Nancy Bendtsen is co-owner and designer extraordinaire at Inform Interiors, one of ASPAC’s long-term partners for furniture, interior decor and housewares.
As you would expect from a well-travelled design mind, Nancy has dipped a discerning toe in almost every type of water you can imagine, from Toronto to Moscow. Even so, her favourite water is right here in Vancouver. But it may not be the H2O you were expecting. We caught up with her at her oceanside home on the Sunshine Coast.
First water memory
Probably having a bath as a child. But also learning to swim; learning was horrid. I was the eldest of my brothers and sisters, and grew up in Scarborough, Toronto. It was cold and horrible, and I was a little bit scared and alone.
Salt or fresh?
I love looking at the ocean. But probably — for swimming — a fresh lake or a pool, as opposed to the sea. There’s too many weird things in the sea.
I get seasick so I like it to be really flat. We also have paddleboards. But really Nancy is a lounger. Give me my sun hat, a Kindle and a glass of water, no ice.
Still or sparkling?
Still. I love drinking water, I love tea and coffee too but I would always prefer more water.
Strangely, the best water I ever drank was in Moscow. When I was 14, I did my Centennial Project. We had a thing called Ship School — I worked two and a half years to earn my fare: $977! We flew to London, got on an old British troop carrier and sailed around. We went up to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and then took a train to Moscow. That was the first time water quality really hit me — at a hotel in Moscow. They served water and it was the most exquisite water I ever had in my life. Never tasted anything like it since.
Growing up in The Mistake on the Lake
We used to go to Centre Island in Toronto. My grandmother took us there on a little ferry. That’s when I was really young. Later we moved to a house that had a view of the lake. My parents bought a cottage north of Toronto, near Gravenhurst on Lake Muskoka.
Living by The Seine
I did my first year of architecture in Paris. When I was there in the early seventies, you couldn’t get along the banks like you can now. But I had a wonderful chambre de bonne when I was an au pair and I had the most phenomenal view over the Gare d’Orsay (now the Musée d’Orsay) all the way to Sacre Coeur. It was a seven storey walk-up.
Working on Water Street
Our store is on Water Street and we bought it in 1970. Now we have two stores, one across from the other. Originally, Water Street was on the water until the CPR filled in the shoreline to make the tracks and the station.
Water is home
I got involved in alternative energy and moved to Calgary. I was working to help change the world by having cars running on compressed natural gas — we didn’t get far with that did we?! But finally we moved to Vancouver. And I literally got out of the car and said This. Is. Home.
My God, I love it here. What I love about the water here is I love the rain and I love the way it smells. Like even this morning, I just woke up and went to the window — and it had rained a little bit overnight and it’s — aaaaahhh! (Turns out the word for that fresh rain smell is petrichor. Who knew?)
Even when you come out of the airport, you just smell the moisture. Water on the lichen, the cedar, the firs, water on the granite, on the bedrock. I love the rain here.
We have two homes here — we built a house in West Van about 25 years ago, with a view of the ocean, and all the happenings on the ocean. We have a fantastic app called Marine Traffic where you can actually investigate every boat or ship that’s out on the water — where it’s going even.
About three years ago we bought a place on the Sunshine Coast. I don’t need much here. We’re on the ocean — and we have a pool. We’ve got three kids and now we have grandkids, so we wanted a bigger place where people could come and hang. It was supposed to be a weekend place but with COVID we’ve been here more.
The art of rain
Oki Sato is a Japanese artist who went to school in Toronto. He’s also known as Nendo. He did a project in Milan a few years ago with a collection of 50 clear bottles. It was the most fabulous celebration of words for rain in the Japanese language. It opened up my mind to rain in a different way. Japanese has specific words for rain ‘when it takes the pollen off the leaves’ or ‘a rain that happens at sunset.’
Final word on water
I always say to people from out of town — it rains here. Don’t move here! (Laughing!)
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Words: Iain Ferguson