Design Heavyweight

In the Ring with Russel Spanner

Russell Spanner receiving the National Industrial Design Council award from C.D. Howe, Minister of Trade and Commerce, 1954

Before he was a designer, Russell Spanner was an amateur wrestling champion and night-shift manager at his family’s woodworking factory. The company, Spanner Products Ltd., manufactured cedar battery separators and a small line of furniture that included table tennis tables and Art Deco breakfast room suites. In 1945, Spanner was reassigned to superintend the day shift where he oversaw furniture production, marking the moment when his creative muscles began to flex. Tired of the outdated breakfast furniture, Spanner designed a line of fresh, modular forms with modern lines and a space-age feel. When his father retired in 1948 Ruspan was promoted to plant foreman and finally able to put his designs into production. Launched in 1950, the Ruspan Originals collection was a hit, and four years later he received the National Design Council of Canada award for his work. Still a wrestler and showman at heart, Ruspan was known to test the strength of his designs by standing on them and throwing pieces across the factory floor. Two more successful lines followed Ruspan Originals, the California-inspired Catalina Line and the cork-centric Pasadina Line, and Ruspan continued to create unique designs until the company was dissolved in 1963.