Feature in Calgary Herald

Friday, February 22, 2008

Written by Mairi Maclean

Canadian, eh? - Saucy new project by U of A design grads turns heads

With an assortment ranging from tables, chairs and footstools to fruit bowls, coasters and even a large-scale metal cutout of a moose, White Moose is the brainchild and inaugural project of Fat Crow, a new, multifaceted design firm.

Tyler Vreeling, principal designer of the firm, says the idea was to create a furniture brand identity that was strong, immediately recognizable and a little bit quirky.

"We wanted to create a mental image, an association in peoples' minds quickly and easily," he explains, "and the moose represents the natural, the rural portion of our lives, where we try to get outdoors and breathe a bit of fresh air. One of the (design) directives was also a Canadiana image, something simple but not repetitive."

 Vreeling, who grew up north of Edmonton near Manning, in "the Land of the Mighty Moose," confesses the animals are dear to him.

"(The White Moose look is) also going back earlier in the past century in that it's very clean and crisp. Part of the directive was a throwback to modernism, with elements of minimalism, and the combination of the two is very interesting," he says.

"We also had a very strong directive from the name in that we'd use very solid materials, a strong esthetic and a reference to nature and the forms and textures it brings. This isn't space ship design; we weren't trying to be futuristic in the look or the feel. It isn't about classical or traditional elements. It was also important to use solid materials, not veneering over the wood, using solid stainless steel or aluminum. We're also only using three different kinds of wood, maple, cherry and walnut, which are all indigenous to this continent."

Vreeling and his Fat Crow pals, who range in age from 19 to 32, decided to create the line last June as something they could showcase at the World Market Center, an industry trade show in Las Vegas that takes place in July. The Fat Crow designers then took their White Moose furniture line to the Vancouver Home and Interior Design Show, where they charmed the public and got several orders.

Now, the struggle is to find a dedicated manufacturer for the White Moose line, and Vreeling is still on the hunt. "It's such a strong Canadian identity, we really wanted it produced in Canada."

Indeed, he and his associates would love to find a champion for White Moose, someone who'd buy it and have Fat Crow continue to expand the line. "We're a design firm. Dealing with distribution, retailing and sales is a fun headache, a nice ride, but I hope it doesn't last too much longer," says Vreeling. "We want to focus on design."

Right now, those ordering White Moose pieces should expect to wait about three months for delivery, he says. (Inquiries can be made via e-mail, to info@whitemoosebrand.)

"It's necessary for us to have a personal relationship with those who are interested in our stuff," he says. "We don't have prices up on the website in order for (potential customers) to be driven to ask us questions and that way we can respond, actually talk."

With White Moose now underway, Vreeling is looking for other projects for Fat Crow and he's been making cold calls to the many groups who work with designers, including architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers and manufacturers.

"We want to create something that's different than what exists now, so we're really looking for collaborators and clients. How I spend most of my time is trying to find the craziest, coolest people to work with or for," he says. "We have an interest in a lot of types of design, from graphics and visual communications to products to environments - there's a lot of different things we'd like to tackle. Some are completely for our ego, others have a more vested interest in humanity and bettering peoples' lives. Design for disability, barrier-free design is a huge area of interest."

Right now, everyone at Fat Crow except Vreeling has another job to make ends meet. But the hope is they'll get enough clients and projects to make it a full-time proposition.

"I quit everything to do this and wouldn't have it any other way," says Vreeling. "This is my dream and it's awesome to see it come to fruition."

Spotlight White Moose designer Tyler Vreeling will be appearing at next weekend's Calgary Home and Garden Show, along with other special guests such as HGTV's Sarah Richardson (Sarah's House) and Kelly Deck (Take It Outside). The show runs Feb. 28 to March 2 - for more information, including a speaker schedule and online tickets (with a $2 discount), visit calgaryhomeshow.com.