The Spirit of Renaissance Italy, in Vancouver

Taste of Life’s Luxury Home & Design Show was the ultimate expression of our mission.

At Taste of Life, we enter the workshops of artisans who bring to the world objects of great beauty and heart. The spirit of the artisan enters his work, making his table or tea kettle or jade sculpture into something that has the power to emanate life and happiness in a home.

Each detail is thoughtfully formed by a steady hand, a hand often trained for many years and guided by the wisdom of age-old traditions. These traditions are carried forth and improved upon by innovation. The artisan’s perseverance and patience fortify the objets d’art.

We collect not only treasures from all over the world, but also the rich stories behind those treasures. This summer in Vancouver, the 2018 Luxury Home & Design Show was the culmination of years of travelling to explore true craftsmanship and design.
We enlisted some of our favourite designers to create the perfect venue. Each booth was tailored to the aesthetic and vision of the artisans and designers who occupied it.

While the exhibitors were diverse, the overall uniting theme was the Renaissance — a time when sublime creativity surged, and superlative skill flourished. Thus we set our stage as an Italian piazza, an environment in which the greatest minds of the Renaissance thrived.

Building the venue

With our concept designer, Bianca Fusco Zanatta, at the helm, and the invaluable efforts of Jim Paquette at Gemstone Masonry & Landscaping, and of Timothy Bullinger at Arca3 Design Studio, among others, we transformed BC Place into an 80,000-square-foot slice of Italy here in Vancouver.

Karice Lighting custom designed the fixture at the centre of this booth for the show, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci;

The heart of our venue, like the heart of an Italian city, was a beautiful and bustling piazza — with 9,200 square feet of aged Roman pavers as cobblestones.

We set the scene with stands serving gelato and Italian delicacies, two stone water features, pianos, and garden space. The piazza is a place where family and friends gather; it’s a place of familiar warmth, a place to share ideas over espresso, to relax amidst the beauty of the surrounding architecture. It’s the perfect place to celebrate the best of design and the spirit of beauty in one’s daily life.

BFJ Design showcased a Fendi kitchen design;
Fendi Casa displayed a classically styled living room against a backdrop that recalls the company’s Roman roots;

In just three days, the builders we contracted set up not only the massive central piazza, but also another smaller piazza, a large archway, and more than 50 custom booths. We selected our builders and designers for their heart as well as their skill, crafting this show just as the artisans we feature craft their products — with attention to every detail and emphasis on the spirit behind the making.

For example, we saw the spirit of creativity Todd Best fosters in his company, Best Builders. He employs 30 in-house carpenters and other experts rather than subcontracting as many in the industry do. “I want my guys to express their creativity through what they build,” Best said. “If they have a good idea, I want to hear about it. So I want to nurture and feed that desire to do something really out of the ordinary.”

Jim Paquette of Gemstone Masonry & Landscaping, who built the two piazzas, has been a pioneer of creative design in Vancouver. He has curated rare, top-quality products from around the world, introducing to Vancouver thousands of new options for building luxury indoor and outdoor spaces. His 4,000-square-foot boutique-style showroom is the biggest showroom in North America in its industry.

Oussi featured a handmade classical living room set;
A European garden framed the Italian piazza, bathed in the light coming in from BC Place’s retractable roof.

Ken Toews and Peter Streiling of Rockridge Fine Homes also worked tirelessly on the show, bringing with them their expertise in local West Coast Contemporary style and their attention to fine details — qualities that make them award-winning luxury home builders.

Designers and builders paired up with exhibitors to create the booths, making for unique collaborations. Ambience of Eden designed a booth for Italian luxury linen-maker Frette, including a “living wall” made by Nature By Design. The wall feature made of living plants emanated a botanical air above a bed draped in Frette linens, the kind of linens that have covered the beds of European royalty for centuries.

Kalu Interiors created a booth for Karice Lighting, a space reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s study. Its brass components had an old-world feel, and the reflective gold wall coverings accentuated the booth’s centrepiece — a lighting masterpiece created by Karice specifically for the show and inspired by Da Vinci.

One-of-a-kind pieces

Designer and Karice co-owner Maurice Dery was inspired by our Renaissance theme to envision a lighting fixture that Da Vinci might create if he had access to modern materials. Dery’s fixture uses a pulley combined with mirrors and a magnifying glass to create a dynamic play of light.

Kisendo’s booth reflected a Japanese aesthetic and minimalist style;
Ancient Art of Stone’s back-lit onyx bar was among the pieces it featured at the show.
Gilroy Stained Glass created Renaissance, a custom piece inspired by our show’s theme;

“The light fixture is interactive,” Dery said. “You are able to move the direction of your light through gears and chains.”

