Lisa Turner created Quake Studio back in 2013, and while each piece in her collection of furniture, objects and more is inspired by the Pacific Northwest, she pushes the boundaries of what nature-inspired art can look like. She’s known for combining natural materials – wood, marble and metal–in technically challenging designs, and she works collaboratively and exclusively with local artisans. She also recently secured the top prize in the Home category at the Made in Vancouver Awards for her PoLite candlesticks, which are a perennial favourite at Provide.
We caught up with Lisa about her origin story, and her own discoveries around her design process.
So what pulled you out of Interior design and into product design?
I had my own firm, and I started to get a lot more involved in the contemporary art scene, and traveling for art, and I just thought, there’s a lot of things I could do in the form of the decorative arts in a modern way. That it might be a really good outlet for me, wanting to do more sculptural things.
And then I had this idea. There was the earthquake in New Zealand in Christchurch, and I had a bunch of friends that were in New Zealand at the time. I just watched how the earthquake was going up around the Pacific Rim. I conceptually thought, okay we’re in an earthquake, we’re in this really fragile place: how do I describe that in sculptural form? My design background always comes in and it kept coming back: well, it has to be functional. So I designed this table, which had the Juan de Fuca fault line in it.
And in the meantime, I’d been doing all these drawings of bark – just sort of two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional objects. It was all about nature, it was all about being grounded. So I thought well, maybe we’ll work up a prototype out of wood with this cedar bark design. And it was Alan Switzer who, by the time I came with a prototype for the drum table for him, he had bought WD, and he said, let me put your stuff in our showroom.
And then I was talking to Robert at Provide, because I would spend time with him specifying stuff for my clients from the store. And he had this really beautiful photograph in the store – he told me it was one of his designer friends, and you know Robert – he said, ‘We loved it, so we wanted to support them.’ I told him I’d been doing all these drawings of bark – and he said, well, bring them in!
But I freaked out. I thought, I can’t show these to him. He’s going just think I’m an idiot. Every time I went in there, Robert would ask about the drawings, and I kept putting him off. Finally I got up the courage. I got the proper carrying box and everything! And I brought them in, and he said, ‘I love them, and I want David to see them.’
They sold really well, and then Robert said, ‘You’re doing all this furniture – why aren’t we selling your furniture too? I went and talked to Alan, and he was great – he told me, ‘If you can get your stuff out there, get it out there. Go for it.’
And literally within, I don’t know, six weeks? Everything was sold. It was partly because Robert was just the most lovable human in the world, and he just was so supportive of the creative practice and the fact that it was local, and partly that there were just more people walking by.
That’s wonderful. So tell us about where you do your work – where’s your studio space?
It’s actually above my garage. We had the fortune to build our own house, and so I incorporated my studio space. When we built this place, I was still doing interior design, and you know, I’m old-school – the year I graduated, they’d just started to introduce CAD at my school, so I still draw by hand. So I have the drafting table, and I have a work table where I can fool around with prototypes and whatnot, but basically everything I do in my studio is more conceptual and preliminary.
Because I come from an interior design background, I come from a place where we were creating drawings and designing pieces for clients, and then working with people within the trades that are really good at what they do. And I’ve continued that model with Quake Studio. I’ll design something, and I don’t even know if it’s a desire, but it’s this intuitive thing: I like blending material. So if you go to a woodworker, they’re used to working entirely with wood and they’re really good at it. And then I come up to the woodworker and I say, well, I actually want to use some marble and wood. And then I’ve got to work with the marble people to figure out what that looks like, or the steel people or the aluminum people, and so I get this whole design collaboration. It’s always how the materials meet, and how do you allow for that junction, and to do it in a way that’s sympathetic to all the materials you’re using.
I was hoping when that when I left interior design, that Quake Studio would simplify things, but I actually find that it’s just as complex. I’m not doing a ceiling plan, but I am working out things like, how much is the aluminum going to expand or detract when it’s welded, so when we cut marble, how are we accounting for that. So there’s a lot of questions, and a lot of prototypes and a lot of disasters. And then, finally, you hit on something and it’s like, oh my God! All the pieces are coming together, and I’m really happy with the way I had originally conceptualized this.
That brings me to something I always like to talk about, and that’s the role of failure in design. How much do you work with failure in your process, what does that look like for you?
I hate having failure because, as a designer I was always like to check off every box. You want to make sure everything’s as simple as possible. But in my wild old age, I am becoming much more comfortable with it. I recognize that failures literally open cracks to create new opportunities.
I was doing a commission for a dear friend, and she had commissioned me to do a table for her for a project. We had everything together and just as we are installing it, it just cracked in half. I was devastated. But what I realized is the scale that we were doing for her was really dramatic, and so I could actually re-contextualize in a smaller form, and it was working really well. So that kind of mistake ended up evolving into a new piece.
And I’m working with that right now, because we have a lot of cut offs that I don’t want to waste. So I’m trying to fool around with how can I recalibrate these. I have a bit of a fascination right now with
the form of sand on the beach, and also clouds. I don’t know these things come to me, but they just sit there and they keep hammering away, so I have to let those flow through me and we’ll see what happens.
I don’t know where I heard this, but it was a someone giving advice to their teenage kid who was afraid of doing things. And they said, make a mistake. If you make it once, that’s okay. Try not to make that same mistake twice. Make a new mistake. And I think that’s such a great model for design. You have to constantly be pushing to create.
There’s nothing that we’ve done that has ever been perfect the whole way through. So you just have to say, this is the fun of it, this is the process of it. In the moment sometimes you know, but usually you trust in it and it works out for the best.
Contact Provide for more information on the furniture and accessories collection by Lisa Turner of Quake Studio.
Photography by Larry Goldstein and Janis Nicolay