Fine furniture designer/maker Kate Duncan tells us how she went from being one of the first thisopenspace guests to in-demand host, and how opening up her massive Gastown loft is making her vision a reality.
Mention “work-life balance” to designer-maker Kate Duncan and you’ll be rewarded with her signature guffaw. (It’s a good reward.) “Everybody’s preaching work-life balance. If someone says it to me one more time I’m going to punch them in the face,” she laughs.
For Kate there is literally no separation, so how can there be a balance? Her work is her life—and when you love every minute of it, why wouldn’t those blurred lines extend right into your home? Since buying her streetfront loft in Vancouver’s Gastown in May, the space has done triple duty as Kate’s residence, a showroom for her meticulously handcrafted wood furniture, and a pop-up event and retail space for at least a dozen other initiatives through thisopenspace.
When we visited the space in the lead-up to the holidays, Kate had just wrapped a month-long pop-up with Monogram and Primastone. It’s the kind of big branded partnership that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago without the thisopenspace community to make the connection. The appliance giant hosted a series of dinners and media nights—and outfitted Kate’s new kitchen in state of the art appliances that will no doubt be used by hundreds of thisopenspace guests in the future.
Having that much traffic move through your living space calls for a whole lot of flexibility. “Some weeks I don’t have a table and some weeks I have four. It changes all the time.” Because she spends so much time in her woodshop, she doesn’t mind having people in her space, early in the morning or late into the evening.
As a host she values that same flexibility in her guests. “I love working with people who are open—people who understand that it’s a short term rental. Take the space at face value and don’t try to overthink it or make it something it’s not.”
And Kate should know. As a host, her experience with thisopenspace has come full circle. She was one of our first guests, four years ago when there was a single pop-up space—the edgy, arty Playground—exactly two blocks north of Kate’s new home.
Kate was looking to do a two-week mini trade show-style pop-up—a collaboration with other local designers and makers. She called it Kate Duncan’s ADDRESS. She had a rough idea of what she wanted: foot traffic, a bit of a blank canvas, “nothing with a lot of visual noise, no purple walls.” But at the time, she says, “There was no such thing as non-negotiables because the Playground space was the only option.”
In every way it was a learning curve:
Lesson #1: There’s a reason why most trade shows are only a few days. They are a ton of work.
Lesson #2: Events are a long game. The payoff is massive, but it takes time, and the immediate rewards can be hard to quantify. “The lesson was valuing the immeasurable,” says Kate. “I learned the incredible value of word of mouth and face to face interactions. I met some rad makers, designers, and got some valuable press. The event was the tip of the iceberg and it’s still evolving.”
That first pop-up became the first of what is now a four-year-running design event. In 2017 Kate Duncan’s Address will have an even bigger roster of designers. It’s part of fulfilling Kate’s vision of a design city where makers can collaborate, showcase work together and build on each other’s success.
The rest of that vision now plays out almost every week in her own 1400-square-foot space. She wants to see her home grow into a hub—a go-to destination for local designers looking to gain exposure and connect with customers. “It would be really neat to rally and foster the design community. Here’s a space in Gastown—I’ve done the work to renovate it and put up the down payment. Now let’s just use it. We’re better together. Like, this table is rad, but wouldn’t it look better with cool linens and a nice light fixture overhead?”
And frankly it wouldn’t be possible without the collaborators who make it their own for a day, a week or a month at a time. “None of this would have been realistic without becoming a host on thisopenspace,” says Kate. “Are you kidding? I make sawdust for a living!” And there’s that guffaw again, echoing off the perfectly polished concrete floor. It’s worth hearing for yourself.