A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table is a wooden table set designed to facilitate community interactions. A reflection of my time spent in Quepos, Costa Rica for a Design Abroad course, this furniture piece is adorned with traditional Costa Rican painting styles and made from found materials. A Seat at the Table was built with sustainability in mind, in light of our focus on developing a waste management system while in Quepos, and can be visited at its permanent home in the Evergreen Brickworks.

Project Context

In 2019, I was lucky enough to be selected as a student for OCAD University’s Design Abroad course. Design Abroad offers students a unique opportunity to work internationally with a local community to co-design solutions that have a meaningful impact. Our class, composed of 16 multidisciplinary designers, worked in El Cocal, a small informal community located next to the town of Quepos, Costa Rica, to co-design a comprehensive waste management solution alongside Global Visions International (GVI), a social enterprise focused on community development programs.  For our final assignment of the course, when we had returned to our homes in Canada, we were asked to create a design that reflected our experience in Costa Rica, which would be displayed in a gallery later that year.  

About the Design

This design piece, titled A Seat at the Table, is a picnic table designed to facilitate community interactions between strangers in a space. Sharing stories, knowledge, and food with the people of El Cocal and my classmates became a big part of what I loved the most about being in Costa Rica. The people of El Cocal reminded me that happiness is not a reflection of the things you own, the money you have, or the amount of success others perceive you to have – we can find happiness in each other and in an appreciation of what we are already so lucky to have. This piece is a reflection of this incredible learning experience and what I valued most from our time spent in El Cocal; community.

While I literally wanted onlookers to take a seat at the table and to get to know the individuals they shared the space with, the title is meant to be a double entendre. To have “a seat at the table” not only means that you are a part of the conversation, but that you have as much say as anyone else around the table; this theme underpinned all of our work in Costa Rica, ensuring that our comprehensive waste management solutions be co-designed with the community it was meant to serve.

My approach to the fabrication of A Seat at the Table was to create seating that is as simplistic as possible. In El Cocal, household items such as tables, chairs, and barbeques, were often made from found objects and materials such as scrap wood or rebar. In lieu of this, all of the wood and nails I used to make this piece are reused materials, mostly from pallets often discarded in the industrial area of my neighbourhood. Much of the structural design was made as I built the piece because I was limited to a hammer and chop saw. 

The intricate, hand-painted patterns found in the piece reference a painting style we saw through Costa Rica, called La Carreta Tipica, which has a rich history in the decoration of prized possessions, specifically Ox Carts in the turn of the 20th century. I felt La Carreta Tipica was the perfect expression of the colour, nature, and beauty found in Costa Rica and paid homage to the experiences that shaped this piece. 

During the run of the Design Abroad gallery in November of 2019, I watched strangers and friends meet at my table to enjoy conversations and meals together in the centre of OCAD University’s Great Hall. Happy to see the success of my design, I knew I wanted to find a permanent home for this piece so that it could continue to facilitate community interactions for years to come. Due to the focus on found and reused materials, I was approached by the Evergreen Brick Works, a facility located in Toronto’s Don River Valley with a mission to make cities more livable, green and prosperous, about what I planned to do with the table after the gallery concluded. Ecstatic about this ideal partnership, A Seat at the Table has since been permanently housed in Evergreen’s TD Future Cities Centre, where visitors can use it to enjoy a meal, complete an educational activity, or converse with members of their community. 


La Carreta Tipica painted oxcart
Image of La Carreta Tipica on an oxcart. Photo taken by Nickodemo.
Long picnic benches at the Wide Mouth Frog Hostel in Quepos, where we stayed for the duration of our trip. These benches were used to converse with classmates, locals, and GVI volunteers.

Illustrator Tracing Guides

An example of a tracing guide I created in Adobe Illustrator, to be projected onto the furniture to be traced and painted in, based on various reference images of La Carreta Tipica.

Fabrication Process

Fully constructed table made entirely out of found material, mostly deconstructed shipping pallets and the discards of an old patio deck, prior to painting.

Drawing Process

After painting the table and benches a bright red, as is often customary, I projected the La Carreta Tipica patterns I had made in Adobe Illustrator and traced them onto the table with marker.

Painting Process

After painting large blocks of colour based on my marker outlines, I outlined each colour blocked section with a fine paintbrush and white paint.

Final Design

Final design completely painted in La Caretta Tipica style.


Photo of me sitting with my final design at Design Abroad: Costa Rica Exhibition held in OCAD University's Great Hall.

Evergreen Brickworks

Photo of final design in its permanent home at Evergreen Brickworks' TD Future Cities Centre.
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