Designers tend to see the world in terms of its potential rather than its shortcomings, where end cuts of wood contain latent sculptural objects and sawdust can nourish your garden. The world isn’t simply a place, but a laboratory for the ceaseless process of discovery, where everything is an experiment.
Brent Freedman and Robin McMillan founded Gamla, a contemporary design studio for furniture and objects, when they moved into their studio in East Vancouver in 2013. Since then their chairs and Gimli, their highly successful line of canine oriented objects inspired by their dog of the same name, has put them on design aficionados’ radars from New York and Hong Kong to the Canadian Consulate in London.
While McMillan primarily takes care of sales and community outreach, the process of design and manufacturing rests firmly with Freedman, who treats woodworking much like how a patternmaker might treat textiles in terms of garment manufacture, a process he inherited from his fashion designer mother. From chairs and tables to lights and conceptual objects, every component is first cut from a set of paper templates. And it’s these templates combined with Freedman’s calculated hands that ensure Gamla’s impeccable consistency.
Every detail is considered, and every material is celebrated. Gamla’s pieces are constructed exclusively from North American hardwoods such as walnut and white oak, sanded to such a silky finish that the objects seem to oscillate in space. Articulated with flourishes of brass, every object has a resonance. Take their L1 floor light, for example. A contemplative examination reveals that the brass rod is not simply the support for the wood frame, but the focal point of the piece itself as the two materials converse with each other and the light. As a result, your experience of each object changes as you move around it. “Everything should be looked at from every angle, and it should still be a beautiful thing,” says McMillan.
The level of quality that Gamla achieves goes beyond physical space and enters the temporal. You can sense the time contained within each piece, but it is also apparent that each piece is an artifact that will express time passed as it collects the small inflections of human use. “Everything that leaves this studio is something special to us and we hope that it will be special to the person it’s going to,” says Freedman. “Sanding and all those processes associated with woodworking are really meditative to me. If I know the client, I think about them the whole time. I’ll be sanding for hours and I will think about the moment they open the box and set it up in their place. I can’t help but feel that ends up as an extension of the work and that it adds a bit of soul to our products that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”
This sentiment is really at the heart of Gamla’s practice. In their relentless pursuit of perfection, the goal is for all their objects to create an experience. “Our scale is very minute, but we can control the little things in front of us,” McMillan says. In fact, Freedman and McMillan have recently made a big change in their own surroundings which will undoubtedly inspire new creations. They have made a leap to Bowen Island, where they will be building their new home and studio. “We’re setting out to change things in our own way and this is how we’re going to do it, in our very small corner of the universe.”