Ryerson interior design students host exhibit at Mackenzie House

Photo courtesy of Jill Raison

How can a historic building be reimagined, still have its past left intact and attract a 21st century audience? Fourth-year Ryerson University school of interior design students set out to accomplish just that as part of a class project, by putting a modern twist on Toronto’s Mackenzie House.

William Lyon Mackenzie, Mackenzie House’s namesake, was the first mayor of Toronto and the leader of the Rebellion of 1837. His career and public life have been extensively documented but, according to house curator Nancy Reynolds, Victorian-era Toronto did little to acknowledge the women in Mackenzie’s life.

“As fascinating as Mackenzie is, to try to find his wife, his daughters (in history) is really hard,” Reynolds said. “A lot of the work the students did picked up on the ideas of feminine and male spheres.”
The students set up installations in each room that aim to recreate how the house would’ve looked if the Mackenzie family still lived there.

“Things they came up with blew me away and we were able to physically do it and install it into the rooms,” said Reynolds. “These aren’t just student projects but art projects strong enough to stand up in the rooms.”

Ryerson interior design student Jocelyn Oprzedek was a part of the “Hanging Threads” installation, which focused on embroidery.
“We wanted to highlight (the Mackenzie women) in the installation. Females embroidered in Victorian times because they wanted to be seen by society as diligent,” Oprzedek said.

“Hanging Threads” has three main components: a doorknob, a dictionary and a wall hanging. The pieces were 3D printed and combined with cross-stitched thread.

Bringing modern technology into the Mackenzie House was a popular theme among the installations. Jill Raison and Kristen Lund utilized virtual reality (VR) in their “Ripple” installation.

“VR is usually used to visualize something forward in time and we went backwards. We wanted to take the viewer through time as if Mackenzie still lived there,” Raison said. Raison and Lund aimed to create this interactive experience without disturbing the artifacts in the house.

“We named it ‘Ripple’ because it ripples through the time periods and how they interconnect with each other,” said Lund. “History repeats itself but also evolves.”

VR brings viewers through the 1930s depression, the bold ‘70s and the tech boom of the late-aughts-through-2010s. Elements of the Mackenzie House were kept in the installation to show how the family would’ve lived through the evolution.

“Usually, house museums attract an older audience and trying to connect to a younger audience drove us,” said Raison. Visitors will also be able to print a souvenir on a 1850s cast iron press that Mackenzie owned.

The “Hanging Threads” and “Ripple” designers are thankful that their associate professor, Andrew Furman, transformed a regular class project into an art exhibit.

“Usually, our projects are more conceptual so it was interesting to create something that would be applied to a real museum,” Oprzedek said. “We’re not just pinning up a poster of our floor plan; we’re creating something tangible. (Furman) gave us so much freedom and I’m really happy I had that experience right before graduation.”

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