Patty Johnson, designer (born 1957 in Vancouver, BC). In addition to her elegant and modern furniture designs, Johnson is recognized for her work as an international creative collaborator, bringing together designers, manufacturers, communities and governments to create new design programs and collections with origins in places like Haiti, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.
Born in Vancouver, BC, Johnson’s family moved to Mississauga, ON when she was a child. Her father, a civil engineer and amateur artist, would often take the young Johnson along on sketching outings to the Art Gallery of Ontario and various Toronto architectural landmarks. Johnson attended the University of Toronto and graduated in 1980 with a degree in English literature and theatre. She discovered her interest in furniture design only after graduating, and went on to attend the Furniture Program in the School of Craft and Design at Sheridan College. Upon graduation, Johnson began working as a custom furniture maker out of the Wood Studio in Toronto, where she became known for her sleek yet functional designs. With her furniture practice firmly established at home, Johnson decided to further her education in London, England, and completed a masters program at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she worked under the mentorship of designer Simon Fraser.
Inspired by modernists like Mies Van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, Johnson quickly developed a recognizable style that cleanly synthesized form, function and structure. Her first piece of production furniture, the Turn Table, a small, elegant side table with a round, concave surface and matching base, was financed by Toronto art collector and dealer David Mirvish, and sold at an online shop developed with American painter Frank Stella. The table is now manufactured and distributed by Keilhauer in Canada. Johnson has also designed furniture for names like Sephora, David Design, Mabeo, Nienkamper, Speke Klein and Pure Design.
Consultancy and Collaboration
With her own practice established, Johnson began looking for ways to collaborate with less conventional stakeholders. Working with governmental agents like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Johnson began developing and implementing design programs in places like Haiti, Africa and South America. The goal of these projects was to unite designers with small-scale craft factories and producers to bring new high-end products to the global market. One of Johnson’s best-known initiatives in this vein was the North South Project, which began in 2004during a trip to Guyana while working as a furniture design consultant for CIDA In Guyana, Johnson met Jocelyn Dow of the Liana Cane Furniture Factory, and in Botswana, Peter Mabeo of Mabeo Furniture. From these producers, Johnson learned of the limited access companies from the developing world had to the global markets. Working with Dow and Mabeo, Johnson designed numerous furniture and lighting items made with local sustainable products and traditional manufacturing methods wherever possible. The project has since branched out to partner with Disenos + Artesanias in Guanajuato, Mexico to create a new ceramics collection, and Johnson is also working on initiatives in Haiti,the Caribbean, and Rajasthan, India.
Teaching and recognition
Johnson now lectures around the world about her work, and is currently adjunct faculty at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and the University of Syracuse’s Industrial and Interraction Design Department. She also sits on the advisory board of the Interior Design Society in Canada and, with the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management’s DesignWorks Centre, received a Skoll Foundation seed grant to investigate economic and design models. She has received two International Contemporary Furniture Fair Editors Awards, was included in the International Design Yearbook and Newsweek’s Design Dozen in 2006, Wallpaper’s Best of 2010, and the Fast Company Design Issue in 2011. She has won numerous ID Magazine Design Review Awards.