Mary Ratcliffe Shakes Up the Male Dominated Realm of Furniture Making


by Laura Goldstein

Gone are the days when creative women were pigeon-holed into interior design and textile design career options only. Now they get down and dirty just like their male contemporaries, actually making the furniture they design.

Mary Ratcliffe of Mary Ratcliffe Studio in Toronto laughs good- naturedly at the thought of any rivalry. “Yes, it can be an old boys club sometimes so I do try to hire women for my team (we do have one man,) and I think mentoring is so important.”

She grew up playing in her hobbyist Dad’s carpentry shop making gifts for family and friends out of scraps of wood. “I actually thought I’d be an architect but it just wasn’t creatively fulfilling for me,” admits the graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design. A stint with celebrated innovator and designer, Bruce Mau whose environmental methodology in all his projects imbued Ratcliffe with a devotion to sustainable practices and materials, gave her more confidence to make the next leap in her profession.

“I began to think that I could have my own studio which I started in 2013 and has since expanded to two spaces; one in Liberty Village and a huge shared wood shop in Toronto’s West End,” she explains. Ratcliffe likes  to say her designs “ meet at the intersection of beauty & function.” 

A visit to Leonardo Da Vinci’s museum home in Milan in 2019 inspired her to make furniture with a proportional, rustic elegance that can fit comfortably into any space. The Lyndoe Bench (above, also available as Bar Stool & Low Seat, left) is topped with a buttery toffee or black buffalo leather slung seat and draped across blackened, bleached, greige (gray +beige) or natural ash, oiled or oxidized oak. The bench is constructed from 29 mathematically hand-turned components.

Ina Tables (bottom) are designed to work independently or as a collective group of nesting tables in oak, oxidized maple, walnut and ash.

“I like to think I build through the lens of longevity” says Ratcliffe. Passing down her furniture is not just a compliment but a testament to its superb craftswomanship. The solid wood construction of the Barrow Table balances structure with symmetry. And the oh so cool modern vibe elicited from the two-toned Myers Console with its concealed drawer pulls, can be customized with leather, brass or blackened steel.

Like most makers, a temporary slow -down during Covid inspired some new pivots. “I had been experimenting with resin and cast stone,” Ratcliffe explains. My husband encouraged me to create a collection of catch-all dishes that sold out immediately and I’ve since expanded to multi-purpose vessels, candlesticks and an incense set.”

Ratcliffe is a pragmatist.“I also discovered that I love the business side of the company – something I know is difficult for many makers and artists so I’m really working to improve my understanding.”

“Although I really enjoy custom projects my goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel. I’d like to build an iconic Canadian furniture collection that is sustainable in every sense of the word. I’m always trying to push the boundaries.”

From October 1, 2021 Mary Ratcliffe Studio furniture is available at SwitzerCultCreativeUnit 102-1636 West 2nd Avenue,Vancouver.

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