Today I’m super-excited to interview one of my favourite designers based here in Canada, the very talented, Arren Williams. Arren as some of you already know, is a renowned designer and interior stylist in the design world, having graced magazines, newspapers and television for the last two decades. He, along with his husband, David, also founded Casa Cubista, a home collection centred around a contemporary take on traditional Portuguese craft. And most recently, Arren’s been freelancing on some very cool design projects. Early in 2019 he launched a collection for the home titled Arcade in collaboration with a few companies which is now available exclusively at Hudson’s Bay. He’s also one of those people, that I have never met in person, but know from emailing back and forth throughout the years and watching him on television, is just a real stand up guy. So it’s an honour to have him here on the blog today, knowing his super busy schedule (he was even on Cityline this morning), not to mention he and David are also renovating their home. He’s got a busy life. (So thank you Arren)! And readers… I know you’ll enjoy our interview.
Q. I always love to get a little background to start things off and love hearing how people started in their field. I read in your “About” page on your blog that at age 12, you mentioned that you weren’t playing with G.I. Joe, but with Art Deco clocks, shall we start there?
It’s true! Both my grandmother’s played an outsize influence on my life.
Pauline was a can-can dancer in Paris in the 1920’s, and I learned to love all of the big Holly-wood movie musicals of the twenties and thirties because of her. She’d always critique the dancers if they weren’t in synch, or didn’t point their toes on a kick, while I was blown away by the Art Deco sets and all of the glamour.
Lena was an antique dealer with a great eye for a hidden gem. She would blag her way into church and jumble sales before they were open, and I’d tag along to learn how to bargain and what to look for. It was such an incredible kind of accidental training for the rest of my life!
So really, my eye was trained because of both of them. And, even though I don’t have any of the clocks in my collection any more, I do still have a glam alabaster dressing table mirror that’s survived a move across the atlantic, and numerous moves since. More than forty years on and I still love it.
Q. You have such an important voice in the design community, so I was excited to see you started up your design blog again after a bit of a break. What sparked you to write again?
That’s very kind of you to say. I’ve always loved looking for what’s new, now and next. The hunt is kind of built into my DNA, I guess. So, once the lockdown initially hit I had more time on my hands and David, my husband, really talked me into it. And writing! Phew! That’s a muscle that you really have to work at. I guess you could say it’s my kind of workout!
Q. You have so many projects on the go these days, from your house project, Casa Cubista, your collection for Hudson’s Bay and more! Tell us what’s happening with each these days.
Goodness, well we’re actually in the middle of a reno on our house. 10 years on and the cracks are starting to show, which is kind of normal. But! It’s definitely the non-sexy stuff that’s being worked on. A new roof has lead to deciding to remove all of the ceilings on the top floor and fit proper insulation. Oh, the joys of owning a flat-roofed house from the mid-Sixties.
David, myself and the two dogs were camped out in the basement while the work was going on, which gave me the time to dream and scheme something new for the principal bedroom. We lost our wonderful grasscloth wallpaper, so it was time for a big change, and I love the result. I hand-painted the pattern on the walls in an hour, inspired by patterns that David Hockney used when painting a few actual swimming pools during his career. We embraced the brushstrokes, drips and imperfections!
Oh, and we’re working on the home office and we’ll be re-hanging all of the art in our double-height stairwell, so it’s a great time to edit and rethink what we really love. Casa Cubista is still ticking away. As you know, it’s our happy accident that now has its own life, which is fantastic to see. The collection can be found in stores around the world, from LA to Sin-gapore, with faves including Liberty in London, Merci in Paris and of course Saudade in Toronto. And of course our latest collection launched in September, which was a lot of work to make happen, but so worth it.
Obviously how that all happened was different this time around – Normally we’d be in Portugal for the month of July, collaborating with the artisans on the new pieces, but not this year. In-stead the samples arrived in Toronto to be shot. We rolled with it, but definitely do love a crea-tive challenge.
Then with the Arren Williams collection for Hudson’s Bay new things are coming… I’ve been sketching things up and working with the team on new shapes for sofas and chairs that will be introduced soon, and I’m always so proud that those pieces are made in Canada. Then there’ll be new looks for lighting, rugs and wall decor slowly trickling in.
For 2021 there are some exciting things on the horizon, but I can’t quite let the cat out of the bag yet! Things that were supposed to happen this year have obviously been delayed, but good things are definitely worth waiting for.
Q. I love your use of bold graphics and colours in your designs, what excites you currently in the design world?
Thanks! I’m such a magpie when it comes to influences, and I have a bit of a photographic memory for designs that I’m always calling upon. Right now I’m really into the tiles by designer Elisa Passino, they manage to feel both contemporary and vintage at the same time.
Q. I love that you’ve been speaking up on your Instagram for the BIPOC + Black Lives Matter movement as of late. Would you like to talk a little bit more about your activism?
As a non-BIPOC in the design world it’s very much about understanding my privilege and then taking the steps to do things differently, more mindfully, like stepping back and making space for BIPOC voices to be heard. I also realize that my platform, while small, should be used both positively and politically to be a part of making that change.
And I don’t know that activism is the right word to describe it. For me it’s about thinking every day about what I can do better and how I can be better.
Q. With BIPOC and Black Lives Matter with design in mind, what art or interior design excites you right now?
The work of Black artist Kendra Dandy is totally ace, it’s so colourful and direct, and political at the same time. I’ve also newly discovered queer artist Jeffrey Cheung, who’s work is painterly, fresh and expressive and whose been using his work to fundraise for and support the Black Trans community.
There are also organizations on Insta that deserve your support. Check them out to find the next great piece of art for your walls, or the next interior designer or architect you’ll hire for a project – Black Interior Designers Network, Black Artists + Designers Guild, Black Architects + Interior Designers Association Canada, Black Canadian Interior Designers.
Q. Being immersed in the design world for so many years, how do you keep things fresh and stay inspired?
It’s really simple, I’m always excited for the thing I haven’t seen yet!
Q. With Covid happening, how have you been adjusting to this new normal (so to speak)? Did you already have a home office to work at, or did you need to create a space to work? Also, what are you really missing right now?
Well, initially, lockdown life was pretty close to how life was for us in Portugal in the winter. Very, very quiet. And home office? You mean the dining table! That’s where I normally work during the day. Though the dogs think my actual job is to open the back door for them to go out and chase squirrels.
During the beginning, like everyone we really missed seeing friends. As thinks have slowly re-laxed, we’ve been having people over in the garden for socially distant get togethers which has really softened the blow. We’ve never spent so much time in our back yard!
Q. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the business?
I really want to see the design industry become more actively diverse, so I want to encourage kids from different backgrounds to head to design school to shake things up. And I think just about everyone in design is happy to chat with and encourage young new talent, I know I am. Hit me up on Instagram and say hi!