Coffee Talk: Erika MacKay of Niche For Design

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I first met Erika MacKay at CoMotion 302 (then Platform 302) just over a year ago. Knowledgeable and well spoken, our brief conversation ended up being not-so brief. It lasted well over an hour. Erika’s company Niche For Design is unlike most interior design firms and I can’t quite put my finger on why. She’s been involved in so many projects throughout the city and beyond (checkout their portfolio) and I wanted to ask her about Niche. I wanted to know more. She’s a trendsetter, an amazing interior designer, and a pleasure to have coffee with. Niche For Design has a bright future ahead. Here’s what she had to say:

What got you into design?

I’ve always been into design. Ever since I was a kid I was drawing floor plans. Eventually I learned about interior design and realized that was the area I was most interested in. I ended up doing a degree in Interior Design at Algonquin College. It’s an industry where you always have to be learning and evolving as a designer and that’s something I’ve always loved.

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Tell me about your company, Niche for design.

I had worked for an architectural firm, for the government, a residential designer and a hotel designer, so I had a really broad range of skills. I really knew what kind of firm I wanted to work in and I felt there were ways to make the process better and more efficient. I wanted to offer services that some other firms weren’t really offering, so that’s when I decided to start Niche and that was in 2012. It was really small. It was just me. And now we are three people, plus lots of trades, contractors, and suppliers on a regular basis.

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What are some of your favourite projects so far?

All of our projects are so different and that’s why I love all of them. The coworking spaces that we worked on were definitely favourites, because they were close to our hearts, since coworking at Platform 302 helped us develop as a company. CoMotion and The Forge were definitely favourites. They were kind of cool. The last year we’ve been doing a lot of office projects. It’s really fascinating to get to know a company and their brand and tailoring the space to their needs as a business.

How do you get to know these companies?

We do a lot of research on their brand and how they want to be viewed. We interview them and go over the details of their space. We also do surveys with their staff too. Often we’ll survey all of the staff members to find out what they need functionally and to get additional ideas from them. For a company to have a space that is actually reflective of their branding and identity is a huge asset. It reinforces the culture they’re trying to build with their staff and it’s a great display for clients when they visit.

What’s the day-to-day life as an Interior Designer?

The programming and launch phases are big day-to-day projects, but they’re enjoyable. There are lots of spreadsheets for organizing the information of our clients. A big part of our time is construction drawings for our clients and ordering furniture. There’s always little glitches that come up, so problem solving and collaboration often happens day-to-day. It’s less glamorous, but I still enjoy it.

What are some of your influences in the design world?

Travel is a big influence for me. I love to observe new cultures and how they use space differently and  I love to learn about their traditional aesthetic. I like to see what’s trending in different areas too. We live in a globalized world, but there are always subtle differences in trends between cultures. It’s also important to pay attention to fashion. They’re pretty closely related. But I’d much rather shop for a sofa than clothing.

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What are some upcoming trends you see?

This neutral palate seems to be holding strong, but I’m seeing clients become bolder with their colours and patterns. Pattern tile is a really big trend that is coming through. So far it’s been neutral too, but we’re starting to see colour there. A lot more clients are looking at durable materials and wanting a better longevity in their products. They’re looking from a sustainable perspective and wanting things that last. Clients are becoming more environmentally conscious about their furniture choses.

What do you bring to the table that sets your apart from others?

I think having the team that I have in place is very important. They all have different skill sets and together we’re really strong. We try to be a lot more flexible. The tradition design process is really rigid, and it isn’t perfect. There has to be a better way, so we try and make the process smoother and easier for everyone. We are open to how the process could work.

Where do you see your firm in 5 years time?

I think we’ll probably have a showroom space. There will be some growth in the works. We’re already growing right now. I’d love to expand the team a bit more and focus on bigger projects that we are trying to obtain. We also want a warehouse space for faster distribution. There’s a lot of improvements that could happen within the process.

What is your favourite thing about Hamilton?

The people are very different. They’re very collaborative, open, and supportive. The architecture is amazing too. So many cool buildings in this city that are waiting for more creative uses. And the food scene in Hamilton is ridiculous. So amazing. There are so many great, unique independent restaurants throughout Hamilton. I don’t think I’ve been to a city where the food scene is like ours. There’s almost no chain restaurants downtown.

 

 

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20 buildings that make Hamilton so great

1) Yeah, I’d say the Lister Block is pretty damn awesome. The white terracotta and brown brick make it look like an edible piece of cake.

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2) The Medical Arts building is a work of art. How awesome are those urns?

