Decorating & Design

May 25, 2017

Fogo Island Inn Founder Zita Cobb On The Value Of Homegrown Design

With Canada’s 150th approaching, we’re celebrating everything our great country has to offer, from classic recipes to contemporary Canuck furniture. In our July 2017 issue, executive editor Kimberley Brown profiles Zita Cobb, founder of the iconic Fogo Island Inn and co-founder of the Shorefast Foundation. Read on for the Newfoundland-based entrepreneur’s take on the value of homegrown design.

On taking advice from British designer Ilse Crawford.
She’s pretty amazing. She is, as you may know, based in London and teaches at the Design Academy Eindhoven. She’s a really deep thinker about design and she understands design is meant to support life. She introduced us to many of the international designers that came to work with us at Fogo. She knew them professionally or she knew them when they studied with her, and she understood that they understood how to be a servant of place. We had other designers come that didn’t work as well, because they came with such a fixed idea of their own style.

On the link between design and location.
Culture is a response to place, that’s how culture emerges, so why shouldn’t design respond to place? Especially Canadian design. Why can’t a chair help you feel the geography and the sanctity, even, of the place it emerged from?

On design that forgets it’s a servant of people and place.
Done badly – and god knows there’s so much of it – it just makes us all feel inadequate.

On how Newfoundlanders’ approach design.
Some makers of things in other parts of the world try to express care through exceptional finesse. That’s not Newfoundland. We’ve moved onto something else more urgent. A Newfoundlander tackling a chair doesn’t sit down and go, “How can I make it different? How can I make it stand out?” He doesn’t, at all. He tackles a chair by saying, “Well, we need a chair that’s got to fit in that space.” We don’t obsess about furniture in Newfoundland – we don’t sit down for that long. This is how I think Newfoundlanders make things: we find a little bit of a twist in it, some joyful little hack. You know, they’re just fun.

On pricing Fogo Island Inn furniture.
What we are doing – both at the Inn and with the furniture – is something that we need to come closer to in the world, which is right pricing. Right pricing anticipates that the person who makes an item isn’t going to get wildly rich, but they’re also not paid $8/hour. The woodworkers are paid $20/hour and sometimes a bit more. That’s not too much! And the wood has to be collected, so when you actually start to think about what the price of something should be, and you build the profit margin into it (15%, which goes to the foundation), that’s right pricing.

Read more of this interview in our July 2017 issue.

Author: Interview by Kimberley Brown

Courtesy of Fogo Island Inn