Feature in Edmonton Journal

January 10, 2008

Written by Mairi Maclean

EDMONTON - Fresh, fun, Canadian.

And turning heads.

A saucy new home decor lined called White Moose, from a group of wildly energetic young Edmonton designers, has been winning fans -- and honours -- since making its debut seven months ago.

With an assortment ranging from tables, chairs and footstools to fruit bowls, coasters, 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 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."

At the same time, the fact that the moose is white reveals that the line embraces two design movements: minimalism and modernism, says Vreeling, who happened to grow up north of Edmonton near Manning, in "the Land of the Mighty Moose" and confesses that moose 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. It was a rush to get the 15 or so pieces designed, built, shot for a visual catalogue, then packed up for the Las Vegas trip, says Mark Oswald, who, like Vreeling and the other Fat Crows, is a U of A grad in design.

"It was absolute craziness. We were very fortunate to find people to do things how and when we needed them, and it was down to the wire. We had a date planned for the photo shoot and we had about half the line done for that day and the rest of the pieces came in the following day, and we shot them."

It was the delightfully wacky images from the White Moose catalogue, designed by Joel Harding, including a pristine occasional chair by the edge of a storm sewer and a bright green room divider shot on a nondescript industrial roof that won the firm a citation and honourable mention from Toronto's prestigious Design Exchange.

The two-day shoot was an experience in itself. "It was bring your most wacky thing," says Oswald. "We found a few things at Value Village and from our own stash at home, and holy cow, it was brilliant."

Says Vreeling, "I had the idea of hanging a table off a bridge by a rope, but then we saw some excellent places like the waterfall (by Whitemud Crossing). We had to lower the chair down by the rope and I'm sure Mark was freaking out as he was the designer! We just about lost it -- there was a whole bunch of algae at the bottom and it was quite slippery."

The Fat Crow designers found Las Vegas to be a great experience, though one more geared to lower-end mass production. Then they took their White Moose furniture line to the Vancouver Home and Interior Design Show, where they charmed the public and got several orders. "We made this powder coated aluminum cut-out of a white moose, six feet tall, the only piece we made for brand recognition for the show. We'd hang it in the booth and got calls from people actually wanting to hang it on their wall as a piece of art," says Vreeling. "We're totally elated people want the moose."

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, pointing out that 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. I feel that's a very important part of a brand such as White Moose, which has a little bit extra."

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 tryng 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."

Oswald says Fat Crow is also looking at competitions as a way of getting its name out. "We're planning on submitting for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics medal (design) competition. It's a wide mandate," he says. "We may go out and do a survey on how a current customer group enjoys a service or product and how that can be improved. Maybe it's changing the size and location of a button (on an electrical product, for example). Those little things make things easier."

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."