It may be easier to recognize a Kate Duncan piece by touch rather than sight. Feel for smooth, heavy pulls from a drawer, or soft, buttery leather details and level geometric finishes. “I’m totally obsessed with woodwork, and tools, and hardwood,” Duncan says. “Rather than being really design-forward, my background is in woodwork.” That approach is evidently clear in her products. Her latest collection, presented in her newly opened Gastown showroom, is made of tidy pieces, primarily in ash and focused on the backbone of woodworking: joinery, considered dowling, and solid materials. Propelled by the craft, Duncan’s work sets itself apart in its commitment to purity.
“I started woodworking when I was in Grade seven—everyone had to take woodworking, and that was kind of the beginning and the end for most,” Duncan reflects. “By the time I got into Grade 11 and 12, I was a geek.” After high school, Duncan worked for over 10 years as a woodshop teacher, until a motorcycle accident rerouted her career and she had to take a step back from the classroom. “I found a woodshop to work in without students,” she recalls. “And then one thing lead to another, and I had clients and client meetings.” Even though Duncan has retired her woodshop teaching, the lessons she preached are still clear in the work. There is no attempt to hide the craftsmanship behind each piece.
Standout items such as the Heather bed are the perfect example of this: a simple ash-wood frame with a tobacco-leather headboard is stylish and sexy, in a jeans and T-shirt kind of way. “I come at it going, ‘Okay, these are really beautiful joints. How can I incorporate the joinery into the work without over embellishing it? And without sacrificing the traditional elements of the craft?’” she says. Some items feature a touch of design forethought, such as the Sarah collection, which includes a chest of drawers and a credenza inspired by mid-century creation. Though featuring tapered legs and completely finished backs, they give up nothing in terms of skill. “Solid wood, clean lines,” Duncan reflects. “My dad always says, ‘Keep it simple, Stupid’, so I just try to live by that.”
Design inspiration lives here.