Chairs of every shape hang from the walls and the fragrant smell of wood fills the air in the furniture-making shops at Oakville’s Sheridan College.
While there are schools that will teach you how to work with tools and others that specialize in furniture design, Sheridan’s furniture courses, offered by its Craft and Design Program, are among the few that combine both, and they’ve attracted students from both practical and artistic backgrounds.
Studio head Peter Fleming leads a tour of the workrooms, the busiest one this morning full of first-year students working on their second major project — a table in walnut, most of which sit in various stages of completion all around the space. Students are taught how to take a design concept from sketches to models to mock-ups to finished product, as part of a three-year program that, in its final year, allows them to work independently on a thesis project.
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“We are in the gap between industrial design and traditional industrial training,” Fleming tells me, noting that while Humber College offers courses in cabinetmaking meant to train industrial workers, and the Ontario College of Art and Design has an industrial design program, neither of them combine the practical and theoretical like Sheridan.
While some students arrive in the program with some woodworking and industrial skills, there are as many that have come from OCAD looking to do something more hands-on, and even some architecture students looking to avoid spending years working with CAD (computer assisted design) programs without ever actually producing something physical.
The third-year students in the program this year are working on furniture for a residence for psychiatric outpatients in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, a project for which they are using wood reclaimed from the interior demolition of the almost 100-year-old apartment building.
Dylan, a student in the program, shows me the mock-up of a whimsical three-legged coffee table he’s working on; he moved from Montreal to take the Sheridan program. He says he’s learning more about reclaimed and recycled materials through this project than he ever imagined possible.
Fleming says that their goal is to round out the program with courses that will give it degree status, roughly the equivalent of a BFA. Right now, students “leave here with a vastly improved skill set from what they had,” though he adds that, even then, “it’ll still take a couple of years before they hit their stride.”