Where are you from and what sort of child were you?

I was born and raised in downtown Toronto. As a child I was a curious determined daredevil, and an unapologetic tomboy. I did everything I could to find my own path.


Tell us about your first memories of being creative. What were your early influences and/or exposure to art and culture?

My dads hobby has always been carpentry and building, it rubbed off on me. The house I grew up in had a woodshop in the basement and a metal shop in the garage. As a kid I spent hours in that woodshop, making all sorts of different things. The first thing I can remember making was a wooden side table for my brother. The table was made from materials out of the scrap bin, held together with roofing nails and glue, finished with marker. In terms of influences, my family really embraced my creativity, taking me to every creative institution they could get me to.


Describe your work in 3 sentences or less.

Contemporary design with a relaxed elegance and a little bit of toughness.


What brought you to this furniture making? Was there a pivotal moment in your past where you discovered it? Or was it a progression over a period of time?

I’ve always had an undenying urge to make things, and I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. In my early 20s I had a job at a custom art studio called Moss and Lam, we created the most wonderful and weird work for hotels, restaurants, and private residences under the direction of an amazing husband and wife leadership team. When I left that studio I was unsure what my next move would be, but I had built out an old factory space in the west end of Toronto to live in. As more friends visited my loft more and more of them started asking me to build things for them. Before I knew it, I no longer had time to look for a new job and my business was born.


Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?

After completing my undergraduate degree at OCADU I was accepted into a Masters of Sustainability program at St. Andrews in Scotland. I was really close to taking a step in a very different direction, trying to sort out student loans and everything else I’d need to move over there. The decision that kept me in Toronto and started my career in design was actually pretty irrational, life almost looked a lot different.


Tell us about your first real break.

One of the first friends to come visit me in the loft I built was building a house in Yorkville with this big stair atrium. After seeing what I had created in my space he asked if I would build him some kind of installation for this atrium space. Looking back, it was a huge leap of faith for him to take with me. The project was challenging, scary, and taught me a lot about what it actually means to make and install a project. The ups and downs were staggering, but at the end of the day I pulled it off my friend told everyone about my work. The home was featured in a few different publications  – which really helped me get my name out there. After that project interior designers and individuals started to reach out and I took on more and more work.


What has been the biggest challenge of your artistic career that you’ve encountered so far?

Balancing creativity and business – especially in this business of design I find myself in. It is so amazing that I get to be creative every day but it can be hard to balance it out and make money from it. Or, on the flip side, sometimes you can get bogged down with ‘business’ tasks and lose the creativity, it’s something I am trying to work on.


What does your average day look like and when are you most productive?

I’m up sometime between 7-8 to take my dog Axel for a walk – Axel is new to our family and the introduction of this morning walk to my day has really enhanced my life. After that I’ll grab a coffee and head into the studio. I try to only block one task / project thing for the morning and one for the afternoon and I give myself two breaks for emails and communication a day – one at 1230 and the next at 630. I know this schedule sounds a bit intense, and while I’m not always able to follow it, I have found that, when I can, it gives me the opportunity to really dig deep into a project or task. This deep focus really gets me to my most inspired and productive state. The freedom to really bite into a task is a really wonderful thing.


What or who inspires you to be your most creative self? And how do you overcome a creative block?

I love to look around and be inspired by the world and people around me. Overcoming creative blocks for me often involves trying something new or exploring the world around me to gain new perspective. If I’m having a tough time being creative I’ll try to go somewhere I’ve never been before, get some exercise, and learn something new.


What is your favourite place in the world? Is there anywhere you would still like to visit?

I love to travel, I’ll visit any place I can experience culture and go surfing. It’s always been a dream of mine to see every country in the world.


How would your friends describe you?

Strong, loyal, and original.


If you could give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?

Create a process and stick with it, use it as a sort of rule-of-law in your work to protect yourself from being pushed and pulled by clients. Everything will take longer than you think, charge more – your time and work is valuable and deserves proper compensation.


Tell us about your latest work, and anything that’s on the horizon for you?

A lot of my work thus far has been for other people. Whether its collaborating with designers to create an awesome custom piece or working with a client to solve a particular need. For a long time I have wanted to build a collection but have had a hard time making the space for myself to start. Over the last six or seven months I have been developing a seating collection that I will launch at Address and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Mary Ratcliffe

ADDRESS Interview with Mary Ratcliffe.