Debate exists as to what exactly Aristotle meant when he uttered the famous words, ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Mathematically this is certainly not the case, psychological and philosophical opinions vary, but I think the organizational pundits might have it right in interpreting it as a description of the synergy of an inspired team working together.
Collectively they are able to achieve more than the same number of people working alone. Obstacles are transformed into opportunity.
I’ll be honest that business partnerships don’t usually get me this hot, but when a team like Zita Cobb and Susan Drover appear, I’m on the scene with notebook in hand faster than you can say blueberry pie. When the news dropped that the Fogo Island Shop was bringing its internationally esteemed, deeply relatable spin on outport furniture to St. John’s in partnership with SAM Design, I was stoked to know more about the women and men behind these elegant pieces now on display in SAM’s equally refined showroom. The most beautiful objects are made by hand and carry their own stories, I believe, so what’s the story here?
Let’s start with SAM, local stars on the design scene in year six of illustrious performance. They’ve been slugging out the hits since day one, working on spaces in every major condo development in SJ , dreaming and scheming with Adelaide Oyster House to create its jaw dropping sleek rustic boho look, and consulting one on one with many satisfied home clients.
Owner Susan Drover’s cabin has been featured in Home and Cabin magazine, and in person she embodies SAM’s passion for style and good design. Fresh faced charm belies her guts and go get ’em attitude, but one realizes quickly that this friendly woman with a southern belle smile has big goals, and is unstoppable in her quest to achieve them.
The first five years of SAM , she tells me, were building the business into the respected design house it is today. Now, in the next five years, the focus is on partnership and expansion. It’s scary times economically for this. “We chose to be brave” she says.
SAM’s showroom is chock full of beautiful modernity from Canadian talents, and partnerships include Cera Gres Tile, Cherry Nook of Bay Roberts, and now the prestigious Fogo Island Shop.
Susan has reason to celebrate. Zita Cobb, the woman behind the Fogo Island Inn, is a sheer force of intelligence. Turning Fogo into a renowned tourist destination through the power of partridgeberries, quilts, arts, and architects, she seems consumed by a passion to elevate and celebrate rural Newfoundland and the skills it engenders. The Inn well established, she’s turned her attention to other ventures, the Fogo Island Shop among them.
Zita has a vision, it’s very clear as soon as you hear her speak. Explaining her desire to manufacture world class furniture in Newfoundland, she spoke not of dollars and cents, or hokey sentimentality, but of a crisis of confidence and of values in present day Newfoundland. Of the need to mediate our relationship between the past and the future, and what that means to how we turn our skills outward.
“What do we know, what do we love, and what do we have” are guiding questions. I couldn’t agree with her more in pointing out that what she calls “folkloric spectacle,” and I call “the loaded leprechaun syndrome,” does none of us any favours in tourism or anywhere else.
Explaining her desire to manufacture world class furniture in Newfoundland, she spoke not of dollars and cents. or hokey sentimentality. but of a crisis of confidence and of values in present day Newfoundland.
I’m liking Zita more all the time, but she has some treats in store for yet. “This is who you really need to talk to” she says, introducing me to townie architect/designer Nick Herder and Spaniard’s Bay local /preeminent outport furniture historian Walter Peddle, then slipping off into the background.
Standing close in the now crowded showroom near the “Puppy Table,” which Nick designed, the b’ys quickly run me through “Outport Furniture History and Philosophy 101.” Nick lights up when he discusses his time living on Fogo, and explains more about the Puppy Table, made from just one piece of board.
Waste was a dirty word in Newfoundland’s history, with resourcefulness and ingenious recycling being just short of holy virtues. The table is simple but playful, and the interaction of light and shadow in the simple cuts at it’s base are kind of….well…genius (there, I said it ).
To say Walter is a gentleman with a passion for outport furniture is like saying David Bowie had “kind of” a knack for fashion. Yet that’s what Walter says anyway, humbly, though I’ve heard him described by Fogo locals as “Furniture Jesus.” That may be a colorful title but certainly shows the respect his lifetime of research into the traditions of outport furniture has earned him amongst his peers.
Exuberance and practicality are words he feels describe much of the character of early Newfoundland furniture, a physical proof that hard lives did not preclude an appreciation and desire for beauty. This philosophy is present in all the Fogo Shops pieces, from the Puppy, which Nick points out could be just as much for sitting on as for use a table surface, to the breath taking lines of my favourite piece, the Long Bench, designed by Inke Hans.
Hand made with the greatest of skill and care, it’s a no-brainer that this furniture is not cheap. Zita’s idea of right pricing breaks down easily before your eyes through her use of the creative “economic nutrition labels,” a replica of a food package nutrition listing showing exactly where the dollars you are spending are going. Locally produced heirloom quality furniture that helps outport craftsman continue their traditional livelihood has a pretty big feel good factor, that’s for sure.
The last word goes to Zita, from an interview in House and Home last May. “Culture is a response to place, that’s how culture emerges, so why shouldn’t design respond to place? Why can’t a chair help you feel the geography and the sanctity, even, of the place it emerged from?”
SAM Design on Freshwater Road is now the exclusive Newfoundland retailer of Fogo Island Shop designed & produced artisan furniture.