Going Out

FOUND: The Chinatown Museum at Jackpine Digital

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine. Sign up for a subscription or order back issues here.

By DAYANTI KARUNARATNE

There’s a little design shop on Somerset Street West called Jackpine Digital. Here you’ll find the so-called Chinatown Museum — a collection of large signs that once graced neighbouring storefronts. Part decor, part memorabilia, the signs represent the changing streetscape — and what CEO and creative director Liam Mooney calls the “destructive nature” of the design process. After all, the cone of a jack pine tree needs the intense heat of a forest fire to open and release its potential.

Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen
Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Dumpster Diving
Mooney was waiting outside the office — he had lent his keys to another designer — when he spotted a large bright red sign behind a dumpster. Wa Kiu had closed months before; Phuket Royal had yet to open its doors. “Maybe [Wa Kiu] wasn’t the best grocery store, but it was part of the landscape,” Mooney says. After getting the A-OK from the new owner, he hauled the 3-by-14-foot sign in through the fire escape and installed it in one of the main work areas. Upon close examination, it’s clear that the sign was hand-painted, the pencil lines from the stencils still visible after all these years.

Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen
Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Fair Trade
Last year, Mooney traded design services for office space — and furnished it with borrowed pieces from Highjinx, a social enterprise that sells used furniture. Eventually he bought some pieces, but the move to Chinatown called for a new aesthetic (or, as Mooney says, they needed to “break the space”). Enter Malcolm Cairns of FoundDesign and Ken McKay of Furniture Affairs. Cairns gifted a few mid-century modern items to Jackpine; others are loaned on a consignment basis (“We have a strict coaster rule,” Mooney says). McKay will get design services in exchange for a huge custom table and bar. “The generosity — I can’t even begin to understand,” says Mooney.  (more…)