By Jody Racicot
Magazine Issue: Spring/Summer 2022
I can still remember the long, dark wood hi-fi console that dominated my grandmother’s small living room. It seemed to take centre stage, leaving barely enough space for a couch, low coffee table, plum coloured vinyl La-Z-Boy and collection of Blue Mountain pottery. During the summer of ’75, I sat listening to my aunt Bonnie’s Bay City Rollers records ring through the diamond patterned speaker grills on that hi-fi console.
These days, I frequent second hand stores looking for salvage to use in the furniture I make and it’s not unusual for me to stumble on old hi-fi consoles. People buy them to repurpose the wooden shell into a credenza or to perform some other Ikea-hack like transformation. It’s not their frames I’m interested in though, I’m curious about their guts. Tucked inside the cabinetry, I find outdated solid-state AM/FM receivers or (if it’s old enough) a tube amplifier that’s more of a fire hazard than gateway to audio nirvana. I crack open lids hoping I might be lucky and find a venerable Garrard 301 or even a midrange Dual 1015 four speed automatic turntable. But more often, I uncover a low-end Lloyd’s auto changer with a broken needle.
However, not all vintage consoles were destined for thrift stores, curbsides or landfills. Project G and the later G2 stereo, which were produced by Toronto-based Clairtone Sound Corporation, were the pinnacle of hi-fi console design. In The Art of Clairtone, Nina Munk and Rachel Gotlieb chronicle the rise and fall of the company and offer a glimpse into an era when a hi-fi console was integral to a well-appointed living room. Today, Project G's fetch a premium, having fared better with collectors than their mass marketed Zenith or Electrohome counterparts.
As a designer and maker of furniture inspired by both thrift store and collector edition hi-fi’s, I set out to assemble my own console. Combining wood cabinetry and new technology, my first attempt came together in 2011. Dubbed HiFi, the piece stands about four feet tall, four feet across and is a foot deep. Unlike traditional rectangular stereo consoles, it’s not box-shaped but rather anthropomorphic, with a pair of bug-eyed speakers and four bowed legs, created by stacking up glued strips of cherry wood and pressing them into bent forms. A Bluetooth receiver and digital amplifier are discreetly buried in the centre stack with only a red glowing LED and volume control knob visible.
When I showed HiFi in the Studio North section at the Interior Design Show in Toronto, I was approached by a design industry executive who asked, “Can you make us 20 of those?” That deal never materialized but HiFi was never going to be a design that could be easily produced in numbers – at least not by me – given that the original took me four months to complete. A couple years later, the prototype sold on the first day it landed in a western Canadian art gallery.
My follow-up console, Record Player on a Concrete Stand, was truer to the classic stereo form, although embellished with curves as I like to do. I designed the concrete base to provide a substantial foundation and to contrast with the Arbutus wood veneered cabinet. I added vermiculite and perlite – natural minerals – in the mortar mix to give the concrete a little sparkle, and poured it into a plywood form in my basement workshop, located in Canoe Cove, PEI, during the cold January of 2019.
On the sound production front, Record Player on a Concrete Stand contains a vintage manual ARXA turntable refurbished by the Turntable Shop in North Vancouver. The inset pre-amplifier is made by Shannon Parks of Parks Audio while the power is generated by a reproduction Dynakit ST-35 tube amplifier sporting vintage Soviet era tubes. The mix of modern and vintage electronics complement the physical styling. As one observer noted, “It looks like it could have been designed decades ago or decades from now.” The whole thing takes up less real estate than a vintage console but makes a bold statement nonetheless.
Record players offer a ritualistic, hands-on experience that you don’t get with a streaming device and a Bluetooth speaker. With Record Player on a Concrete Stand, I’ve worked to capture the essence of old consoles by creating an entertainment centre that friends and family can gather around. My wife and I sit together some evenings and listen to a record, enjoying the sounds and each other’s company. My teak and aluminum LP Cabinet (another of my yet to be reproduced designs) sits a few feet away, housing a collection of about 200 contemporary and classic records – none of which are the Bay City Rollers.
Jody Racicot designs and builds one of a kind furniture and sculpture imbued with narrative. He recently directed a video series about craft artists working in Prince Edward Island which can be seen at www.peicraftdocs.com.