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Six designers and what inspires them most

From Japanese kaiju figures to tin containers to an apartment that's a life-size model

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For Jason Stroud’s punk rock-meets-Posh Spice furniture and light fixtures – on display at his recently opened Toronto showroom – the designer scours junkyards, vintage shops and garage sales for raw goods (old signs, broken doll parts, scrap lumber). He retains the patina of what he digs up to create a sense of nostalgia, and adds grace with slick materials like steel and glass. But the work – a chandelier made from century-old piano keys or a clean-lined bench with a salvaged timber top – draws its inspiration from an unlikely source: Stroud’s collection of kaiju: air-brushed, vinyl figurines of fantastical Japanese monsters.

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“Growing up I was fascinated by Japanese monster movies, but I didn’t pick up my first kaiju – an octopus wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase – until 2006, when a toy collector friend introduced me to the figurines. Since then, I’ve made two buying trips to Japan, and I’m going again in November. I also check toy forums, like skullbrain.org, daily, and I have a buying agent in Japan who helps me connect with dealers. So now I have over 500 pieces in my collection, including an original, 1966 Godzilla, which is often cited as being the first kaiju that started the craze. I display some of the collection in my showroom and the rest are in glass cabinets in my home. I’ve also used them directly in some of my work, including taking plastic casts of Mothra and turning it into a lamp. Moths are attracted to light, right? The figures inspire me because they are totally creative and colourful. They remind me to think outside of the box and that anything is possible. If a scale-covered monster with its brains popping out is possible, anything is.” – Jason Stroud

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Hamid Samad was educated as a cobbler and works as a furniture and interior designer. But his work has the touch of an inquisitive, eccentric history professor. For example, his Cocktail Parlour at Storys, which opens mid-November, channels the feeling of a 1920s Berlin apartment. At his 12-year-old Toronto studio, Commute Home (which he co-owns with Sara Parisotto), the Indian-born Samad draws on a variety of offbeat inspirations: anatomy charts, old Encyclopedias, his collection of 1930s tin soldiers, tanks and airplanes. But perhaps his most valued source of ideas is one he’s had since college: a humble book of portraiture.

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“Twenty years ago, when I went to university – I studied shoe-making at Central Saint Martins in east London – I had no money. But with my student loan, one of the first things I bought was Citizens of the Twentieth Century, a book of prints by early 20th-century German photographer August Sander. I like how you can look at Sander’s portraiture and, through the clothes and the backdrop, instantly know if the subject is a butcher, a politician or a painter. There’s an idea there I still use in my design work: I try to create spaces – whether it’s the restaurant at the Ritz, which I’m working on now, or a boutique clothing store – to suit the people who will use it. I still have the book and from time to time take it out to show close friends. I recently showed it to Anna Simone, of the interior design firm Cecconi Simone. She liked it so much, she went out and bought one for herself.” – Hamid Samad

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Considering Colin Neufeld is a partner at one of Canada’s most exciting young design firms – Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture (named for its business registration number) – it’s surprising that one of his most important muses is a humble compass set. After all, his projects – a century-old building near Portage Avenue and Main Street, for example, which he revitalized with orange-accented apartments and chrome-faced balconies – are nothing if not forward-thinking. There’s more to the protractors than their utility.

Jodene Neufeld

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“My dad has always been my inspiration, for many things and specifically for architecture. He was a talented draftsman, job captain and partner in a local Winnipeg architecture firm, and his detailed approach to his job (and my schoolwork, science fair projects and backyard treehouse) shaped my outlook on design as well as life. His old Alpha Precision German drafting instruments have always been important to me.” – Colin Neufeld

Jodene Neufeld

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“The set is over 40 years old yet the case is still in excellent condition, as are all of the tools. When I went to architecture school, at the University of Manitoba, he gifted his set to me. He passed away before I finished my degree, but I've kept the tools as a reminder of him and his dedication to professionalism, rigour and the importance of technical expertise in the practice of architecture. In our office, I love the technical challenge of any design. I think that a good design has to be realizable, and is only really solved once the solution almost seems too simple. I am inspired by those objects that are brilliant in their simplicity.” – Colin Neufeld

Jodene Neufeld

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The world likely doesn’t need another piece of pottery with an owl or a flower on it. But Nelson, B.C.-based ceramicist Cathy Terepocki brings a charming graphic sensibility, and a playful, ironic touch, to her porcelain and stoneware that keeps it fresh (even when there’s a bird involved). Not that her aesthetic repertoire is limited: In one recent series, she documents the abandoned hamlet of Bents, Sask., with maps, imagery and souvenir-style slogans like I Heart Bents. This sense of narrative is important to the mother of three– a sense of narrative partially inspired by discarded objects like old tin cans.

