North Van couple finds Canadian identity in hockey-inspired homewares

The term “ride the pine,” as any respectable Canadian hockey fan knows, signifies that a player has been benched, or is currently out of the game.

It is ironic that the dynamic creative duo behind design brand Riding the Pine, artists David and Kaoru Coates, chose the term, as this husband and wife team aren’t in the habit of taking time off.   

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"It's a play on a really Canadian term, and also something where you're sort of relaxing and you're not having to do too much," David Coates says with a chuckle. The brand’s logo pays tribute to the couple's pet terrier, seen surfing the pine.

Kaoru and David originally met at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 1988, where Kaoru studied ceramics and furniture, and David graphic design.

The duo now fill their busy days in key roles at ION Brand Design, where David is strategy director, and Kaoru does the books and manages HR, and in the evenings and on weekends moonlight from their North Vancouver home, developing their passion project.

"There's a desire to get your hands dirty and do something that isn't client-motivated, and is more creative," David says. "It was an idea that we could do something together towards our retirement, and it actually grew a little faster than we anticipated."

Inspiration first struck in 2014 when the family took a trip to the south of France. Kaoru began exploring the art scene, was inspired by the beauty of the handcrafted textiles, and noticed a gap in the Canadian market.  

"When you go to another country, and you want to bring something to your friends, and you always try to look for something that presents Canada that you're proud of, and it's kind of maple syrup, smoked salmon, and something here and there, but you wish you could have something more artsy, and interesting, and good quality. We wanted to make something beautiful, but at the same time practical, that people can use," Kaoru remembers.

The couple started brainstorming the Riding the Pine concept that year and launched the company in early 2015.

“What really drove us on was this idea of bringing Canadiana to the forefront, and making good quality textiles and artwork," David says.  

Riding the Pine’s product line currently includes textiles like tea towels and pillows, totes and courier bags.

The couple also makes cocktail accessories such as their humorous Lesser Known Canadian Wildlife series of carved coasters and reverse laser cut maple walnut coasters, 300 of which were recently given as corporate gifts to represent Canada at a diplomat dinner in Arizona, hosted by the by the Canadian Council of the Federation Secretariat.

North Van couple finds Canadian identity in hockey-inspired homewares _1
Reverse laser cut maple walnut coasters. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

The brand’s Shadow Boxes, wall-mounted pieces of art featuring carved shapes depicting iconic Canadian symbols like the Queen’s head, moose, beavers, salmon, and bears, denote a nationalism and pride for Canadian culture. The shapes are carved in the Shadow Boxes and filled with reclaimed hockey sticks within the shapes.

David works with broken hockey stick materials sourced from Doug Mitchell arena (formerly Thunderbird) at UBC and laser cuts the posters, while Kaoru designs the textiles.

"It's a 10 touch, two-to-three week process of making the box, cutting the sticks, laser cutting the motifs, and processing the outside of the box, sanding, and putting medium on," David explains.  

"When I started doing the hockey stick artwork, it was more about making statements about Canada, I was trying to do these flag pieces, [maple leaves] with quotes, and they were a little bit kitschy, and they've evolved over the last couple of years, to the [hockey] sticks being a texture in the background, and the animals coming to the forefront," David says.  

For the Coates, the art is all about Canadian identity and developing pieces that depict Canadian iconography, for national, and potentially international markets.

David says that what started off with kitschy artwork is becoming more sophisticated in its design, and he and Kaoru are working towards making it a nationwide brand.

"We're as successful as we can be at this point,” David said. “We have a problem with keeping our SKU [stock keeping unit] down.”

Riding the Pine currently retails at Favourite Gifts & Accessories in Lonsdale Quay, Bird on a Wire Creations on Main Street in Vancouver, Paper Label in Deep Cove, Second Nature Boutique on Commercial Drive, and Branches & Knots on West Broadway.   

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