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3) Stanley Roscoe’s City Hall. A building too beautiful for bureaucracy.

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4) The brutalist Hamilton Place. A gothic-inspired fortress on the exterior. A visually and acoustically masterful interior.

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5) Treble Hall: A facade that makes you stop and stare. Also, can you say Wine Bar?

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6) The city’s first and best Skyscraper, the Pigott Building. Anybody want to split on a penthouse?

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7) Stelco Tower might be rusty (thanks to stelcoloy), but it is still one badass building.

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8) It might be a copycat. Honestly though, who cares? The Landed Banking and Loan Company Building is one special piece of architecture.

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9) The Right House is more than just alright. It’s allllll right (bad joke).

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10) The Hamilton Public Library Central Branch and The Farmers Market. Books and Food. Concrete and glass. Nuff said.

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11) We have a freaking castle. (Dundurn Castle)

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12) A FREAKING CASTLE.

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13) OH HEY LOOK IT’S ANOTHER CASTLE. (Scottish Rite)

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14) We all have a love/hate for the city’s tallest building, 100 Main.

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15) All white Victoria Hall. A facade that makes you happy.

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16) The Royal Connaught. A lobby suitable for Royalty. We won’t talk about the rest of the development though.

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17) Can we please get this building designated? (The Coppley Building)

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18) The TH&B Go Station: An Art Dec(G)o beauty.

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19) Liuna Station is perfect. Look at the garden. Look at those columns. The curtains inside the halls? Versace.

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20) Let’s just admire this for a second. (Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King)

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A look at the new RBG Rock Garden Visitors Centre

IMG_3357.JPGThe new David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden Visitors Centre is ready just in time for spring.

The building is a grand gesture, inflecting North towards Aldershot. Its leaf-shaped roof is anything but ordinary, as it swells towards the gardens beyond.

Not only is the building noticeable, so is its entryway. Swooping, welcoming, the entrance is easily navigable. Even with it’s looping drive and expansive grass, which will surely attract Canadian Geese by the flock. Landscape architect Janet Rosenberg curates just a taste of what’s to come.

IMG_3358.JPGWalking towards the entrance of the new Visitors Centre is when the immensity of the building is first felt. Designed by Toronto firm CS&P Architects, there is a touch of Eero Saarinen’s modern influence in its curving imagery.

The front of the building bends in a crescent shape, flanked by small ponds, with feature walls clad in stone. There’s a sense of motion to the building. It’s non-static. The leaf-like hyperbolic paraboloid roof lifts up like the wings of a bird to a maximum height of 26 feet.

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IMG_3334.JPGThe vistas from inside the main event room overlook the newly landscaped gardens below and Princess Point beyond. Illuminated glulam beams of Douglas fir line the ceiling like the veins of a leaf. The steel struts, just outside the windows, like trees in a forest. The allusion to nature blends the centre with its surroundings through subtle gestures of crafted symbolism.

IMG_3315.JPGThe building includes offices, event space, public washrooms, and a café. A patio connected to the café is located just outside of the building, a romantic setting to enjoy a drink and overlook the beauty of this man-made paradise. There is also a courtyard for weddings and events, surrounded by walls of limestone, on the opposite end of the building.

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At the backend, or bug end, of the building steel struts like angled stilts silently hold the roof up as if it’s weightless. The edge of the roof projects beyond the doors, dipping with a chain downspout, which would give the impression of droplets from a leaf during rainfall.

The new gardens are another story. Serene. Quiet. Beautiful. They are a paradise, an oasis, and an escape from the city beyond. It’s like stepping into a foreign land, beautifully landscaped to feed the imagination with nature as poetic inspiration. Words don’t do it justice.

See this new $20 million rejuvenation project for yourself on May 20th, when the doors open to the public. It’s worth the visit.

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A closer look at 123 James Street North

IMG_3201A year after completion, it’s time to take a closer look at 123 James Street North and the impact it’s had on the neighbourhood.

There was much trepidation when Lintack Architects first released the renderings. Will it fit in with the streetscape? Is it what the street needs? Who or what will occupy the building? Isn’t there enough office space available for rent in the core? Is it actually going to be built?

IMG_3203.JPGThis 32,000 square foot building does mingle well with the streetscape for a few specific reasons. It was designed to meet the datum line of the adjacent buildings, so the height was not an issue. Brick was used to blend with the facades already lining the street and although it’s a larger builders brick, it still bodes well with the surroundings.

