Design Focused Design

February 1st, 2010

Box Interior’s H. Jay Brooks
talks about his work in Vancouver, Canada

H. Jay Brooks and his wife, Cynthia Penner, are the design team behind Vancouver’s award-winning firm, Box Interior Design. Their recent projects include Market by Jean Georges, Society Dining Lounge, and the much-lauded Coast Restaurant.

After graduating from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Interior Design, Brooks headed to Toronto where he worked for leading design firm Yabu Pushelberg (Bymark, Fin) for 6 years. He then returned to Vancouver to work for R.M. Ledingham before setting up Box Interior Design with Penner in 2002.

As Vancouver prepares for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Brooks shares more about his work and his thoughts about the design and development of his hometown.


DE: Tell us a bit about Box Interior Design and the work you do.

JB: We started our company as a response to Vancouver’s lack of true design focused design firms out there and felt we could fill that available niche…There are lots of design firms in the city, but very few that approach design in an innovative and value added way. Most big cities in North America have firms that win international awards and are published frequently and take the approach that innovative design also means good business. The majority of firms practicing seem to take the more “on time – on budget” approach, but never go beyond into making truly evocative and interesting spaces (that also function well).

View of award-winning Coast Restaurant by Box Interior Design

DE: You’ve designed a number of restaurants in Vancouver. Talk to us about the dining scene in the city.

JB: The dining scene here in Vancouver is extremely vibrant – a true foodie city. I believe anywhere there is a strong tie between readily available fresh produce and product, motivated chefs will gravitate there. Also, because of our true multi-cultured face of the city, we have many varied regional types of dining available. With our strong Asian and South Asian presence, there are many great Chinese, Japanese and Korean places (along with all the sub-categories of each area).

DE: What about the design side of restaurants? What do you think about the ties between food and design here?

JB: Vancouver is geographically beautiful, but is not strong on design — maybe people thought in the past that design wasn’t necessary in the context of its location. The city is also very young (barely 100 years old), so maybe not confident in challenging design norms? A new generation of architects and designers are trying to change this.

I think previously that if a restaurant had a great chef and menu, that was enough, but competition has forced restaurateurs to realize the value design adds to creating a strong individual presence in the marketplace.

BC Place, site of the opening and closing Winter Olympic ceremonies

DE: With the upcoming Winter Olympics being held in Vancouver, how has the landscape of the city changed?

JB: We have the new Olympic village at the south side of False Creek. It was a bit of an industrial wasteland, and now seemingly overnight it has been developed as a beautiful new, modern neighbourhood; similar to the north side of False Creek (the edge of the trendy Yaletown neighbourhood). There has been a positive outlook that has carried through the last few years when things were not as great. Generally Vancouver has fared better economically than most other cities in Canada and the US.

NEXT: Jay shares his tips on great Vancouver shops, museums, and of course, restaurants!
(Click here to check it out…)

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2 Responses to “Design Focused Design”

  1. [...] teamed up with local designer, H. Jay Brooks from Box Interior Design (see our interview with him here!) to highlight some of the stylish and hip locales for your next visit to this beautiful coastal [...]

  2. [...] teamed up with local designer, H. Jay Brooks from Box Interior Design (read our interview with him here!) to highlight some of the stylish and [...]

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