Five Minutes With Bram & Kaly Of Local Design Studio ‘Willow & Stump’

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Photos by Lucas Finlay

by Thalia Stopa | Drawing on their own experiences in their own respective small spaces, Bram Sawatzky and Kaly Ryan co-founded Willow & Stump Furniture Design in April 2014 to tackle furniture solutions head-on. Since then, they have expanded their practice to include custom projects – such as the tuna can trays for Fable restaurant – and new products for spaces of all sizes. Working with a combination of wood technology and new materials, the pair create designs that are modern and graceful while maintaining an emphasis on function and longevity. Willow & Stump will be debuting their new colourful Traverse collection at Address Assembly later this month; but in the meantime, you can get to know the personalities behind the products here…

Where do you live and what makes it home? East Van! We both live close to our workshop on Clark and Hastings. We’ve each lived in a bunch of places but this is our favourite yet. We love the laid back vibe, the large creative community, and of course, the breweries. Dog parks, bike raves and good eats are a bonus as well!

What is your choice of music when working in the studio? Depends on who is in charge of the tunes! We work in a great shop full of people with a variety of tastes. If Bram gets to pick the music bass lines can be heard from blocks away. Rap and house are always a great energy boost on a rainy winter day. Kaly has been known to throw on something a little more subdued. But every once in awhile she forces the shop to listen to 90s pop. Because everyone secretly loves boy bands.

It’s been a long day but now it’s beer time! (You’ve got your own Cutlass wooden growler carrier handy, of course.) What’s your choice of growler fills? We go to Strange Fellows a lot (it happens to be not only an awesome brewery but also on the way home). Their Wit is always refreshing after a long day. We also enjoy Callister Brewing, which is just down the street. We always try something different when we head there.

What was the last unusual or surprising source of inspiration that you encountered? Lately, we’ve been getting inspired by the leftovers of our projects. Sometimes the waste boards or offcuts create unexpected forms. This also helps us think of creative ways to make our projects more sustainable. We would love to launch a line of products made solely from the waste of another project. These kind of pieces always seem to inspire interesting dialogues with clients and other artists/designers as people are generally interested in where things came from.

If you could create anything with your own two (or four) hands, what would it be? This is one of the many reasons why we are designers who work in a shop, as opposed to outsourcing production. We love being able to think of something and then immediately turn it into a physical object. We value understanding not only the design process but also the manufacturing process. But if our hands had super powers, Kaly would make chocolate croissants magically appear on command.

If you had to replace your hands with anything, what would it be? Bram thinks the obvious answer is robots but he’s gonna have to go with hot dogs. Kaly can’t top that.

You know it’s going to be a great day because you’re stomach is full of… Poffergies! Those tiny pancakes from the Netherlands. They are covered in icing sugar and butter. We went to Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven last November and we ate them every day!

Kaly, what are the best and worst things about working with Bram? The best thing about working with Bram is that he is always inspired by what’s going on around him. He has a new idea every 20 minutes. The worst thing is that he sometimes insists on following through on his craziest new ideas. We once found ourselves explaining to a security guard why we were hauling a boulder from the Fraser River across a warehouse parking lot.

Bram, same question about Kaly. I think the best part of our working dynamic is the effortless way in which we are able to read the energy of an exciting idea. When the ideas flow and a design starts to take form, it’s really a great feeling. Working together makes us both much much better designers, but it’s also way more fun than working solo. The worst part about working with Kaly is when she crushes my totally unrealistic ideas that I’ve been obsessing over for weeks. I tend to get sidetracked, turning everything into new and completely unrelated ideas.

Forgetting about the “third wheel” cliche for a moment: if you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? We are collaborating with our friend Annie of Lemonni right now and it is a dream! She is a graphic/surface designer and we have been working together to release a line of furniture featuring her patterns. The full line will debut at Address Assembly.

What underrated or underused material do you think should be utilized more? Turns out, webbing strap is a pretty great material for strengthening fabric connections. It comes in tons of colours and sizes and we’re excited to share that we are incorporating it in some of our new products with Lemonni!

What is one material that you haven’t yet utilized in your practice that you would like to? We have really wanted to work with fabric for a while now, so we’re super excited that some of our new products in collaboration with Lemonni will feature fabric!

What design project are you most excited about, in the next few months? Our collaboration with Annie of Lemonni! We can’t wait to share how we’ve incorporated her amazing patterns into some new furniture designs. The first look will be at the Kabuni Spotlight starting in early May and the full line will be at Address Assembly.

If you can only accomplish one thing in 2017, what would it be? Kaly: What are we going to do today Bram? Bram: Same thing we do every day! Try to take over the world!

How has your practice changed since you started out? We started out making furniture in our garage, so things have changed a lot in three years. We have learned so much about furniture design, the Vancouver creative community, and our strengths and weaknesses as designers and business people. We started doing mostly custom furniture but now we are beginning to focus more on our own designs, which is pretty exciting.

If you could be remembered for just one piece that you’ve designed (or would like to design in the future), what would it be? The Ballast Nightstand is pretty special to us. It’s the first piece we designed together and we made the first prototypes in our garage. The way it’s made has changed but the ideas behind the design have not; it’s functional furniture you never want to leave behind.

Aliens have invaded the earth. They want to take back one of your pieces to their home planet. What would you make for them? Our Cutlass Growler Carrier. It is a great way to secure your beer so it doesn’t bounce around in your space ship. Also, the handy strap will keep them together in zero gravity. Yup, we thought of everything.

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Photos by Lucas Finlay

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