Many exhibitors created unique pieces exclusively for the show, and guests had the opportunity to speak with the artisans about the creative processes behind these works.

Another custom piece inspired by our theme was a stained glass window titled Renaissance, created by Gilroy Stained Glass.

A living wall created by Nature By Design complements a bedroom setup by fine-linen-maker Frette;
The Reuge booth was filled with the classical melodies of its famed music boxes;

John and Laura Gilroy, artisans who are among the last practitioners of an ancient stained-glass art, found particular inspiration in Michelangelo’s sketch The Tree of Life.

Laura said of their custom piece, “All of the glass is European handmade, mouth-blown. The majority of it is from our prized stock of ‘one-off’ sheets of glass, meaning that they were made by master glassblowers on the one day of the year when they are encouraged to create new hues of colour outside of the usual range. This results in sheets of glass that can never be recreated and are completely one-of-a-kind.”

Others, such as Porsche, brought limited-edition products. Kisendo brought limited-edition kettles — each kettle having passed through the hands of five master artisans in a Japanese town famed for centuries for its metalwork. It was the first time ever that Kisendo had showcased its work in Canada.

In addition to creating a richly designed venue and collecting rare and beautiful objects, we also crafted unique experiences.

We asked artisans to set up mini workshops on our Artisan Walk so guests could see the beauty of the process as well as the product. We built a teahouse and created a tea ceremony imbued with all the philosophy and spirit of that ancient Asian tradition.

In the workshop

Italian shoemaker Stefano Bemer was among the artisanal companies featured on our Artisan Walk. The company’s CEO, Tommaso Melani, flew from Florence to share with guests the spirit of craftsmanship behind some of the finest handmade men’s shoes.

Much like its flagship store in Florence, Stefano Bemer’s booth on our Artisan Walk included a mini workshop.
John Rousseau created pieces of furniture onsite while guests watched.

Melani was happy to bring to Vancouver the flair and passion of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. “When you are born and raised in Florence, some standards of beauty and refinement become part of who you are,” Melani said.

John Rousseau, of John Rousseau Design, works with wood and many other materials to create custom furniture. Guests at the show watched him create a piece onsite.

“Wood is very dynamic,” Rousseau said. “It’s constantly moving and changing shape, and it does whatever it wants.” Each piece of wood has its own personality, he said, and it has taught him he’s not always in control. “Wood is a very humbling instructor.”

A tea ceremony steeped in tradition

Our tea ceremony combined the wisdom of a tea master, a pottery master, and an architect.

Architect Imu Chan created a teahouse specifically for the ceremony. Chan said, “Tea pavilions are designed to emphasize the importance of centring the body, spirit, and mind, and gathering in a space where one can experience not only the tea, but the moment itself.”

Deep thought went into the teahouse’s design. Chan began his creative journey by travelling to the mountains of Taiwan to meet pottery master Tian Chengtai. It was from Tian’s potteryware that we sipped the “nectar of immortals,” as an ancient Chinese poet once described tea.

Tian spent six years painstakingly perfecting a traditional technique to create his now much-desired collections. We were excited to share Tian’s pottery for the first time ever in North America.

From his humble kiln to luxury auction houses, Tian’s pottery is sought by collectors worldwide. It is perfectly crafted to accentuate the aromas and overall sensual experience of a tea ceremony.

The tea we served was grown by tea master David Tsay, who draws inspiration from the very pillars of ancient Asian culture. Abandoning a career in engineering, Tsay has spent years reviving ancient knowledge about organic tea farming in China.

He spoke with many farmers, he said. “I asked them to recall the tea their grandfathers grew.” His appreciation of tea reflects what has long been said of tea in Chinese tradition. “It makes one refreshed, but not over-stimulated,” Tsay said. “It is the most ideal drink.”

During the ceremony, the masters guided guests through meditation. Then a musician played an ancient Chinese instrument called a Guzheng as tea was served.

In the artisans’ own words

As we forged relationships with many who brought their energy to the show, we saw in them the same enthusiasm and understanding that encouraged us to organize this event.

Kurt Kupper, CEO of the preeminent Swiss music box maker Reuge, told us, “Luxury often is only symbolized by money, which is wrong. It’s not about the value of money, it’s about the love and the emotion. It’s about realizing what is important in life.”

Laura Gilroy told us, “What’s going to become the definition of luxury is the uniqueness and quality of material, the uniqueness and individuality of an artisan creating a piece. This renaissance of hand-created pieces is only going to get bigger.”

Jérôme de Lavergnolle, CEO of the French crystalmaker Saint-Louis, said, “One must understand and learn from the past — not to repeat the past, but to imagine the future.”

Pottery master Tian said, “It seems our spirits echo, bringing back to us the energy we put into our work.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Photography by Carsten Arnold