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Twelve Questions With Local Designer Shiloh Sukkau

Photos of Shiloh by Alana Paterson

In a short expanse of time, Shiloh Sukkau has made quite an imprint on Vancouver interiors.

From table caddies and cabinetry to Chinatown’s Kokomo and several Tacofino locations, the local designer’s contribution to the restaurant industry is what initially caught our attention. We recently had a conversation with Sukkau to find out more about what’s driving her career and where it’s taking her in the future.

First of all, please describe what you do and your approach to design in a nutshell. Basically I just love making things. For the last few years I have been working on commercial interiors. From a young age I thought I was going to be an artist and my approach to design still reflects that. I am very hands-on and I’d live onsite during construction if I could.

To date, you’ve worked with a wide range of mediums – including stained glass, paper and wire – what attracts you to material and what new materials would you like to explore? I am attracted to unassuming materials that can be transformed by time and labour. Last summer my daughter and I took a weekend cob workshop with the Mudgirls and 221a. It was tons of work even with lots of people but it was fun and the results were impressive. I’d love to do a cob interior or even a whole house.

What existing brand, business or space would you love to completely overhaul and why? I find myself more often lamenting spaces that are gone rather than dreaming about ones I’d overhaul. That said I would love to be involved in a renovation of the Kits pool. It’s my favourite place to swim and I would want it to be open all year.

What everyday object would you like to redesign and how would yours be an improvement? I wouldn’t say that I am aiming to improve things in the conventional sense. I am no longer interested in making work that feels fussy or slick and for me personally, that’s an improvement. I want people to see my work and know it was made by another human and that’s one of the qualities that they love about it.

Alternately, what imaginary object would you like to create? What would be its function and what would it look like? I have so many sketches of objects and spaces, so it would be one of those.

“Design isn’t a mask, it’s just another part of life.”

To date, what has been the most exciting aspect of your career? Having Tacofino Ocho be shortlisted for best restaurant design at the Vanmag awards last spring was great. I really love that space and everyone worked so hard on it. It’s a unique project for Vancouver and it felt good to have that be recognized, even if we didn’t win.

What project(s) are you most excited about tackling in the future? Currently, I am working on my first project in the U.S., which will be ready by the end of this year. I am also starting an Architecture and Interiors studio with a friend which is exciting. Ultimately I am looking forward to taking on larger and more diverse projects.

Over the course of culminating your portfolio so far, have you noticed that you’ve developed any signature aesthetic choices or responses? What distinguishes you from your peers? It’s taken me longer than I would have liked but I am definitely developing a material and formal language that works for me and that I can rely on when I approach a project. I used to feel like my work was really all over the place but I don’t anymore. A lot of design work has an aspirational quality. I try to stay away from that and ground my work in the constraints of a project and celebrate them. Design isn’t a mask, it’s just another part of life.

Vancouver’s relationship to its buildings and businesses is notoriously ruthless. How does this attitude affect how you approach your practice and how much thought do you put into the longevity of the spaces you work within and your designs, in general? I always try to make objects in a way that they can be moved, taken apart or re-used. Recently The Juice Truck took over a space that I designed for the Juicery Co. on Main St. and they basically kept everything. Partly this is because it was a similar program but also fundamentally the design was very simple, they just had to change a few colours.

Imagine a century into the future, someone discovering your work for the first time without any previous knowledge about you. What would your work communicate about yourself and Vancouver design circa the 2010s? That you are really seeing the influence of women on the built environment. It’s slow but accumulating.

How do you think that being a woman affects and is communicated through your designs? I have always felt like a bit of an outsider so when it comes to my work I am pretty comfortable having to push for my ideas.

Lastly, what is the most valuable piece of advice that you would like to pass on to young women looking to enter your profession? Don’t look for approval.

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