Trent University embodied Ron Thom’s ideal of a gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art”, for which the architect would design, commission or otherwise oversee each component of the building from the outside in, from the gardens to the ashtrays. including its original furniture, which quickly became famous. He designed much of the furniture as beautiful built-in benches and millwork embedded within the actual building. He also created intricate standalone tables and stools, and specified highly sophisticated avant-garde chairs from internationally renowned designers.
His original furniture designs are deeply informed by the work of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whom Thom revered. Like Wright, Thom’s ideal mode of furniture-making was not factory production but hand-crafted. He considered the quality and pattern of the woodgrain even when devising the most basic millwork for the university’s service areas. His more prominent tables, for the dining hall and boardrooms and common areas, are crafted using different kinds of wood with beautifully detailed corners and undersides, often with intricate notches and joinery. His built-in furniture included not only wooden millwork but also concrete benches that seem to grow right out of the walls.
Thom also specified a top-notch selection of chairs by other designers, effectively creating a gallery highlighted by the world’s top Chari designers: Harry Bertoia, Michael Thonet, Eero Saarinen, Arne Jacobsen, Charles Eames, Bruno Mathsson, Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint.