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Move over, Ikea

The designer duo at JM&Sons is making waves in Toronto’s furniture scene

Mackenzie Duncan and Junior Ayotte combine found materials and a modern touch. Credit: Courtesy of JM&Sons

There’s a lot to love about Ikea. If you’re a student living on the cheap, or if, like me, you want a kitchen re-do that doesn’t cost the earth, then Sweden’s most famous expat is definitely the place to go. But let’s face it: their furniture is, well, crap. It’s cheaply made, looks dated in a few short years and each piece lasts about twice as long as it takes to put the damn thing together. 

On the other end of the spectrum are those designer pieces that look fantastic, are solidly made and, oh yes, will set you back several months’ pay in order to get something half-decent to cushion your over-worked ass. But thanks to the surging popularity of reclaimed and repurposed furniture, there is a vast spectrum of quality, affordable home furnishings that don’t look like they came flat-packed in cardboard.

JM&Sons arrived on the furniture scene just a few months ago but have quickly made a name for themselves with a respectable line that embraces both practicality and beauty. Surprisingly, partners Mackenzie Duncan and Junior Ayotte originally had no intention of going into business when they started designing and building furniture in their spare time. “We did it for ourselves at first,” Ayotte says. “Then friends would come over and start commenting on what they saw, asking if we sold pieces. It sort of grew from there.”

Ayotte’s background is in finance, though his fashion-industry parents nurtured their son’s love of design in their small-town Quebec home. It was during his studies at McGill that Ayotte began to indulge his more artistic side. “I was going into banking, but there’d always been that void in my life. So while I was doing my MBA, I got that flame that I wanted through design and furniture.”

For Duncan, a professional photographer based out of New York, the excitement of designing for others has quickly become a passion. He’s toying with plans to take on the welding aspect of JM&Sons’ production, something the design duo currently outsources to a local welder. But the real fun comes in collaboration.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Duncan says. “It was a bit of a surprise when the turning point came, when our friends started wanting things. That’s when we thought that what we were making might have an appeal.”

The two went about launching their line in innovative ways. Their website is a clean and easy-to-navigate online shop, but they also have taken part in several pop-up sales — including a recent stint inside a shipping container on Dundas Street. 

Duncan and Ayotte’s aesthetic is a great mesh of found materials and modern line. The barn boards that make up many of their desks, benches, tables and chairs are frequently from old barns, solid and rich looking in a way found only in old-growth forest wood. The addition of metal bases or accents is subtle, beautifully showcasing the natural form and patina of the wood, giving a timeless yet current feel. Their new lightning line is inspired, with wood bases housing vintage-style bulbs from a bygone era. It’s clean and fresh with an antique feel that eschews fussiness.

“Mackenzie and I are pretty strict,” Ayotte says. “We don’t like overly complex things, so everything is very clean lines. 

“And since we also live in small spaces, it has to be highly functional and scaled for metropolitan homes. Otherwise we’d be designing nine-foot-long dining-room tables, but nobody could afford the space!”