What was your ﬁrst impression of Westbank?
The ﬁrst time I went to the Westbank offce, it was before they moved into Shaw and they were so stuffed in their old office and surrounded by cardboard boxes, etc. but it was extremely busy and they were very interesting. You have to be special to work there. But then what could be more romantic than building and changing the face of the city?
As a supplier and designer, how would you describe working with Westbank?
They are willing to take chances on things. For example, we worked on their new offices and in there they have this big marble coffee table called Jumbo, a Gae Aulenti piece. It’s a really old piece and it’s been out of production for a long time, but we had it in our warehouse and Ian just completely trusted us that this was the piece they needed in the office.
They have some really strong ideas, but then Ian kind of just lets you go, he trusts you. It’s very interesting because most people second guess and work hard at managing projects until there’s no creativity in there – no air – you’re in a vacuum and you’re just trying to get the job done. And it’s really different with Westbank.
On the other hand, they have incredibly high standards. They want it tomorrow and they want it to be fabulous. As for their team, they hire really well; really bright people and then they let them go.
When working on these spaces with free creative reign, does budget factor in?
Ian is interested in making money as we all are, but he’s just as interested in doing something great. And he believes that if you do something great you’ll make more money. Whereas most people are thinking if I build sh*t people will buy it. He’s the polar opposite. Take the Fairmont for example. Ian had a vision and pushes you for your vision and then he lets you go and do it and he ﬁnances it. A lot of people will try to dumb down the vision, you know? They think it’s good but then they think you can just sort of take out half of it and it will still be the same. As a rule, I feel Ian is willing to get it right.
Also, with Westbank we’re allowed to continue to own the project. Our involvement doesn’t end at the end, we are invested in it. So when something happens – if I see a chair that doesn’t ﬁt, or a leg that’s bent or anything like that at the Fairmont for example, it’s mine; I ﬁx it. I’m on the team. That’s something Ian allows psychologically, that we’re allowed to feel that way. It doesn’t normally happen and the whole Westbank organization echoes that generosity of team spirit.
What speaks to Ian aesthetically?
Aesthetically, he’s bold, ballsy. And he’s a funny guy. One morning he came to our ﬁrst warehouse sale after he’d been up all night. Something important had passed at City Hall the night before – I can’t remember what it was – and he came in and he was on a complete adrenalin high and he bought all the stuff for his home that he still has and he still loves. He just went for good juicy things. He’s got great taste.
Ian and Westbank have ended up with some fabulous pieces that I would happily buy back. In particular, I want that marble coffee table back. I keep offering to make a model table for him and take it back but he says, “No, I want it.”