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Sketches turn into major store event

Retailer casalife asks apparel designers, chef, TV personality to create designs
 Evan Biddell, an apparel fashion designer, was among the contributors to casalife’s design event. His furniture piece, in which he is seated, was inspired by a throne.Evan Biddell, an apparel fashion designer, was among the contributors to casalife’s design event. His furniture piece, in which he is seated, was inspired by a throne.
 Interior designer Karen Sealy had the idea for a hamper with a fold-out stool to help the user reach high closet storage spaces. She’s shown here with a prototype of her product, made of birch solids and plywood.Interior designer Karen Sealy had the idea for a hamper with a fold-out stool to help the user reach high closet storage spaces. She’s shown here with a prototype of her product, made of birch solids and plywood.
TORONTO — Looking for some new ideas in furniture design, retailer casalife went to the non-furniture creative class.

Store owner Rob Whitfield invited fashion apparel designers, a chef, architects, interior designers and even a Canadian TV personality to give him ideas for products, sketching them out on napkins.

Then he had prototypes made and showed them off. More than 1,200 people attended an evening event called Mi Casa Su Casa, held at the store in the trendy Liberty Village district of Toronto. Guests saw the clever new products, met the designers and found out what it takes to turn an idea into a piece of furniture.

"Casalife wants to raise awareness about furniture and design and we're constantly searching and sourcing new products," said Whitfield. "Mi Casa Su Casa is a way to link these two principles and demonstrate the path of design while connecting original creative minds to the challenges of small space. For us, that's what it's all about."

All the designs were contemporary - casalife's specialty - and several were multifunctional, aimed at making good use of small urban spaces. Interior designer Karen Sealy's birch wood hamper, for instance, comes with a fold-out stepstool to help the user reach storage space on a high closet shelf.

Casalife hosted its guests inside its 6,000-square-foot main store here and in the parking lot, which was covered with synthetic turf and outdoor furniture from Nuevo Pods. It also invited visitors to tour the Container Office, a self-sustaining office created from a recycled shipping container by BSQ Landscape Design Studio.

Part of the reason for the event was to launch Canobo, a brand of furniture made by a source factory that is a sister company to casalife. He's hoping to distribute the line through other stores as well.

"We're not looking to wholesale to the world, but we'd like to partner with some retailers in other cities," said Whitfield.

Local furniture manufacturers and other companies sponsored much of the Mi Casa Su Casa event, including materials and resources used to develop the prototypes. Sponsors included Canobo, Umbrella Cabinetry, Palette Furniture, Rhoddy Design, Johnny's Finishing Shop, Baker's Furniture, Future Temp Glass, Plyboo, Echowood and Solutions Custom Fabricating.

In addition, students at the Ryerson School of Interior Design used the school's interactive 3D materials lab to build one of the designer pieces.

Product installations from the Ryerson School and from the Ontario College of Art and Design's Industrial Design Program helped show the guests how each design progressed from a concept to a completed piece.

Whitfield said a big benefit of the event was that it enabled the company to quickly design furniture pieces, many of which will actually sell. He thinks the retailer will bring 10 of the 12 products to market, although some will be in limited quantities.

"It can take a year to bring a furniture piece to market. This process took eight to 12 weeks and we literally made 12 new products," he said.

He is hoping to make the event an annual one for the store. He's already thinking about who to recruit as designers.

"It's amazing how enthusiastic people were about it," said Whitfield. "There's a lot more would-be furniture designers out there than you would have thought."

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