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Toronto’s Brutalist Furniture By Kate Duncan


Based out of her studio in Toronto, Kate Duncan has spent the last two decades crafting handmade furniture largely inspired by the Brutalist movement of the second half of the 20th century.



Duncan is a passionate advocate of what I call the 21st-century neo-arts and crafts movement. Let me explain: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, factories began to sprout everywhere as the industrialization of manufactured products took place, mass-producing everything from shoes and pottery to furniture. It led to a sharp decline in handmade artisanal crafts, which enraged artisans and craftspeople throughout the West. The result was the arts & crafts movement.
The arts & crafts movement aimed to emphasize the value of handicrafts as an alternative to lifeless machine-produced goods. It was about the unique artistic quality of the decorative arts, handmade details, and anti-industrial notions in general.

As a craftsman myself, I see a strikingly similar pattern today on a broader scale.

One hundred years ago, a craftsman might have found himself competing with a factory of a larger scale from his home studio. The same is true today for small businesses competing against international chains like IKEA. In the 21st century, technology like CNC machines and mass laser cutting allows for massive economies of scale, which lower prices to the point where craftspeople find it impossible to make a living.

Kate Duncan may not have the same margins per piece nor can she produce the dizzying amount of pieces that IKEA does in a single day, but Kate is able to put her heart into her pieces, achieve unique forms, and add special details in a way that’s only possible by hand.


Technologies are different from one hundred years ago, but the differences between big production and the ‘little guy’ seem to remain the same in my opinion, which include: quality, detail, and heart.



Kate Duncan consistently maintains the tropes of brutalism with her minimalist constructions that emphasize materials and structure over ornamentation and decoration – all of which were offshoots of modernism.



The Linda Marie Writing Desk for example (as seen above) is a simple slab held up by thick asymmetrical columns of thick semi-cylinders, which accentuate their own mass and density.



The Marilyn table (above) similarly has just one thick support column in the middle holding it up, much like a brutalist architectural structure.



Although these pieces come in different colours, they are often monochrome and solid in hue much like the concrete would be on a brutalist structure. However, my favourite piece by Duncan is the Lorraine Credenza as Duncan added her own twist to it.
As seen below, it’s a beautiful tri-coloured piece with a vibrant contrasting body and drawers. Most interestingly, it’s held up by thick bronze-cast legs.



In an incredible fusion of brutalism and her own personal style, Duncan managed to retain the brutalist aspect of the form while still bringing out subtle elements of decorative design.



It’s extremely fascinating to see a great designer transpose an architectural movement into furniture. I highly recommend following Kate Duncan’s work.

To see Duncan’s full body of work, make sure to take a look at her portfolio!


Interested in seeing more incredible Canadian furniture? Check out these Canadian Real Estate Housing & Home articles:

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The Remarkable Shapes & Forms Of Toronto’s Objects & Ideas 

The 49th North Lounge Chair Designed By Kenny Nguyen And Ian Buckley


Photos courtesy of Kate Duncan.


Researched and Written by Mikhail Shchupak-Katsman, Undergraduate Environmental Design, OCAD University

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