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“I have always been interested in collecting anachronistic objects such as clothing, furniture, textbooks and these old tin containers. They inspire the colour palette, texture, patterns and imagery of my ceramic pieces. What I’m drawn to about objects like these is that they offer clues about the people that used them and the places from which they came – I try to capture this same sense of narrative or fragments of story in my work.” – Cathy Terepocki

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“Looking for these objects at garage sales, flea markets and second-hand stores has become key to my studio practice. In addition to being inspirational, all of the containers I collect are put to use; they hold crayons, marbles, needles and thread, etc.” – Cathy Terepocki

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“The pride of my tin-can collection is a 1964 Airstream trailer. It has been retro-fitted into a mobile gallery called Very Hush Hush. I operate it during the summer months with co-owner Tracy Fillion (Dear Pony Clothing) by taking the work of other independent Canadian designers on the road to summer music festivals.” – Cathy Terepocki

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Chris Pommer’s desk is topped by an accretion of small mementos. There’s some vinyl letters (punched from the stencil he used on the recently completed Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa) and a little red button that reads Panic (a cheeky gift from a co-worker). The arrangement isn’t particularly curated (neat freaks might describe it as chaotic), but each object has its own intrinsic, aesthetic quality, as well as a sentimental attachment. It reminds the designer (a founding partner of Toronto’s Plant Architects) that mundane objects can also be deeply meaningful, an idea that recurs in his work (a park on the site of an old fur farm, for example, uses discarded mink cages as a vine-covered garden trellis). One of the most inspiring tokens is a small, striped stone. It’s no bigger than a belt buckle, yet encapsulates a surfeit of emotions.

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“I found the striped pebble on a beach in Métis in 2000. I was in Gaspé to help build Plant’s installation for the first Jardins de Métis Garden Festival. Back then, I was working full-time at Bruce Mau Design and trying to grow Plant with my partners Lisa Rapaport and Mary Tremain. I was basically burning the candle at four ends. The stone reminds me of that busy time in my life. I also like that it has two materials, woven together, which makes me think of the work I do at Plant, where we try to blur the boundaries between architecture and landscape design. But even growing up, pebbles were important to me. Maybe it has something to do with a childhood spent on the Prairies, … where I spent so much time looking down at the earth. Or maybe it has something to do with the furniture store my mom ran in Winnipeg when I was a kid – sometimes I would help by finding nice rocks and other things to fill the bowls on display.” – Chris Pommer

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Post-academia, many twentysomethings live in cramped, dank and awkward accommodations. It was no different for Alex Josephson when he received his master’s of architecture four years ago. But rather than merely make do in a hovel before he could move up the real-estate ladder, the designer took advantage of his 550-square-foot apartment, and turned it into an architectural experiment. In many ways, the results are wildly irreverent – there’s an open-concept bathroom in the middle of the living space. Josephson has learned invaluable lessons from his extreme home makeover, lessons that he applies daily at his award-winning Toronto studio, Partisans. The apartment has become so instrumental to his practice that he may never want to leave, even when he can afford a larger place.

Alex Jowett

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“My living space is a mechanism to do work. I wouldn’t say that it ‘inspires’ me (because I hate that word), but it gives me the impetus to get up every day and be creative. It’s partially the simple things, like that the apartment has no curtains, so the sun comes in every morning and stops me from sleeping in. It’s also that I have always treated the place like a full-scale architectural model – cutting it up and building it by hand, without drawings or plans, just to see what would happen if I tore down a wall or positioned the bathroom in a certain way. But it’s also where I display the small victories of my firm, Partisans. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to start a business, which my partner, Pooyah Baktash, and I did when we were both still students. … I can’t afford to collect art, so I hang mementos of our successful projects – models and renderings. Before we had our own office space, we would work here, and literally draw everywhere. You can still see our notes and diagrams marked on the windows.” – Alex Josephson

Alex Jowett

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