Function and beauty are almost the same thing or, at least, one comes holding hands with the other. This is one of the foundations of Mjölk, a design gallery set in Toronto that works internationally and produces locally since 2009. Mjölk represents works by designers from Japan and Scandinavia, given their sense of balance between construction and nature. Their aim is to offer timeless objects that truly cooperate with users in a daily basis. Mjölk focuses on the longevity of the objects they sell as well as on usefulness and treated aesthetics. John Baker, co-owner of Mjölk together with Juli Baker, answered our questions, except for the first one: photographer Blaise Misiek and stylist Chad Burton, who share with us exclusively the pictures accompanying the interview, told us about their collaboration with the design gallery.
Tell us about the roots of this project. Where did the idea come from?
First of all, we love working with John at Mjölk. His knowledge of the artists and their processes is amazing. We learn every time we see each other. We wanted to create a surreal environment that made the viewer want to climb into the photograph, where the beauty of each object alone but more importantly the awkward elegance of the arrangement would draw you into an imaginary world. We wanted to create a natural flow that brought all objects together as one. Both of us having fashion background, it was interesting to see how we interpreted objects.
How would you define Mjölk? What’s its purpose?
John: We aspire to find the successful archetypes that exist in everyday things, this could be a butter case or a shoe horn. We are constantly using and reassessing the merits of our products are working towards some sort of idealized home in our minds. Now, this doesn’t just mean furniture and design objects, we also carry antiques including excavated ceramic vessels from Japan, and Finnish knives. Things with character and patina are equally important to service the emotional side of a home.
You exhibit works from artists and artisans from Scandinavia and Japan. How’s that? What do these countries and their people have that caught your eye?
Being from Canada we can easily identify with Scandinavia and Japan, these countries are both closely connected to nature. The design and architecture from Scandinavia is closely informed by the landscape, especially when you look at the work by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. As for Japan, there is an even more spiritual connection to nature. I think we admire these cultures for their commitment to craft, function and natural materiality.
What’s your criterion when it comes to select the designers you’re going to work with?
When it comes to working with the designers for our own collection of goods, we are looking for designers that know how to strike a balance between strong functionality but also good materiality and longevity. Our collection is a series of ritual objects meant to be used everyday and hopefully for a lifetime, this means really considering the design not from a temporary place but as heirloom objects. Long term use, function and age are all factors we are focusing on.
How do you understand interior design? Is it about finding the balance between aesthetics and functionality?
My general feeling is that true function always arrives at a beautiful end, what I mean is if something is truly functional it is meeting all of the needs of the user not just rudimentary usefulness but also the enjoyment of the object and its beauty. They should never be separated.
Some objects tell stories even if their ultimate purpose is, for example, containing food. What’s the importance of the concept behind the pieces?
A concept and story can be important, but most of the time the object has to immediately communicate its idea to the user without the benefit of a designer statement. The best works have an inherent quality that is sensed without knowing the origin of the work, or even the era.
You design your pieces internationally in collaboration with many artists and then you produce them locally in Toronto. How important is for you the process of craftsmanship?
We really admire the concept of local economy, and being in a store that mainly imports things from Europe and Japan having our own collection was a really amazing way to work with some of our favourite designers and architects but them be in charge of the production of these designs. Doing everything locally means we can have complete control over the quality of every product. In fact, most of our fabricators are located within a 15 minute drive from our showroom. There are instances that a portion could be made in another place, for instance our new Uki candle holder by Luca Nichetto has beautiful glass made in Murano Italy (where Luca is from) paired with brass and copper bases made here in Toronto. The symbolism of different nations working together to create something new and special is really interesting to us, and if a country has a skill set we don’t have here in Canada we aren’t afraid to work with the best craftspeople available.
Most of your designs are traditional and lifelong tools but, at the same time, they are presented through a modern and clean conception. Is this the key of reaching timelessness?
Timelessness to me means that objects and interiors enjoy multiple generations of admiration and I find myself really attracted to other eras and they continue to hold a vibrancy. The interiors from the 1920s and 30s are just incredible and brimming with creative energy. Even though you can tell these spaces are old, they are timeless in the sense that they continue to provide us with inspiration and awe. I don’t believe in a general rule that makes something timeless or not because only time will tell what items remain valuable. However, an enduring functionality and beauty (as long as the function continues to be necessary) will hopefully enjoy many generations of enjoyment.