Editor’s note: MSDS Studio now consists of partner Jonathan Sabine and Jessica Nakanishi. See their work here.
How has MSDS Studio earned free reign to design interiors in Toronto? Ryan Fisher, “Ping-Pong facilitator” of Spin, hired them to design the King Street West venue, as well as his own loft, and wishes he had more projects on the go “just to see what they’d come up with.” Matt Carr, Umbra’s director of design, and Joyce Lo, co-director of Drake General Store, collaborated with them on their home. These and other adventurous clients appreciate the purity of MSDS’s vision, their willingness to innovate and their ability to wed materials so adroitly that they “speak to one another,” as Carr puts it. In the Carr-Lo home, for example, green mint cupboards coexist with a textured marble counter and a wood-clad wall and ceiling. “In fashion, you colour block,” he says. “They material block.”
Formerly members of the N/A collective, MSDS’s Emil Teleki and Jessica Nakanishi first teamed up in 2010 to work on Spin. They steered the franchise (and co-owner Susan Sarandon) away from the chain’s sci-fi look and toward an industrial-sleek combination of wood and metal, paired with murals of animals and typography – a mixture of grit and wit specific to its downtown locale.
The name MSDS was inspired by Teleki and Nakanishi’s desire to “make shit, design shit” – or, more politely, “make stuff, design stuff.” It is also an attempt to state, without defining themselves too early in the game, how they want to spend their time: working with open-minded entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks. The partners are so steadfast about the pursuit of their own ideas, says Teleki, that in many ways they choose clients as much as clients choose them: “They come to us because they feel comfortable with our brand and the aesthetic we’ll procure for them. It may seem self-righteous, but we have something we’re chasing. It only makes sense for us to be working with you if you’re okay with that.”
As they did with Spin, they discourage predictable ideas and materials (they especially eschew such Toronto-isms as barn- board and modernist knock-offs) and guide clients toward previously unconsidered concepts and surprising components. Their working style is much closer to that of artists than designers; MSDS elects to work with specific lighting experts, mill workers and graphic designers on a project-by-project basis. At the Japanese noodle bar A-OK, they boiled the look of a traditional streetscape down to a giant shingled wall – a tactile backdrop for metal lights by collaborator Jonathan Sabine. At the 2nd Floor event space, Ben Motz’s graphics reduce traditional market stall signage to near abstraction.
MSDS has achieved an unusually high level of creative license by establishing trust at the outset, to the point that clients like Ryan Fisher more or less let them do their thing. “I’m usually the one trying to keep the ‘function’ in the design,” he says of the Spin franchise, “but I encourage them to keep pushing on projects when we work together. They’re two of the most talented people I know.”
By Paige Magarrey
Photos by Naomi Finlay and Lisa Petrole
As seen in our Winter 2013 issue