A series introducing the next generation of innovators. We asked prominent British Columbians to nominate people they're watching.
Nominator: Vancouver architect Bing Thom's designs are well-known in Metro Vancouver: the airy, modern Sunset Community Centre on Main Street; the angular Surrey City Centre Library, with its sleek, spiral interior; Richmond's Aberdeen Mall, with its curves of milky, coloured glass.
Innovator: Designer Stephanie Forsythe, who co-founded molo, an award-winning, Vancouver-based design and manufacturing studio, with her husband, Todd MacAllen.
"People are living with less space all the time now, and [Ms. Forsythe and Mr. MacAllen] have come up with this idea of movable, collapsible furniture – things that can transform themselves quickly," Mr. Thom said. "[Ms. Forsythe] is very current; she's right there at the edge, pushing the boundaries." —Bing Thom, Vancouver architect
The "aha!" moment came in the early 2000s, when Ms. Forsythe and her husband were brainstorming ways to manufacture a speaker cone. The couple had been cutting up paper wedding bells purchased from a dollar store, studying their curves for inspiration, when the idea hit: "We thought, this is an incredibly strong, efficient structure – and it's flexible," Ms. Forsythe recalled. "Of course!"
Those cut-up wedding bells, along with paper accordions the duo had folded to build diagrams, would ultimately help make molo's signature pieces: flexible space partitions ("softwalls") and furniture ("softseating") that can expand and contract to take new shapes, adapting to the owner's needs.
Ms. Forsythe recalled looking on in fascination the first time the two scaled up a prototype room partition made of tissue – 6 1/2 feet tall by 30 feet long – to find that it could stand on its own.
"That was the moment like, 'Oh, wow. This is crazy,'" Ms. Forsythe said.
The two polished their designs – which would grow to include everything from glassware to buildings – and took them to exhibitions, including the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Molo was incorporated in December, 2004, and the studio has garnered numerous international awards in the decade since, along with a coveted contract to design the Nebuta House cultural centre in Aomori, Japan.
Molo's collapsible furniture could be an interesting response to the issue of cramped living quarters in areas such as downtown Vancouver, but while molo has seen considerable success in the United States and Europe, Ms. Forsythe says Canadian sales are modest.
"We've never had big success here; we're very niche, I'd say, in Canada," she said.