This article was originally published in the 2019 Fall issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

 

Her mother went into labour with the future furniture maker while in her husband’s woodwork shop. When she was only seven, Mary’s father taught her how to weld and the eureka moment inspired the little girl with the powerful idea that she could actually make things. Mary spent most of her teenage years in her father’s well-equipped workshop teaching herself how to make more things, starting with Christmas gifts for family.

 

But here the story swerves because who can make a decent living building beautiful things, borrowing dad’s tools?

 

 

Mary earned a degree in environmental design from OCADU and worked in some of Toronto’s most prominent design agencies including architect Johnson Chou, Bruce Mau Design branding agency, and arts studio Moss & Lam. She and her now-husband moved into a funky downtown brick-and-beam loft. Then she lost her job.

 

To keep herself occupied while looking for a new job – and because they needed wardrobes and furniture in the completely empty loft – Mary designed and built pieces to give their new home the structure and function they required: “I made the furniture and designed the entire space.

 

 

There were zero closets and no rooms so I built a raised dining room and created a bin system to store our stuff and made a built-in closet along one wall. I ended up building a cool canopy-style, king-sized bed. But instead of a canopy, there was a place to climb up so you could relax on a hammock-strung net.

 

 

 

Friends were impressed and requests came in. Mary designed and built the furniture and cabinetry for a preteen’s bedroom, turning what was supposed to be a walk-in closet with a skylight into a two-storey loft bedroom, complete with a hammock-strung floor (cool for all ages) on the second level so that natural light from the skylight filters throughout the entire space. For another friend, she designed and made a huge, three-tiered contemporary metal light, hung askew from thin wires. The friend was candid: Mary’s artistic and meticulously built work was worth more than she had realized. Considerably more.

 

She began documenting her journey on Instagram, “and it just snowballed after that.” Commissioned by a prominent Toronto entrepreneur to design and make him a desk, Mary built a bold, sleek, contemporary piece to his specs. But even after careful measuring and planning, the desk just would not fit up the stairwell or in the freight elevator. “It felt like a disaster at the time,” Mary says. “But I understand now that my work is all about problem solving. An on-site contractor was able to call on his network to organize a spider crane and we hoisted the desk up five floors. Ok, we also had to remove one of the office windows to get it in – that desk will never leave the building!”

 

Since 2013, Mary has designed and built custom orders for private clients, architects, and interior designers. For the past year she’s been working on pivoting her business from a design-and-build operation to a more formal studio, with a line of products under the name M.R.S. The name seemed an obvious choice – Mary Ratcliffe Studio – but in a male-dominated industry she likes the double-entendre: “I work with a lot of people and I really try to champion women in this field. That’s something important to me.” In the last year she has hired one fulltime employee and has a part-time studio assistant, both of whom she describes as capable, talented women.

 

Her custom pieces, stained using her own signature blends of colours, are contemporary in design but traditional in fabrication:

 

 

 

According to Mary, “there are certain rules you need to adhere to when working with wood if you want the pieces to have longevity. I try to respect the nature of the material while producing work that is collectible, contemporary design. And I try to bring sculptural form into my work as often as possible.”

 

In her first collection, Mary is exploring with a unique, castable stone material and playing even more with sculptural forms: “Normally I put pieces of wood together to make forms. But now I’m sculpting so the result is part sculpture, part furniture. I’m also playing with colour, texture, pattern, and mixing materials with a whole new approach. These seven new pieces will sit alongside the rest of my work in a new and exciting way. They’re different, but it’s the same formal language.”

 

 

Mary Ratcliffe’s work has been featured in Vogue, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Life and the CBC.

 

Keep your eye on maryratcliffe.studio where the new collection will be available online. A formal launch is scheduled for early 2020.

 

@maryratcliffestudio

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