Williamson Chong Architects founding partner Donald Chong has a long list of go-to products to share, but he can’t help but first rave about his hometown of Toronto, where he still lives and works. Visitors looking for great architecture, he says, would be remiss not to include—in addition to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto-Dominion Centre and Viljo Revell’s city hall—the city’s array of communities, the Algonquin Island community in the Toronto Islands, and Queen Street West. “There’s a commitment to the public realm that you see,” Chong says. Residents are aware that “what happens on your particular lot will have an impact across your neighborhood.”
Not surprisingly, Chong gravitates to materials and products with which “we can conspire to design something that ultimately leads us to better cities.” Wood is a favorite medium for its versatility and resiliency. “It weathers and patinas in a way that reminds us that materials and spaces should only appreciate,” he says. His litmus test for good design is simple: “Can it last?” When specifying or designing a furniture piece, for instance, he’ll mull over its construction: “If you can build it well, you can make it last.” After all, in a pedestrian-friendly city such as Toronto, he says, “it’s better to have a good table than a good car.”
Cutlery. When Chong helps clients select cutlery, he gravitates to collections by the late Danish designer Arne Jacobsen, such as his eponymous 1957 matte stainless steel flatware for Georg Jensen. “Pieces of the kitchen also become part of your home,” he says.
Credit: Courtesy Georg Jensen
Old Master. The “consummate architect and designer,” Peter Behrens employed Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius, and he looked to industrial, graphic, and textile designs to develop “a new take on design that wasn’t ornamentally driven or another derivative of what the ruling classes wanted,” Chong says.
Credit: Max Liebermann
Fenestration. Wood windows can incorporate tempered glass technology, high-performance insulated glass units, and custom frames to “get the natural light, ventilation, and views that let us use otherwise tough proportions of narrow urban homes,” Chong says. Tradewood’s windows typically minimize sash dimensions, maximize views, and integrate the screen intelligently. “The material quality of wood is in fact the bonus,” he says.
Credit: Courtesy Tradewood Windows and Doors
, the blog for Mjölk serves as a source of inspiration as well as a catalog of products that are “good, relevant, worldly, but local, too,” Chong says.
Credit: Sali Tabacchi
Cladding. Masonry “speaks to the brick culture of Toronto, which depended heavily on its clay deposits for its earliest buildings,” Chong says. Brick’s durability, thermal mass, and material connection to the earth “also work well with our contemporary interests,” he says. His favorite is Endicott’s face brick in dark ironspot.
Credit: Courtesy Endicott
Bed Linens. The “original midcentury modern textile company,” Marimekko is Williamson Chong Architects’ go-to source for the firm’s residential projects, Chong says. “We like to point to the provenance of a company or material that we’re specifying.”
Credit: Courtesy Marimekko
Architecture. Nestled amidst a wealth of neighborhood services and amenities, the Oxbridge-style Massey College, in the University of Toronto, was designed by Canadian architect Ron Thom, “who made something of a masterpiece in the 1960s,” Chong says. Clearly, a stop on his must-see list for architects and planners in Toronto.
Storefront. Chong is a frequent visitor to Mjölk, a Toronto gallery and purveyor of high-design furniture and handmade dinnerware with a Nordic and Japanese feel.
Credit: Courtesy Mjölk
Furniture. Urban Tree Salvage, a Canadian company, makes “wonderful stools that double as tables from felled trees that would otherwise become mulch,” Chong says. “The 18- to 20-inch height is so versatile” and “they’re still made one by one.”
Credit: Courtesy Urban Tree Salvage
Williamson Chong Architects’ Bala Line House, in the Moore Park neighborhood of Toronto. Chong values wood’s ability to reinforce the heart of a home or neighborhood.
Credit: Bob Gundu
“Small Fridges Make Good Cities,” the firm’s custom, reusable installation for the 2007 exhibition “Offspring: Inspired by Nature.”
Credit: Bob Gundu