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Alumni News

Creating a Place to Call Home in Toronto's Regent Park

February 10, 2012

Residents of the 40 Oaks low-income housing development will soon be enjoying custom-designed furniture created by alumni and graduating students. The sustainable furniture was on display last month as part of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival. Faculty and alumna Connie Chisholm led a project which saw her students make 20 multi-purpose cabinets for the facility. Among others from Sheridan who donated pieces to the facility were Jason Dressler (2003), Alastair Martin, Amy Markanda (both 2011), Dylan McKinnon (2010), Heidi Earnshaw, Lucas Brancalion and Jeremy Cox (2007). They are part of the community design collective, Public Displays of Affection (PDA) which launched the 40 Oaks design project.

It’s all about giving back, says Jason Dressler, who created three lamps for the facility. “Generally, we deal with the privileged in our line of work so these projects offer a great opportunity to connect with other segments of the community. It’s amazing what happens when people are shown a little respect; when they’re given something special. It bolsters them, helping them to get back on their feet,” says Jason, who operates a studio with his brother Lars. The twin engineers-turned-designers also produced two tables for PDA’s first project in 2009, Edmond Place, an affordable housing development in Parkdale.

It’s important to become involved in projects like Edmond Place and 40 Oaks for a number of reasons, says Connie Chisholm (1996), part-time faculty for the past seven years, whose class also produced a coffee table for Edmond Place. “Designers have valuable skills that are needed to make affordable housing projects engaging and liveable. Getting involved is a way of educating the community about what we do and developing important connections between communities,” says Connie.

The work of Sheridan furniture students and grads joins over 100 custom-made furniture pieces to be installed at 40 Oaks, which includes 87 affordable housing units and a drop-in and community centre. All furniture produced for the project is made from 80-90% reclaimed or reused materials.

Hot on the heels of the 40 Oaks development, Connie and her students are now immersed in the next project with PDA. They will produce furniture for the YWCA Elm Centre which will offer affordable apartments for single low-income women, women with mental health and addiction issues and families of Aboriginal ancestry. “The students are quite fired up about their involvement with this initiative. It speaks to the social goals which they hold dear,” says Peter Fleming, Furniture Design Program Coordinator and 1983 alumnus.

But it’s not only the students who are energized by this latest partnership. “It was incredibly inspiring to meet such a cross-section of women whose voices are not traditionally heard or valued,” said Peter, who is now looking forward to presenting Sheridan’s ideas for the YWCA Elm Centre later in February.

Wood lamp

Created from reclaimed wood, this lamp is one of three pieces donated to the 40 Oaks project by Jason Dressler (2003). One half of design team Brothers Dressler, Jason’s sustainable furniture has been widely featured, most recently on the Cityline TV show and Style at Home magazine in 2012.

Jean Willoughby

Jean Willoughby (2010), worked on the Edmond Place project as a Furniture student. The designer has been featured in The Globe and Mail and on the Marilyn Denis Show, and most recently in NOW magazine for her work with Textile grad Lizz Aston. Jean is a Resident Artist at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga. "Working with PDA was a fantastic experience,” says Jean. "It feels great to create something for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to hand-crafted design.” NOW Magazine feature