Reinventing the Roseway
May 2, 2013

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The Roseway chair has been produced by the Nova Scotia company Ven-Rez for more than 60 years.
 

The Roseway chair by the Nova Scotia company Ven-Rez Products Ltd. Of Shelburne, N.S. has been virtually unchanged since it debuted more than a half century ago. It’s been a fixture in school gymnasiums and libraries since the 1950s.

Inspired by the Second World War-era de Havilland Mosquito bomber, the two Canadian ex-servicemen who started Ven-Rez created a chair that was tough and strong but light-weight. It is constructed with solid hardwood moulded veneers, with a seat that’s an inch thick.

Recently, a design competition challenged students to re-imagine the Roseway chair and two NSCAD students were among the top prize winners. Both Shelly Stevens and Charlotte Mackie were students in Rebecca Hannon’s first-year class, Constructed Forms.

“I saw the poster for the competition and it looked like an interesting opportunity for my class,” says Prof. Hannon, who teaches in NSCAD’s Foundation Division. “We had some interesting conversations about simple and everyday chair design—something you don’t really pay attention to unless it’s bad—cultural differences and practicalities. The idea was to bring vitality to something that hasn’t changed in decades.”

A transfer student from Victoria, B.C., Charlotte Mackie was a finalist for two designs she submitted—the “Jewel chair”—and, with Shelly Stevens, the “Seagull chair.”

“This was right up my alley because a) I’m competitive and b) I’m really interested in furniture, product and industrial design—the things people use every day,” she says. “It was thrilling to be named a finalist. It gives me a certain amount of confidence to take even bigger things on, to take those risks.”

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Charlotte Mackie envisioned her Jewel Chair design to be constructed from jewel-like faceted cuts of plywood. 
 

For the Jewel chair, Charlotte envisioned a chair constructed out of cuts of the thick plywood veneer, small ornamental, jewelry-like blocks of wood made to showcase the layers. The Seagull chair sits low to the ground. It is assembled and taken apart without extra pieces, and can be flat-packed for storage or shipping.

“What we were looking at was how to construct a chair without adding more elements, like bolts or screws or glue,” says Shelly Stevens, a second-year student from Port Medway, N.S. “It was definitely challenging. Wood is an exact medium; there’s no room for error.”

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Charlotte Mackie and Shelly Stevens collaborated on the Seagull chair.
 

The other finalists were Dalhousie architecture students Brad Tapson (“Chair with Three Backs”) and Naryn Davar and Mark Whalen ("Reinterpreting the Roseway").

Ian Grieg, a set decorator for the film / TV industry  and Peter Wunsch, a principal and founder of Breakhouse Inc. came up with the idea of the design competition. Grieg was working on the interior design of Untitled Eats, the café in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and choose the Roseway chair to complement the café’s clean-lined, contemporary aesthetic. The pair enlisted Rachel Gotleib, author of Design in Canada (Knopf Canada, 2001), to assist with the judging. 

Twenty-seven students from NSCAD and Dalhousie submitted designs to the contest, which was inspired by the untapped potential of the many students who study art and design in Nova Scotia.”

“I would like to see more partnerships between industry and the creative thinkers at our universities,” says Peter Wunsch. “Students and their professors already do a lot of this brainstorming and big-picture thinking.”

Ven-Rez, a subsidiary of the Shaw Group since 2006, is considering putting one of the designs into production, although that decision has yet to be finalized.

“I thought it was incredible to see all the ideas, all so unique,” says Linda Harris, long-time sales manager at Ven-Rez. “Those students are definitely going places. I was amazed, I really was.”