Canadian Design Brand EQ3 Turns 20 + Expands Across North America

High-quality furniture and home goods for design-minded individuals

Headquartered in Winnipeg, Canada, the design brand EQ3 (a reference to the emotional quotient of three-dimensional spaces) turned 20 this April—and to accompany the anniversary, they’ve reinforced their presence in the US. Known for premium furniture, home goods and accessories (many of which have been designed and manufactured in Canada) as well as a detailed customization platform, the vertically integrated brand’s reputation, repertoire and prices please people across North America. And their expansion efforts make good design even more accessible.

EQ3’s president Mark Letain joined the brand’s family-owned parent company, Palliser, almost two decades ago. “They have a more-than-80-year tradition of furniture-making,” he tells us, “and they’re well-known for being the largest upholstery manufacturer in Canada.” EQ3 was spun out of the brand, when the family realized there simply was not a lot of modern furniture coming from Canada. Letain transitioned to EQ3 from Palliser in 2006 and, before becoming president in 2017, he ran everything from the supply chain to customer care and even the finances.

“Our mantra is Canadian by design,” Letain says. “That speaks to the furniture-making tradition we have here. It also speaks to the fact that our company is a big proponent in partnering with other Canadian designers. We have a lot of Canadian designers behind our products, either in-house or by invitation. We continue to invite other Canadian designers into our ecosystem, too.” Letain says Canadian design is dynamic; a blending of styles that’s influenced by Europe but accommodating to the diverse needs across their nation and all of North America.

In November 2019, EQ3 opened a new flagship store, perhaps surprisingly, in NYC. “The majority of our stories are in Canada, but in 2019 we decided to grow and become a bricks-and-clicks company. We invested in our e-commerce capabilities but we also thought our aesthetic would work well in the US. We felt we were in a place where we could enter that market and compete, and maybe give a fresh look to modern design.” The 11,800-square-foot flagship was designed by EQ3’s then creative director, Thom Fougere, who bucked the Chelsea corner’s brick surroundings and committed to an airy, open glass and steel grid. A spacious design haven, the multi-level store lets customers easily interact with their decades of designs.

In any of their stores and online, one will find a wide swath of contemporary design stylings. “Some speak to the North American preference for comfort and lounging, like our Cello, which you can sink into it. It’s a big sectional and it’s comfortable,” Letain says, “but then we have something like our Replay, a firmer sit with a lower back. It’s more upright and for smaller spaces. We are trying to meet the needs where the desire for European modernism and style meet the comfort requirements of North America. We live between those worlds.”

In the next 20 years, EQ3 wants to position themselves as a leader of affordable modern design in North America. “When people think they want to get a beautiful, long-lasting piece of furniture that’s affordable and approachable, we want our name to come to mind,” Letain says. Manufacturing and sustainability are two factors that might make this aspiration a reality. Both are integral to their brand values.

“The purchase of furniture is up there among the largest purchases many people will make,” Letain says. “Not only is designing it important, making it is important. We make as much as we can because we want to be able to stand behind the pieces. We obsess about things like the frame construction or foam build-up. You can’t own the quality of what you sell if you don’t make it.” In Winnipeg, their R&D office is directly the manufacturing facility. There’s a constant feedback loop between it all. EQ3 also owns a plant in Indonesia for things they cannot produce in Canada, and they do selectively source certain home goods (like rugs).

As for their mounting sustainability efforts—which include offering recycled fabrics, using water-based stains for bedroom items and smart packaging as a substitute to styrofoam—it all begins with one core ideology. “We stand in opposition to the culture of disposable furniture,” Letain says. “We do not design to have people throw out our furniture in 10 years time. It’s about longevity. That’s what we stand for. Ultimately, when we talk about going circular, it is about that.”

It’s Letain’s desire to have furniture technicians in every market so that if time takes its toll or consumers grow bored with a piece, it can be updated. For those really looking for change, EQ3’s ReHome program allows customers to return items so that they can be resold.

For many people, furniture and design are deeply personal. To accommodate, EQ3 wants to continue to expand their already vast customization process. “We want even more options in terms of fabrics,” Letain says, “but we are actually creating a platform that will allow a new level of customization for some of our product offerings. There will be more and more variety within modern design. There, we hope to address even more design preferences.”

Their 16 stores (five of which are in the US) also allow for customer feedback that’s referred to during product development, too. All of these considerations, along with their substantial roster of contemporary furnishings, make EQ3 a worthy destination for design-minded individuals.

Images courtesy of EQ3