Meet the one and only Kate Duncan, a no-bullshit woman with a booming laugh and an appreciation for sawdust, Dad jokes, and RuPaul. The talented local woodworker and furniture designer has been producing some of the most beautiful, sleekly handcrafted and highly functional designs we’ve ever seen in Vancouver. We recently caught up with her as she was preparing to open her new showroom in Gastown (opening this Fall at Columbia and Powell). Say hello to…
Favourite tool in your workshop? My set of chisels, without a doubt. My brother brought them back for me the last time he was in Japan. Whenever I pick one up I feel like a superhero about to do good in the world.
Coffee or tea? Fuck that. Beer.
Dogs or cats? Really, anything fluffy that will let me cuddle the shit out of it.
The worst piece of furniture you ever made? I’m not gonna lie to you, there have been a few bad pieces. I made this really terrible bookcase when I was studying at BCIT. It was curvy. After that project I decided, “If it’s not a right angle, it’s a wrong angle.”
What neighbourhood do you live in and what makes it home? I live in Gastown and I can’t get enough of my stoop. I like to sit there and watch the world go by.
The Vancouver restaurant you wish was open 24 hours? The Birds & The Beets, because I live just around the corner and midnight carb cravings are real. Their bread is off the hook.
The cliché that you overuse? Really bad Dad jokes. Are those cliché? Whatever. I overuse bad Dad jokes and I’m not even sorry.
Four words that capture your design style? Honest. Solid. Handsome. Clean.
Shoe of choice? Steel toed boots by day. Pumps by night. The struggle is real.
Your three role models? Rosie the Riveter, She-Ra Princess of Power and, of course, my granny.
What keeps you up at night? Whatever boneheaded thing I’ve said that day. I’m sure I’ll be up tonight thinking about all the boneheaded things I’ll say in this interview…
Favourite view of the city? From a float plane, preferably one that’s heading to my childhood home on Vancouver Island.
The song currently stuck in your head? Willie Nelson and Lukas Nelson, “Just Breathe.”
Three films you would gladly watch again? Paris is Burning, Frida, and The Neverending Story.
The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? All of the things! If it’s yummy, I just want too much of it. I will never stop eating too much.
What inspires you? Woodwork itself inspires me. I really just admire the principles of the craft. It espouses values I try to live by.
If you could give advice to your 20 year old self what would it be? “You’re gay.”
What is the first album that you ever bought? Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way. I still listen to it often.
What game did you love as a kid? I wasn’t so into games as a kid, but I had crafts on lockdown. Crayons, craft paper, pipe cleaners, beads. I asked for a sewing machine for my 10th birthday and I sewed zippers on everything I could get my hands on.
Most played song on your iTunes? “Supermodel” by RuPaul. Please don’t judge me.
Your go-to places to shop in YVR? Nouvelle Nouvelle, Still Life, Marks Work Wearhouse, Lee Valley, Windsor Plywood.
If you had a motto, what would it be? “Just keep swimming.” Actually that’s my best friend Kevin’s motto, but he says it to me so often it might as well be my own.
The design you feel captures your badass attitude the best? Oh, that’s hard! I guess if I had to pick just one, I’d pick the Heather Bed. She’s so sexy and she’s built to last all night long.
Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? I was in a motorcycle accident a few years ago. I got side-swiped by a car in a hit and run and then hit by a city bus. I felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing between moving vehicles and spinning tires. It was a bad day and a huge turning point in my life.
How would your friends describe you? A quirky bonehead with an outrageous laugh.
Your most regrettable purchase ever? House plants. I just can’t keep them alive.
The best purchase you ever made? Accessories. You just can’t go wrong with more accessories. Shoes, bags, sunglasses. No matter what I eat, they always fit.
The worst thing about woodworking? All the boys. Meh, that’s not true. Most of them are actually okay and some are even pretty great! Maybe just the lack of women in my industry. That kinda sucks. Wood boogers suck too.
The most beautiful place in the world? Japan.
What’s the one thing about Vancouver’s design scene that you want to see changed the most? I am excited to see Vancouver position itself as an up-and-coming design hub. We’ve go so much amazing talent in this city. It’s so great that Vancouverites are starting to shop local and East Coasters are looking West. We really do have some of the best of the best right here in Vancouver!
What did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher.
What are you the most proud of? I’m so proud of my apprentice, Jamie. I’m proud of the work she does in the shop and I’m proud of myself for being in a position to employ and mentor someone so rad. I’m pretty proud that the two of us can make a living out of makin’ sawdust.
What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? I have a little gold pineapple charm that I got as a graduation present from my Mom. It was originally my granny’s. She used to wear it dangling off her watch. It was kinda her signature thang.
Biggest fear? Falling. When I fell off my motorcycle it was a long, long recovery and I don’t ever wanna fall again. Not even out of a chair!
Your absolute favourite part of the building and design process? The final product. There’s nothing like seeing a gorgeous piece of furniture materialize out of just planks of wood and elbow grease.
Your favourite curse word? Fuck. In every and any imaginable application.
The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? The Beatles. If I don’t say that my Mom might disown me.
A trend that needs to die? Poor quality. Disposability. Anything made based on the bottom line. It’s a really gross way to work and the final product lacks soul.
What was the last live concert you attended? Case/Lang/Veirs. We had front row seats and K.D. Lang actually sweat on me! I have such a crush on her. I didn’t even know what a lesbian was until I discovered K.D. Lang.
The best way to go, in the very end? In the presence of people you love.
Why is Vancouver such a cool city for design? I think it’s great cause there’s so much of it going on. Design isn’t really a solo kinda thing and it’s great to have so many talented people around to collaborate with. I love any and every opportunity to work with my favourite metal workers, upholsterers, or interior designers. It feels more like play than work. Sometimes it even feels like a party!
Three books we’d find on your bookshelf? How to: Woodwork. How to: Drink Beer. How to: Girls.
Favourite place you’ve ever traveled? I spent a week on a fishing boat traveling all around Haida Gwall with my Dad. It was not only one of my favourite places to travel to, but it was also just an amazing trip with an amazing guy. And my Mom and I have been known to rip it up real good in NYC too. We go every couple years and we always have a blast! I love NYC so hard.
Your happiest memory? There’s so many! I’m really quite a happy person. I have a laugh that’s so loud it turns heads and I use it often (sorry/not sorry).
The best gift you ever received? A pink neon sign that says WERK. It’s a nod to a sign that’s in the show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is by far my biggest guilty pleasure.
What’s on the top of your bucket list? More travel. I’m working on saving up enough play money to take me and my apprentice, Jamie, to Japan. I wanna check out the woodworking scene there and pick up some sweet new tools.
The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”
Drink of choice? Beer, and when that runs out, bourbon.
What was the luckiest moment in your life? I think I was born with horseshoes up my ass. I’m feel pretty lucky to get up every morning and do what I do. A friend once pointed out, “Ya gotta be good to be lucky,” so I guess it’s all a bit of shit luck and hard work.
What you are most looking forward to? It’s a secret! Don’t tell anyone, but I’m opening a showroom in Gastown this Fall. I’ve got 1,300 square feet to fill up with furniture near Columbia and Powell. It’s gonna be rad!
How would you like to be remembered? As a quirky ol’ woman who lived large and laughed louder.