secondary.
If wood can tell a story, which one of your pieces carries your favourite story? The Alder Cube. It’s an evocative piece constructed from very simple materials. It also conveys a beautiful story of how a forest can change you as you pass through it. People are fascinated to discover that the piece is constructed from vertical stacked branches and it appears that air is the only thing holding the sticks together. For a moment, you find yourself inside the cube trying to unravel this mystery much like your state of mind when you are in the deep woods. There are other stories hidden within each piece – it all depends on where you look.
Current project that excites you the most: I’m interested in exploring the connection we have with certain objects, like your favourite piece of jewelery. Do you experience the warmth of a memory from your grandmother’s ring? Does a particular necklace make you feel a certain way depending on who bought it for you? We are prototyping a series of wall and floor pieces exploring these notions.
Best place for one-of-a-kind furniture in the city: There are many studios in Vancouver’s east side that are full of amazing artisans that should be supported before, during and after the Culture Crawl.
A Vancouver garden or green space that you have always wanted to have your way with? I’m totally into vertical gardens these days. I would like to clad the huge grain silos that line the waterfront of Vancouver’s harbour with herbs and flowers. The industrial silos would be transformed into a Koon’s-like sculpture for all to enjoy, including birds and insects.
A Vancouver building or space you have always wanted to design furniture for. A preschool or a kindergarten room. I think it would be fun for kids not to have to wait until after school to find a tree to climb or a hollow log to read a book inside.
Why is Vancouver a good city for design? That’s a good question and I think it depends on what one thinks of “design”. Generally, however, the people I view as good designers aren’t pretentious and view themselves as only one voice within the greater textural community of designers. Sit in on a Pecha Kucha night and you’ll see what I mean.
Is there a local designer or artist that you admire above all others? The artist, Gordon Smith. His work is rich, vibrant and passionate. He reminds me that life is not linear and that we all possess the power for constant renewal in whatever we choose to do.
Best local place to be inspired: Spanish Banks.
Favourite local building/landmark? Lions Gate Bridge. It feels like a private pathway to my home as I travel towards the mountains of the North Shore.
Three places you like to take out of town guests: Capilano Suspension Bridge, Cleveland Damn, Grouse Mountain.
Where do you enjoy shopping in Vancouver? I’m just learning where to shop for clothes in Vancouver. Recently I bought some cool boots in John Fleuvog’s store. I’ve been meaning to buy a wallet from Ken Diamond.
Favourite Vancouver restaurant from a completely aesthetic point of view? The VAG’s outdoor patio. I can’t remember its name (ed. note: The Gallery Cafe) but I love the dappled sunlight from the trees overhead.
If you were going to recommend a Vancouver artist/designer/musician/personality for Scout to interview, who would it be? Todd MacAllen. He is thoughtful, principaled and in some ways ahead of his time.