MSDS Studio for Normann Copenhagen

It’s a sunny morning in Toronto and we are headed for the city’s Junction Triangle neighborhood, to meet Canadian MSDS Studio in their light-flooded workspace. 

We’re here to talk to Jonathan Sabine, one of the two designers from MSDS Studio, about their work, their relationship to Scandinavia and two brand-new designs for Normann Copenhagen: the Stock side table and Hoop coat rack.

What’s the story behind MSDS Studio?

Jessica and I originally met in college. We founded MSDS after having worked for other companies and becoming dissatisfied. We weren’t getting to do the type or quality of work we wanted. So, we basically decided to build the firm that wanted to see.

You’re Toronto-based. What’s your relation to Scandinavian design?

We were initially exposed to Scandinavian modernism in design school. Alvar Aalto, Tapio Wirkkala, and Hans Wegner all made big impressions on us and formed part of the core of our understanding of design. Canada and the Nordic countries have some similarities in climate, politics, and character, so I think we relate quite naturally to the objects that result from these conditions.


Hoop coat rack by MSDS Studio.

Jonathan you are a furniture designer and cabinetmaker, while your partner Jessica comes from an interior design background. How does that translate into your designs?

I think our work is a pretty apparent hybrid of our design backgrounds. There’s the craft preoccupation with material and meaning, but there’s also the concern for space, style, and visual impact. The two streams - product and interiors - are distinct in many ways. Different skills and tools are required for each. But we still manage collaborate on basically every project, especially during design and conceptualization.

What lead you to create Hoop and Stock?

Stock was the result of us designing a table that venerates stock metal parts through expressive structure. With Hoop, we were trying to design a coat rack that was minimal in silhouette and yet fun and multifunctional.



Prototype of the Stock side table in the MSDS studio in Toronto.

What characterizes a typical MSDS Studio design?

I think there’s a rigour and resourcefulness in most of our work. We also value imagination and new forms.  

Your designs are often made of a single material. What comes first: the material or the idea for a shape?

In the early stages I think the design process is super non-linear. It goes something like form, material, brief, thing-that-recently-inspired-you, material, daydream, form, etc.… We hardly ever end up at a prescribed location at the end of the design process. We have also designed things almost entirely by coincidence - those times when something seems to arise out of your subconscious.



Stock table, steel blue.


You state that resourcefulness is the hallmark of your practice - how is that? And why is it important to you?

We think designers usually benefit from having considerable constraints put on them. There’s an ingenuity faculty that kicks in when things are tight that helps lead to the moments of transformation that we all have as our goal. And it seems like a more impressive feat to turn a bunch of everyday materials into an object of desire, which also goes back to our ideal that interestingly designed objects should be available to the greatest number of people possible.

MSDS Studio states that interior space should act as a stimulating, yet intimate, interface between human and building. - How do you live yourself?

It’s a bit of a joke in the restaurant industry that the cooks at nice places eat junky food when they’re not at work. Our setup is a bit like that. As you can see, our studio, while light-filled thanks to the big windows we have on our west wall, is fairly bare bones. It’s mainly a workspace, filled with samples, prototypes, piles of sketches, and failed experiments.


Portrait photo credit: Nikole Herriott and Michael Greydon.