The industrial designer’s studio is running at full steam. Thankfully – and despite the pandemic – it hasn’t taken over her home, too
In hindsight, designer Mary Ratcliffe has managed to ride out the lockdown better than most. With her own production space, she was able to continue going to work, albeit without the rest of the team that makes up her eponymous studio. So in the scary – well, scarier – early days of the pandemic, Ratcliffe maintained a semblance of working normalcy, revamping her website, reaching out to old contacts and even getting a new line of objects underway, which has become a welcome adjunct to the spaces (like this small-space gem) and furniture her studio designs. Months later, things are challenging for another reason: with new orders, new products and two more staffers, business is booming.
Thankfully, with work safely sequestered in the studio, home provides a quiet respite, both from the rigours of running a business and, well, you know. Below, Ratcliffe walks us through her home, where she rests, relaxes and recharges.
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Mary Ratcliffe: At home it’s me, my husband Alistair Leyland and our dog Axel. Alistair founded and leads a digital design and experience agency called Array of Stars. They bring the future to life using the latest in augmented reality, spatial computing, interactive web design and touchless retail technology. Our dog Axel joined our little family about a year and a half ago. We adopted him through Save Our Scruff; he originally hails from Costa Rica.
Designlines: What part of town is your home located and how long have you lived there?
Mary Ratcliffe: We live in midtown Toronto – Avenue Road and St. Clair, to be specific. We have lived there a little over two years. Coming from Parkdale, it was a bit of an adjustment to move into a quieter, more residential neighbourhood. We went from a super-cool hard loft space to a much more “normal” one-bedroom condo, but ultimately the move has been really good for us. Our businesses are growing and changing at a crazy pace – particularly these days. We like to keep our home small, simple, quiet and uncomplicated, as this really helps us unwind at the end of the day.
Designlines: How old is the home or what style is it?
Mary Ratcliffe: Our building was built in the early ’60s, and when we purchased our small space inside of it (only 60 square metres), it was split up into five weirdly-sized rooms. There was a living room that you couldn’t fit a sofa in, a dining room that you couldn’t really eat in, a kitchen that was impossible to cook in, and a massive bedroom.
We knew we wanted to keep the spaces basically where they were, but wanted to alter how each space worked. We tore down all the walls so we could re-jig things. Firstly we put the kitchen all along the far wall of the apartment and made the dining table a bit of an island in front of it. We took some space from the bedroom so we could push the living room back and make it more usable and created a piece of millwork that integrated electrical and storage that could also act as the sofa. We also re-built the closets as pieces of millwork so they felt more integrated in the space. Finally, instead of completely enclosing the bedroom, we decided to invest in a Molo soft wall with integrated LEDs. An extra bonus of having the Molo wall separate our bedroom is that all of a sudden we got way more light in this room because of light leaking in from the windows and skylight in the main space.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
Mary Ratcliffe: Two of my favourite things in our home are actually things that Alistair really pushed for. For starters, our Molo wall – I really wanted a steel and glass partition, but Al really pushed for the Molo. Ultimately it’s such a beautiful piece; it’s like living with a huge sculpture, I love that it also functions as a light, and we can easily switch up the vibe in the space.
The second is our pink sofa upholstery. I was a bit apprehensive about making such a big, pink, statement in our small home, but it turned out to be just the splash of colour we needed to make the space bright, happy, and to give it a bit of bold personality. I also really love how bright it is. With three north-facing windows and a skylight, we get great light all day, all year.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic, or how did it serve you differently?
Mary Ratcliffe: Because Alistair and I have our own studios with their own physical spaces, we never really stopped going to work. While our teams stopped coming in, we tried to keep our routine of waking up early, running Axel, and driving down to work. It really helped keep us sane amidst those uncertain early days of the pandemic. The small, simple, quiet moments in our home became even more important to us. Everything felt so out of control; it was really nice to be able to come home to a space that was uncomplicated and easy to take care of.
Designlines: Creatively and business wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off?
Mary Ratcliffe: It’s been a really scary time to be an entrepreneur. For the first three months things were really quiet on the furniture front. I re-built our website, reached out to everyone I could think of, and tried to keep positive. I started making these composite stone catch-alls, which had previously been an in-studio project to explore this material and make some client gifts in 2019. Making these was partially an effort to stay sane and also an experiment to see if we could sell them. We did a few drops on Instagram and each one sold out in less than 30 minutes. We realized we might be on to something and all of a sudden had a ton of work to do.
When it was safe to bring my team back we got right to work, making, shooting, and creating an e-commerce website for these new objects. All of a sudden the furniture side of the business picked up too, with multiple projects all being approved within the span of a couple weeks. Since June, things have been so busy I can hardly keep it all straight. We’ve added two new people to the team (making a total of five) and are just doing our best to keep the momentum going.
Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
Mary Ratcliffe: We’re not sure where we’ll go next with our home. We love this space and it gives us a lot of flexibility. This whole situation has forced us to reexamine our relationship with work, life and where everything happens, and we’re talking about spending more time out of the city. As the situation evolves, I’m just happy to have this quiet little slice of heaven to retreat to and call home.