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Designer of the Year 2022: Odami’s Rise to the Top

Our judges crown Michael Fohring and Aránzazu González Bernardo of Odami as this year’s winners

By Catherine MacIntosh

Meet our 2022 Designer of the Year competition winner: Odami. Even the name of this Toronto studio is thoughtfully and collaboratively crafted by Canadian designer Michael Fohring and Spanish architect Aránzazu González Bernardo. From their elegant Aesop Yorkville shop to their tactile and intriguing Pet Objects, this duo has their sights set high. They first met while working together in Austria. A few years later, they both found themselves in Canada. The couple branched out on their own in 2017 after designing the interiors of the Portland Street restaurant Sara. And, they have been forging a beautiful path ever since. Ideation is at the centre of their practice, with each one bringing a slightly different approach to the table.

ODAMI angular Corian counter at the Yorkville Aesop shop - Designer of the year 2022
The angular Corian counter at the Yorkville Aesop shop completed in 2022. Photography by John Alunan.

Raised and educated in Spain, Bernardo learned the ways of architecture through site-specific practices. In Canada, Fohring was taught the value of artistry over everything else. By merging their ideologies, the pair has crafted unique and beautiful homes, retail shops, a Toronto restaurant, and furniture pieces that reflect a collaborative ethos and vision. With a focus on “creating buildings and spaces that belong: to their place and its story, and to their clients,” the studio has been able to develop a formidable breadth of work within a short number of years. Both Fohring and Bernardo teach design at Toronto Metropolitan University and Fohring also teaches at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture. 

Odami enovation in Deer Park - Designer of the year 2022
A renovation in Deer Park completed in 2021. Textured lime paint on the ceiling adds warmth. Photography by doublespace photogrpahy.

In their residential and retail projects, a playful exploration of typology and material is evident. At Yorkville’s Aesop store, the historic homes of the area inspired the modern take on traditional spindles, and the curved counter harkens back to porcelain Victorian pedestal sinks, but is made of Corian. For their one-off studies and furniture pieces, the process and intent are paramount.

Odami Pet Objects, 2020, 3D-printed PLA, resin, pearlescent car paint.
Pet Objects, 2020, 3D-printed PLA, resin, pearlescent car paint.

In the Pet Objects series, material and form collide into one-of-a-kind creatures that reimagine our relationships to household objects, and for a collaboration with One Wood, a limited number of furniture pieces came from a single tree, felled on a relative’s property. The works are imbued with an authentic appreciation for the material and its contextual history.

ODAMi Mass chair in red oak
Mass chair in red oak, 2020, (in collaboration with Patrick Murphy, One Wood). Photography by Kurtis Chen.

In every project by this year’s Designer of the Year, the connection to place greatly informs the design. And after spending a short amount of time with the couple, it becomes abundantly clear that their intent is pure. The spark that fuels their work appears to be curiosity, a natural drive to explore and experience life. The results are refined and intelligent with an effortless cool that reflects the pair themselves.

Interiors for Sara restaurant on Portland Street - ODAMI Designer of the year 2022
Interiors for Sara restaurant on Portland Street, completed in 2018. Photography by Kurtis Chen.

In their Rosedale project, wood is specified from reclaimed sources. “It’s saved from buildings set to be demolished,” says Bernardo. Sustainability informs much of their work, especially for wood, which is a material Odami favours for interior warmth. On the exterior, brick is used to fit in with the existing streetscape, but takes on a contemporary form. Ambience in general is top of mind in all of Odami’s work. At the Aesop Yorkville store, you are immediately enveloped in a deep burgundy colour (Benjamin Moore’s Ruby Dusk) which is at once cocooning and uplifting. This, too, came from the history of the area. “We wanted to embrace the domesticity of Victorian interiors in the store, so we knew we wanted to explore a warm palette. During our research about Yorkville, we learned about the Riverboat Coffee House. One article described its interior as wood-clad walls and red booths, so we decided to use it as a starting point,” says Bernardo.

A rendering of the Rosedale project - ODAMI Designer of the year 2022
A rendering of the Rosedale project sees an abundance of warm materials on the main level for a range of experiences within the home.

As place-makers, our Designer of the Year 2022 has pulled ahead of the pack as a studio to watch with unexpected and very considered attention to detail. Every project feels satisfyingly resolved. And, both Bernardo and Fohring can wax poetic about all of their works, whether it’s a small study or a large, retail experience. It’s testament to their artistic and soulful approach — one that we are excited to see evolve and grow. ODAMI.CA

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