I climb the stairs to Robert’s Kidd’s studio, Still Design, which sits on the third floor in an old brick building in Victoria’s Rock Bay neighbourhood. I pass an open door where hip-hop is playing, and inside I see two men, hard at work, creating. Then I turn and see a large room filled with beautiful, clean-lined furniture, some from the mid-century, some newer. And there is Robert. He smiles, I smile, and we sit down in matching hoop chairs to talk about just what he’s been up to lately.
Robert Kidd is a Victoria legend. In 1984, he rented what he refers to as a “derelict hotel” for two hundred and fifty dollars a month—the space that was soon to become the original version of Still Life. At the time, lower Johnson was low-rent and run-down; it was a far cry from the shopping hub it’s now known for.
Of those early days, Robert says, “I always had an eye for clothes, records, books, so I sold everything I could. I pretty much stripped the building inside to build the store. I opened the door and on the first day, people were buying things, so I said oh, this is great, and I was there for twenty some years.” After he sold Still Life in 2007 to Matt & Kim Jensen, Robert’s eye turned more fully to furniture design, and he formed Still Design, the company he runs today. Still Design is both a showroom for the work of others, especially mid-century designers, and for Robert’s own work.
The pieces here tell the story of Robert’s design philosophy. He explains that “the Japanese aesthetic appeals to me very much, and the concept of wabi-sabi, where things change, and it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, it can be rusty, it can be dinted…” There is beauty in aging, in imperfection.
He gets up to show me a small table that he’s built. Its base is steel, and its top is a thick slab of cedar. Robert says that he “found [the base] at a flea-market—it’s probably an old industrial machine base of some sort, and the wood that’s on top, I’ve had that wood for thirty years or more. Those two pieces just found each other. Sometimes you just put stuff in your warehouse or studio because you like it—you liked that piece of metal or that wood. You don’t know what you’re going to do with it, and all of a sudden one day the pieces find themselves. That’s really fun when that happens. It’s wonderful when that happens.”
The furniture that Robert creates is minimal, balanced, and storied. It is elegant and hand crafted, it shows the age of its parts, and with that age comes a depth that isn’t seen in a lot of contemporary work, and not at all in furniture that is mass-produced.
Robert Kidd has been a creative person all of his life, from training as a draftsperson to working for architectural firms, to building his own cabins in the woods in Ontario and on Quadra Island, designing graphics, running an art gallery, then curating the Original Still Life Store where he also built and re-furbished bicycles, and finally, to designing and building furniture.
When I ask him if he’s landed at the person he really is, he says he doesn’t know “if we ever find out who we are exactly, but a certain part of me…I found out who I am. You know, this is where I want to be, with design, with making things, and the rest of it, I leave that to Linda, she looks after my soul, and all those other parts.”