11/13/2012 07:53 EST | Updated 01/12/2013 05:12 EST

Why Brad Pitt's New Furniture Design Actually Matters


It's easy to be cynical when celebrities sell their name to plug products. You can almost smell the mountain of cash Brad Pitt is earning for promoting a certain numbered perfume. He's also in the news for lending his name to a line of high-design furniture, but this deal has an altogether better fragrance.

Don't get me wrong. While I enjoyed A River Runs Through It and Moneyball, I am no great fan of Brad Pitt. Somehow the good looks and star power get in the way of his craft. However, as the Hollywood A-lister prepares to launch a collection of furniture today designed in partnership with designer and craftsman, Frank Pollaro, it might be time to revisit this position.

When you dig deeper into the story, first revealed by Architectural Digest, it turns out Pitt is not doing this for the money. He is truly fascinated by design, a passion that started in university when he took an architecture course in the hope of an easy credit. The early response from the design industry has ranged from very positive to downright nasty.

Instead of mocking Pitt's work, the architect and design community needs to appreciate the opportunity to inspire a broader interest in great design. Consider the toughest audience out there: teenagers. They embrace great design, be it the latest iPhone or Beats By Dr. Dre headphones.

But great design isn't just about consumption. It may well play a leading role in saving the environment by doing more with less.


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Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and while much of Hollywood participated in telethon fundraisers and talk show appearances, Pitt took a different approach. He turned to his passion for design -- led by the architecture of Charles Renee Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright -- and decided to do something practical. He helped launch Make it Right, a remarkable organization dedicated to creating well-designed, environmentally friendly and affordable housing. The lineage is direct. Both Mackintosh and Wright believed that every design detail mattered, both in function and in creating environments that communities care about.

Tour Chicago's Oak Park district and you see that not only stunning Wright homes are preserved and restored, but the entire neighbourhood is better as a result, with informed owners proudly maintaining their neighbourhood more than a century after the homes were built.

The magic of Make it Right, and similar organizations is the belief that good design is not just a luxury for the well off. It is in fact the means by which problems of aesthetic, environment, social need, sustainability and even happiness are solved. Spend time in the Granville Island district of Vancouver, or Notting Hill in London and look around.

Sure there are challenges of income disparity, NIMBYism and infrastructure needs, but beyond this there is a resident population that does more than live and work in the area; they live for the area. Lets hope this transformational community building will be brought to those who have lost homes as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.

Other countries have some lessons to offer us. Take Spain, where the average person's love of great design goes far beyond clothes and cool scooters. It's part of their identity. You can't go to Barcelona without feeling the legacy of one its most famous citizens, architect Antoni Gaudí.

For Italians, design is part of their national identity. From the world's most beautiful cars to a seemingly endless variety of pasta, form and function add passion to everyday life.

As Canada's biggest cities, especially Toronto, undergo a building boom not seen in our lifetime, we should ask if we are creating communities that we can be proud of.

It's not good enough to have a tower that is known for being the tallest or a suite for being the smallest or most expensive. Or even ones shaped like a Hollywood starlet. The world's great cities are made up of micro neighborhoods sustained by well-designed buildings, homes and public spaces. In this once in a generation time, Mackintosh, Wright and surprisingly Brad Pitt too remind us just how much designing the world around us matters.