BC's bucolic Kootenay region boasts a proud history of rural escapism that readily conjures up the image of back-to-the-land artisans toiling in their cramped work sheds. Spearhead Timber Works, located since 1995 on the west arm of Kootenay Lake near Nelson, defies that cliché. In collaboration with its engineering and architectural partners, Spearhead designs and manufactures high-end exposed wood/ beam homes and commercial buildings in an FSC-certified facility of 5,500 square metres, equipped with several state-of-the art CNC woodworking machines, that employs 70 workers.
Clear Form Design (CFD), the recent progeny of this very successful enterprise (90 percent export-driven), provides furniture design support to the parent company. With a new, added mandate to develop and produce a range of stand-alone furniture, which will be sold through selected higher-end retailers, the CFD subsidiary employs three designers and piggy-backs on Spearhead's manufacturing base.
Ian Ellis, CFD lead designer and marketing executive, told VCR (now furniturelink) they have 10 new designs ready for release through approximately five retailers who will help "identify the market" for their products over the long term. Very much attuned to the relationship between design and marketing, CFD plans to fill two niches Ellis sees developing in import furniture retail stores in North America.
CFD steel and Douglas-fir tables
The first focuses on the need for more sophisticated design products that offer a level of customization and fast delivery. Ellis explains that "a unique digital matrix, uniting end users, retailers, supply chain with in-house design services, is the core of CFD." CFD aims to engineer, produce and market furniture based on opportunities gained from new digital technologies. Digital model images provide the flexibility for consumers to participate in design modifications that can be integrated seamlessly with production processes. A digital model also becomes a sales tool, which circumvents conventional marketing practices.
Secondly, Ellis contends that high-end furniture from other countries, such as Italy, is in danger of becoming "over-branded." He believes a market backlash is developing against "lavish products for the ultra-rich" and that more design-aware customers are seeking value for money, which requires a more complex relationship with the designer and manufacturer. He states, "It might not be very fashionable much longer to buy brand [name] sofas, and we [CFD] are an alternative to that - a little more understated for a little more educated audience."
CFD steel and walnut tables
To achieve his educate-the-consumer goal, Ellis is selecting outlets that support his marketing philosophy to retail CFD's new designs. "What I'm hoping is that our retail outlets will become destinations for people to be educated about [our] manufacturing and, if we can work as a team, I think we have a much better chance of selling modern pieces at a steady rate."
CFD's current retail partners include Bombast Interiors in Vancouver, BC; Inside Design in Calgary, AB; Shack Up Design in Bozeman, MT; and retailers under consideration in Seattle and San Francisco. When Bombast owner Russell Baker was introduced to the CFD line, he recognized an obvious overlap between their and his customers' preferences, commenting, "I'll be interested to see where their production model leads, as I've always tried to support regional production."
Meanwhile, back in BC's Interior, Clear Form Design has been described as "an integral representative of the 'West Coast Modern' movement in the North American context" . . . forever changing our perception of the incomparable Kootenay region.
© furniturelink 2007, (top image and text) other images © CFD