Canadian Woodworking

What’s the most Canadian piece of furniture?

Blog by Rob Brown
canadian wood door

There aren’t many pieces of furniture that scream “Canada” but this is certainly one of them.

I don’t know much at all about this piece of Canadian furniture, but I just had to share it with you. There aren’t many pieces of furniture that scream “Canada” but this is certainly one of them.

I always ask makers I interview for our Canadian Quotes column in the magazine what they think is the most Canadian piece of furniture. Many are stumped by the question (I assume because there isn’t a clear answer) while others have been able to answer it. A few sections of logs cut to 18″ and placed around a fire was one answer. Another maker said a Lower Canadian armoire from the 19th century. A Muskoka chair has been mentioned many times, though our neighbours to the south would surely have a different name for it and also claim it as theirs.

A bit about this Canadian cabinet, and where I stumbled across it: My son just turned 11 years old and loved the thought of taking two friends car camping for a night at a local conservation area. Warsaw Caves is about 25 minutes away from Peterborough, Ont., and he loves it there. Swimming in the river and running around the campsite is only trumped by exploring the caves. On the main road through the nearby town of Warsaw I noticed this cabinet sitting outside and knew I needed a photo of it to share via this column on Canada Day. A quick U-turn and I had what I needed.

It’s not the finest piece of furniture I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely eye-catching and functional. Some would call it clean and cheerful. With the stone backdrop that accompanied it, and a few well-weathered planks of wood, there was something quite pleasing about not only the cabinet, but the whole look. I guess I’m a sucker for weathered imperfection.

A Great Country Scene

Beautiful materials, weathered by time, create a pleasing rural scene. The “Canadian Chest on Stand” brings a newer, yet still imperfect and pleasing, look to this yard.

canadian wood door

Wabi sabi

The aged and imperfect scene reminded me of a traditional design aesthetic the Japanese invented and embrace called wabi sabi. This design philosophy centres around the appreciation of the imperfect and impermanent, especially as it relates to nature. The west throws out the dying and wilting flowers in a vase, while the Japanese approach is to put those flowers on more prominent display and enjoy watching them further transform in a natural, beautiful way.

I think there’s a healthy dose of wabi sabi going on in this rural Canadian scene. Century-old stonework, partially covered with lichen. An aged façade of wood planks, cracked and weathered from the sun, rain and snow. Painted trim that’s peeling and cracking. Grass, reaching towards the sun, growing sporadically here and there.

Not our normal approach

Generally speaking, it’s far from what the modern western norm is. As a society we mostly want clean, tidy and well-kept when it comes to everything from landscaping, art, architecture and many other elements of design in our lives, but there’s something to be said about the imperfection nature offers us. It’s very hard to design wabi sabi. It’s more of an aesthetic that arrives at the intersection of nature and time. It’s up to humans not to destroy or dispose of it, and instead appreciate what it has to offer.

You’ll notice I cropped an exterior door out of the photo for the lead image in this column. While the weathered wood siding, aged stonework, imperfect cabinet and tall grass all come together to form a nice rural scene, the metal-clad door didn’t fit my version of wabi sabi, so with the modern magic of photo cropping I removed it to improve the overall look.

Back to Canada

Maybe it’s very Canadian of me to prop up another society and design approach while talking about the great country we live in, especially considering it’s Canada Day. I think even though we live in a wonderful country, it’s important to look at other cultures to inspire us to be an even better place to live.

Back to furniture

I’ll throw out the same question I ask to all our makers in the Canadian Quotes column: What is the most Canadian piece of furniture you’ve seen? It could be a very specific piece, or a much more general piece or style. Does it come from the east or west coast? Or somewhere in between? Or maybe from the north. Share your thoughts in the comments section, then have a great Canada Day weekend.

Keep Only What I Want

The metal-clad door on the right didn’t offer a whole lot in terms of wabi sabi, so I removed it. Sometimes it’s more about what is removed from a photo, rather than what's included in it.

canadian doors
Last modified: July 4, 2022

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

Username: Password: