Design Made Simple

If you're looking to make your life more beautiful, and don't have unlimited hours to spend trawling the internet, Canopy has just what you need, and then some.

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It wasn't long after meeting at grad school that Canopy co-founders Shannon Fox and Daniel Kaplan realized they made a good team. "We came up with a concept that won us $500 at an innovation fair," says Fox. "We didn't end up following through with that particular idea after the fair, but it planted the seed for what turned into Canopy."

Shannon Fox with what looks like a well-designed coffee cup.
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That central idea for Canopy is that of curating the retail powerhouse Amazon, and it first came about "when a few of us were working together on a large design team," Fox explains. Most of the people involved would have their online purchases delivered to the office, so every day a handful of packages would arrive at the studio.

"We would share our new discoveries with each other," Fox says, "and a community naturally formed because we were all excited about great products." They also noticed that the majority of the packages were from Amazon, and, as Fox points out, "people were surprised to see that such beautiful products could come from Amazon."

Daniel Kaplan and Magritte.
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They promptly decided to take this community of people with great taste, and collect and post their recommendations online. Their thought is that by using one reliable supplier, they can avoid what they deem to be "the largest problem other social commerce sites face," as Fox puts it: broken links and inaccessible products. "Everything you fall in love with on Canopy," she says, "you can buy."

Just one of many tasteful touches you might stumble upon in the homes of the Canopy co-founders.

Citing Dieter Rams's principles of good design as their main inspiration, Kaplan describes their ethos as "less, but better." Products should be, he says, "useful, innovative, well-­made, and aesthetically pleasing. Clean, fresh, minimal, and useful. It's like an art gallery for products that you can actually buy."

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Fox and Kaplan hard at work plowing through the wilds of the internet, one beautiful item at a time.

And how does the Canopy team stay on top of the ever-expanding offerings provided by the realm of online shopping? "It's impossible to really stay on top of everything out there in a vast and expanding universe, Kaplan says, "especially with the hyper-­accelerated rate of cultural turnover we experience in the age of the internet. Staying current isn't necessarily our primary goal, as we believe good taste is timeless."

What better way to get a sense of someone's taste than to take a tour of their home? Kaplan and Fox, who will be contributing a regular column to Sweet, invited us along to do just that.

Here, Kaplan and Fox each share five items they classify as "Things that make my house a home."

Daniel Kaplan, Co-Founder, Designer

Kaplan lives at Eglinton and Mount Pleasant in midtown Toronto, at a bustling and growing intersection lined by an ever-increasing number of great restaurants and shops.

"My loft is super bright with tall ceilings, lots of windows, and light concrete floors," he says. "Its earthy vibe comes from the abundance of plants, natural wood, leather furniture, and cork and clay accessories."

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1. Handmade Wooden Bench

I built this bench with my dad. We decided one afternoon that we wanted to craft something and we just went straight to it without any planning. It was made from walnut using only manual hand tools and finished with a beeswax oil. I feel like a real carpenter would laugh at the construction, and it definitely has a crude imperfect feel to it but that is where its charms are. It kind of stands as a symbol of a moment, or an afternoon with my father, who is like the OG visual artist, aesthetics guy in my family. It is also useful to sit on while putting on my boots.

2. Couch

This oversized brown-leather couch is the first piece I bought when I first moved in here, and it is a synecdoche for my entire home. Each seating only gets better as the leather gets worked in. The first word I would want associated with my living space would be comfort. I want my dwelling to be a retreat from all of the trials of modern life and this couch is the embodiment of comfort. It sounds like a load of bull, but think about how much of life actually takes place seated on this couch. It always gets a high rating from friends who melt into the cushions when they come here for late night creative sessions, or just when hanging and watching Fuller House.

3. Plants

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Feng Shui or anything but I think it is pretty telling that there are whole metaphysical systems devoted to decluttering and arranging an environment. Part of my personal philosophy is that a space should be living, nothing is static, and that also means bringing literal life into the space, which is why I have all of these plants. Having plants in a living space transforms dead areas into areas with live energy. A house plant will remove airborne dust and pathogens, increase the humidity in a dry area and will provide increased mental focus and clarity to inhabitants.

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On another note, every year I take a trip out to Northern Ontario to sleep in the bush and reconnect. Living and working in the city can cause this natural disconnect. Having lots of houseplants reminds me that I am connected to my environment. It's about bringing the outside in.

4. Canvas and Paints

You know how people sometimes talk about things like having an inner child? Or how people romanticize the creativity and curiosity of youth? Well I think part of the reason we lose this sense of wonder is because we give up a lot of basic childhood practices. I definitely think there is value to stuff like playing with blocks and painting pictures.

Now I realize that painting is not inherently a juvenile practice, but it allows me to take my focus off of a screen and reconnect with my raw curiosity. Also, when I have guests over, I always invite them to paint what's on their mind. It is really fascinating to see how a painting will reflect a person's mood or vibe in general, and it's definitely a cool way to hang out and chat without the distraction of devices for a while.

5. Glerups

The creation of Canopy in part came from my own personal commodity fetishization, and this constant hunt I have always found myself on for distinct consumer items. There is a criteria that I look for in products that has almost become second nature to me. I would say I am a slave to good design—be it graphics, packaging, or industrial design. I am a proponent of the school that good design directly serves function, and finally I think I am drawn to products with a strong sense of novelty.

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I think these Glerups are a great example of the kind of consumer product I am drawn to. I bought these with Michelle. They are shoes made from 100% natural wool in Denmark. They are worn barefoot year round and have tanned calfskin soles. I think i was drawn to them because of the simple design and the impeccable display of texture. They are incredibly comfortable and they directly address the living requirements of the loft, if you'd look down to the cold concrete floors. 

Shannon Fox, Co-Founder, CEO

Fox lives in Toronto's Queen West neighborhood, across from Trinity Bellwoods park—a Toronto landmark. "I might be biased," she says, "but this area is notorious for having all the best shops, restaurants, and galleries in the city."

"My loft is in an old chocolate factory that was built in the early 1900s and converted into condos a few years back," she says. "Every unit has the original brick, wood slat ceilings, timber posts and exposed ductwork. The space feels industrial, but is also very warm and cozy. We wanted to take a very a minimal approach with the design—to highlight the existing character and history of our space."

1. Bonsai

I've always been fascinated by Japanese bonsai traditions. Nursing these trees—pruning, shaping, and watering—is really a form of art. I purchased this 10-year-old Juniper at a Bonsai show. I met enthusiasts from all age ranges, and realized there's an entire community of Bonsai aficionados in Toronto who meet to showcase trees, share stories, tips, and traditions. I'm also a bit of an anxious person, and adding the maintenance to my daily routine has helped calm my mind and develop patience.

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2. Cello

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I played a classic cello for most of my childhood, and was inspired to pick one up again seeing a cellist at Ra Ra Riot's show a few years back. One of the band members had an electric cello connected to a guitar amp—unlike anything I had ever seen or played before. I decided to buy my own, restart lessons and attempt to continue where I left off at 15.

When you play an instrument just for fun, without all the pressure, it's a more fulfilling experience. I think it's important that people have passions outside of what you do for a living, and the cello has become a unique outlet for my creativity. It's also one of the coolest instruments I've seen—I proudly present it in this space.

3. Ginger Tea

I'm really comforted by having a hot drink by my side at all times, even in the summer. A friend got me hooked on lemon ginger tea, and it's completely replaced my dependency on coffee. As a bonus, it has plenty of healthy benefits, helps curb my sugar cravings, and improves my ability to handle stress. It's also a nice break in my hectic workdays to step away from the computer and prepare all the fresh ingredients.

4. Blankets 

Since moving into this loft, we've developed a bit of a blanket obsession. Our collection includes fabrics like cashmere, mohair, wool, and cotton. When at home, I'm always wrapped up in one of these. My recent favourite is the Kit and Ace wool and cashmere blend. It also doubles as a wrap—it can go from our couch to being a part of my outfit on a cold day.

5. Dad's Records

My dad passed away a few years ago and I inherited his old LPs, ranging from classic rock and pop to disco. Like an old book, some of these are inscribed with his name and the dates he acquired them, or simple notes about his opinions. Not all of them still play music, but the ones that do produce an incredibly rich sound. My favorite in this collection is Crime of the Century (Supertramp, 1974), which has this incredible atmospheric album art that matches the sound of the record and illustrates the musical feel of the early '70s. I'm an incredibly nostalgic person, and listening to this is a beautiful reminder of my childhood with him.

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