Form and Forest is a Canadian boutique studio workshop in Golden, British Columbia run by brothers Ryan and Jeff Jordan who have an innate curiosity of the world around them. Their minimal and modern designs are not only functional, but beautiful and deceptively simple.
“At Form and Forest we believe one of the overlooked causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment. The walls, chairs, buildings, and streets that surround us have a profound effect on the way we think, feel, and act.”
Ryan Jordan, welcome and thanks for having a conversation about design.
cwd: You studied Industrial Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto. What was the journey that led you to BC and starting Form and Forrest?
After graduation I was fortunate to get a job designing seating devices for children with special needs at the Bloorview Macmillan Centre in Toronto. It was a very rewarding first job out of school that was focused on a vastly overlooked segment of society with very specific and complex needs. From there I went on to work within the R & D department at the Global Group, a large Canadian office furniture manufacturer. My role there was designing furniture for offices and health care facilities.
My partner at the time received an offer to relocate to Vancouver and as I had grown up in the West and had lived in Vancouver prior to moving to Toronto for school, I decided to give up the security of a design office job and jump into the unknown of freelance design and bootstrapping on the West Coast.
Then, an opportunity arose to acquire a piece of wilderness land in the Canadian Rockies with my family. The piece of land was at the end of the powerline amidst the Rocky Mountain range and was bordered on one side by a glacial river and included a rustic log cabin that was home to many rodents. At the time, my brother owned a prefab housing company in Alberta. We were quite inspired by wilderness living and cabin life in general and determined that there was an opportunity to introduce contemporary prefab cabins into a marketplace that was largely dominated by traditional designs. Our ambition was to build a brand that went beyond selling modern cabins but also produced products and furniture in line with a modern cabin aesthetic. This was the beginning of Form and Forest.
cwd: You’ve expanded from industrial and product design to architecture and now back to product design. Do you have a preference and what inspires your designs?
We began with the cabins as that logically fit with the manufacturing facility we had at the time. The cabins were to be the starting point of our company from which we wished to evolve. It turned out that the prefab cabin thing was more consuming than we had anticipated and delayed our foray into product design which was where my experience and passion was. It should be noted that we worked with D’Arcy Jones, an architect from Vancouver to design the initial cabin collection in line with the vision we had for the company. A downturn in the economy and relatively conservative tastes within the Canadian market essentially ended the prefab experiment in 2011. We sold the plans for a while and I went to Spain for a year and a half to catch up on some of the advances that were taking place in the industrial design world.
This allowed me to refocus on product design using contemporary techniques such as digital fabrication and parametric design. Upon returning to Canada in 2014, I outfitted a studio with a CNC machine that allowed for milling wood and cutting diverse types of materials. This was the point that we officially moved from an architectural footing to a product and furniture design company. Personally, I prefer furniture and product design as this is where my expertise lies. However, the foundation we laid with the initial cabin collection created the context that informs how I approach design. I often use the cabin itself as a test case for whether a product I’m working on would fit well within that space.
“In that sense the (cabin) architecture serves a profound role for our overall design aesthetic to this day.”
cwd: Your work is very minimal and reminiscent of Scandinavian design and seems inspired by the incredible Canadian landscape. Do you find a similarity or connection as regards your surroundings in BC and the natural environment of say, Sweden?
There is a quietness and an emptiness to our landscape that I find appealing. Coming back to the mountains after being in a city, I always have to remind myself that nothing happens here. That can take days to get used to. Life in the mountains is also quite elemental and basic. Losing power in a storm often means days without electricity. A big snow storm can affect travel.
The power of the landscape and weather always serve to remind you to take care of the basics first and that the basics are essential to survival, a fact that is often obscured by modern life. I would say that each project I take on whether for a client or, self-directed, strives for results that are deceptively simple. I spend days working out how to cut materials be they wood or leather in ways that give them form. This is often an iterative process that involves many rounds to get things fitting together just right. Or if it’s a flat material like leather, the cuts are oriented in a way that when stretched the leather takes on a specific form. In a sense this is an approach that is honest to the area where I work. The Kootenay / Columbia region of BC is full of artisans who work in a very hands-on manner. I’m unafraid, however, to let technology do some of the heavy lifting which may be seen as sacrilege to some of the more traditional craftspeople in the area.
cwd: The minimal design of your Pioneer Cabin in Golden, BC is in stark contrast to the beautiful surroundings and yet, it fits seamlessly into its environment, bringing the outdoors inside.
What is the story behind the design and how have guests responded?
One of the founding ideals of Form and Forest was to get at what makes cabin life unique.
“What stood out to me about going to the cabin as kids was the element of improvisation and improvisational living spaces that were acceptable at the cabin or cottage but not necessarily so at your primary city dwelling.”
For example, bunk beds and communal sleeping lofts are common sleeping arrangements in cabins, not so, in your urban bungalow. At the cabin you are inspired to make a chair out of a log to sit by a campfire. A campfire itself presents all kinds of opportunity for creation, arrangement and execution that one wouldn’t find in daily life nor enjoy if we’re honest.
The nature of cabin life, however, changes these types of activities and how we approach them. This idea informed the design direction which we gave to the architect. Beyond that we felt strongly that the cabins should be a part of the landscape and not attempt to mimic the landscape or compete with it. Most cabins especially in more resort like areas are ostentatious representations of the owner’s wealth and achievements. Many are some odd arrangement of traditional log building or timber framing techniques that afford odd spatial arrangements and often neglect the world beyond their solid fir walls.
While we weren’t so successful getting our cabins out into the world in the numbers we had hoped for, inviting people to rent our own has been very successful. The space seems to provide a necessary counterbalance to people’s busy lives. It’s an opportunity to get away from the noise of modern life in a setting that is the inverse of many of our guest’s cities. We’ve hosted people from London to Hong Kong and far beyond, their responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
cwd: How do Form and Forest designs enhance the quality of one’s environment?
Whether I’m working for a private client or a commercial one, I’m always looking for key motifs and queues to anchor the design around. A recent client approached me for a shelving / storage unit for the living room of their Vancouver home. They had a painting they had purchased that was to share the same wall as the furniture piece I was creating for them. The resulting shelves were crafted around the painting as a focal point and reflected certain queues from the painting itself. Success design wise for me is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
cwd: What makes Form and Forest products unique?
We like to push materials in unique directions. Some examples are the crease coat hooks we developed which have a leather core allowing for the wooden coat hook to bend. We’ve also experimented with vegetable tanned leather by cutting it in certain ways, soaking it and finally stretching it over a form under vacuum to achieve a series of bowls. Experimenting with material properties in conjunction with parametric design techniques and digital fabrication has lead to some interesting outcomes.
cwd: If a design student walked up to you asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?
cwd: Thanks for your time, Ryan Jordan of Form and Forest.
Check out the formandforest.com website to see their unique designs and how you can stay in the Pioneer Cabin in Golden, B.C. Canada or follow them on Instagram @formandforest.