Madmen on the Otonabee

Photo by Alice Froude

If I told you that the furniture that rests inside Trent’s walls was of significant value, would you believe me? If I told you that many of the people who designed this furniture have works in the most visited museum in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, would you believe me? A fourth year business student, Richard Love, saw the value, history, and meaning in the internal architecture at Trent and has developed an exhibition to showcase the work.

What started as a fourth year legacy business project has become much, much more. Love hopes to document these famous works, hand-picked by Trent’s architect Ron Thom, to remind students, alumni, and the public of how significant the furniture is.

Love stated, “The exhibition will showcase the mid-century modern furniture from designers of international repute that was chosen by Ron Thom for Trent, but will focus on the Ron Thom furniture designed for Trent.”

“What is important for me is to share why the furniture is a valuable and necessary part to what the institution of Trent was built to offer.”

In 1964 architect Ron Thom was given specific instructions for the design of Trent’s campus. It was written that campus should be “a place of aesthetic as well as of intellectual excitement.”
This would involve not only designing the exterior, but also demanded the careful selection of items of furniture for classrooms, offices, and great halls that would maintain a close working, intimate atmosphere for students and professors.

Love asserts that “the furniture chosen for each room matched the purpose of the room and the location of the furniture was precise — to encourage conversation.”

What is more, the furniture that was specifically designed by Ron Thom for Trent would not be sold or reproduced anywhere else. The furniture inside Trent’s walls is incredibly unique and very valuable in maintaining a history and a heritage.

“The Scandinavian mid-century modern furniture at Trent from the likes of Saarinen, Bertoia, Wegner, Klint, and Jacobsen is known and recognized as some of the most famous and best designs representing early modernism in existence.”

“You can sit in a ‘Paimio’ chair by Alvar Aalto while you wait for your class to start, or read in a Arne Jacobsen ‘Swan Chair’ in the basement of Bata library.”

It is perhaps surprising then, that the designs that were created or selected by Thom have never really been documented or exhibited. According to Love, Trent has a bad habit of simply disposing of this furniture when it is broken or no longer needed. “When if the furniture was placed in one room, the collection would be one of the strongest most complete showings of mid-century modern furniture in Canada.” So, a business project turned exhibit turned something even greater than that has developed.

Love hopes that, “The creation of a preservation fund will provide the means to repair some of the broken furniture and allow it to remain in use. More importantly, the creation of the fund will draw attention to the ‘interior architecture’ of Trent University and the value of the furniture that was either chosen for or designed specifically for Trent.” Not only does this preservation bring a fund to protect the furniture, it brings attention to what Trent is really here to do.

Love says, “What angers me is that Trent is unknowingly abandoning its founding principles in a way that is avoidable and I strongly believe important. Rooms like the LEC pit, where students use to gather to talk are now empty because there is no longer furniture in it.”

Overall, Love asserts, “I feel that it is my duty to identify this furniture and bring light to these undocumented and little known designs, which I know are worthy of attention.”
Based in ARTSPACE, 378 Aylmer St. N, this fascinating exhibit opened on April 28, where the president founder of Trent, Tom Symons, had the opportunity to speak. It will run until April 6. The exhibit is free of charge, and students are encouraged to attend.

This exhibition is clearly significant in reminding students and alumni of Trent’s original goals, and in recognizing the historical value and meaning of the internal architecture.