From a small workshop in Shawnigan Lake and a shop in Calgary, Christine Sheu and Kevin Helm shape wood and metal into meticulously crafted furnishings. Driven by the question “can we maintain the personality of that material, but still have the influence of our personality?”, the pair endeavours to honour the materials they use. “The forms really have to work with the materials. That being said, we always like to play with our perceptions of what the materials can do,” says Sheu. The resulting furniture pieces have a sculptural element that elevate them from simply a functional furniture piece to a singularly beautiful object. This is the work of 2point54.
Co-founded by Sheu and Helm, both Product Design graduates of Parsons The New School for Design in New York, the company’s name pays tribute to their Canadian/American heritage; it’s the conversion rate of centimetres to inches. Helm engaged his interest in art and design after working in Oil and Gas Marketing, but for Sheu, a creative career was always in the cards. “I always knew that I wanted to incorporate art into my career. Being from a very academic background, I had a deal with my parents that if I didn’t get into Parsons I would go to business school. So there was an entrepreneurial kind of spirit that has always been there. It just took a little time to realize that product design is the perfect marriage between science, math, art, and business.” Having worked on a variety of projects during school through freelance work, Sheu and Helm realized they both wanted to start their own business. “Furniture just happens to be really close to our hearts, because it’s a lot of engineering and building, and being connected to the materials.”
The partners landed in Victoria after Sheu’s post-graduation visit her boyfriend, photographer Devin Tepleski. “ I’d travelled around the world and started doing freelancing in New York, but I’ve always loved to be surrounded by nature. In NYC it’s hard to get a little parcel of nature. When I visited him here he showed me around; we went to Ucluelet, Tofino, and I just fell in love with the Island. So I made the move with my business partner, who is Calgary born. He always wanted to move to Victoria, so Devin got both Kevin and I in the package.”
Their design work is informed by their time in both New York and on the Island. The New York influence is seen in the minimalism of their style, which Sheu describes as “contemporary, very geometric. We really enjoy visual illusions, so when you’re walking around our pieces they’re designed to be seen from every single view. Often times furniture is front view, side view, that’s it. But we like to build it so it doesn’t matter what position you’re looking at it, it’s always interesting.” It is an aesthetic that differs dramatically from what is commonly associated with West Coast design. The coastal influence, while subtle, is present in their work with finishes such as an ebonized stain that imparts a “grey blue, really stormy colour,” very much inspired by the ocean. Sheu is also experimenting with creating dyes from locally forged mushrooms.
There are, however, challenges with working from an Island studio. Some materials can be pricey, aren’t as easily accessed and shipping can be onerous. But for the partners, it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. “When we made the decision to go back to Canada, we knew that we couldn’t get the same prices as we could in the US, however, we knew that this is where we wanted to design, which is the most important part. We want to live here, we like the lifestyle – this is where we feel most inspired. Maybe we aren’t going to grow as fast as we would in New York, but at least we’re living a balanced life.”
For now, Sheu is working from the Island while Helms has landed back in Calgary. Sketches, drawings and renderings go back and forth, with Sheu tackling the woodwork, and Helms fabricating the metal. With many of their clients in Calgary, Sheu is looking to join Helms there for a few years. She will eventually return to the Island to open a second location and, ultimately, expand the business to include additional designers and builders. She would also like to contribute some of her time and design expertise to public realm design.
The partners are currently focusing on their ever-evolving designs, and tackling custom projects. Whatever the challenge, there’s a common thread that binds their work. “For us, the story has always been, what are our values? How can we best express them and be consistent? We’re all about clarity, honesty, and we try to go an extra mile. That’s part of the package — we are taking our time, and making sure that when we build something it lasts.”
“As a product designer, I don’t want to throw things into the materials stream that don’t have a purpose and will end up in the garbage. If you think about a lot of conflict these days, it all stems back to resources. So how can we best use those materials and get what we really need from one piece? Being conscious with all of our design, can we minimize waste? Can we make sure that it survives for a really long time?”
Despite the rigors or running a small, creatively demanding business, within the challenges of partners working from remote locations, Sheu feels fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue her passion. “Sometimes I just take a step back and think ‘I can’t believe we’re actually doing this. We’re physically making something, challenging our minds, and learning new things while working on the business. The best part is, I enjoy each of these individually, and this is my job!“