IMG_3214.JPGCornices clad in matte black metal mirrors much of the heritage on the street, with a modern take. It may be less ornate, but the idea is there. The cornice cladding could be interpreted as an interaction, or homage, to the black clad façade of it’s neighbour across the street, 118 James Street.

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A cylindrical glass corner punctures the sky with big strip mall numbering. This part of the building is often the recipient of some harsh criticism. It reminds some of the Meadowlands, or suburban architecture. One other flaw would have to be the tinted glazing on the upper floors of the building. Less inviting, this glass can give the onlooker a feeling of intimidation. Though the windows are lined with stone lintels and windowsills, which also compliments the heritage characteristics of the street.

IMG_3209.JPGA lot of questions were also raised about why the building is only commercial and not a mixed-use development. The programming of this building was clearly designed with what the client, Jack Beume, had in mind. The site required remediation making the option of a residential development much more expensive. Still, the decision to go with a commercial building paid off, as it is nearing capacity and it’s still just an infant. It’s brought jobs and businesses to James Street North.

The Central and Beasley neighbourhoods are two of the least dense neighbourhoods in Ward 2, but the focus of major infill should come from the empty parking lots that are scattered amongst the core. Adaptive-reuse, midrise development, and remedying the parking lot plague are just some of the directions to take in creating a smart, diverse building stock in two of Hamilton’s hottest ‘hoods.

There’s a lot to consider when evaluating the success of a building, especially in it’s infancy. 123 James is an exception. Like it or not, its impact on the street has been positive. And it’s better than a parking lot.

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Coffee Talk: Hamilton Holmes

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I first met Nicholas Hamilton Holmes for coffee at Mulberry just over a month ago. I was introduced to Nicholas’ work through Bill Curran, after he allowed Nicholas to use his office space for a photo shoot. At only 32, Nicholas is way ahead of his years, both in intelligence and skill.

He’s always carrying around a sketchpad and is full of conversation where brief meetings turn into hour-long discussions. He’s a trained cabinetmaker, furniture maker, and furniture designer. His wife is an incredibly talented interior designer, which makes them the perfect couple. Inspiration is always abound.

I walked into Café Oranje to meet Nicholas for a coffee and was greeted with his bearded smile. Sitting there with his sketchpad open, we started our interview after rambling about every subject we could conjure up. Hamilton has only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nicholas’ talent, but as you’ll see in the interview below, the sky is the limit.

When did you first get into this trade?
I started in 2008 at a technical college in Montreal. It wasn’t even a design college or anything; it was part of a Quebec program to encourage trades. It took a year and half and because it was a Quebec program they got into a lot of traditional stuff, like carving, veneering, bending wood, and finishing.

What made you get into design?
I loved to make things as a kid. I was always trying to make clothes and other random stuff in my parent’s garage. I was making leather stuff at the time that I found this wood program and I always loved woodworking in high school. I was all about shop class and I did really well in it and then my parents kind of steered me to university. Then the program popped up and I went for it. I was working in a bar at the time and I didn’t have any plans of where my life was going, so I thought this would be good. And it was better than good, it was always what I wanted and I didn’t know it at the time.

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And where did you go from there?
I did a work experience program at a high-end custom shop in Montreal and it really deepened my passion because it was so high quality. They did a lot of exchange programs with Parisian furniture makers that came from really nice ateliers, so I was amongst those guys too. Just to watch their work and see their quality of tools and their passion for it, it gave me even more inspiration.

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When I look at some of your furniture it has that midcentury modern touch to it. Where did that influence come from?
I think its part of me. I’ve always loved geometry. Whenever I painted or drew or designed, I always started with geometry. It seemed like a logical step to me. Because I always did things by hand, I didn’t start my design process on the computer. I started with a ruler, compass, and paper. And that lends to modern styling. I think the minimalism you’re referring to comes with the need to produce things at a good cost, which doesn’t always work out that way. Basically from an economic point of view, the more simple and streamline your designs are, the easier they are to produce. It’s not always the case, but its kind of a perspective. I can’t say for sure, because I’ll have simple designs that are still expensive to make. That’s my ultimate goal: to make something that’s well balanced with proportions and geometry, but as also minimal as possible.

So what do you clients look for?
Most of my commissions are pretty open. They have a lot of trust in me. I’ve been lucky. Sometimes they’ll have inspirations, but the general client that wants something, even if they’re really interested in furniture, don’t really know much about it. The design choices are always up to me. If someone wants me to produce something exactly as it is shown, I’d probably say no because it doesn’t leave any room for expression.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now?
I want to design furniture for production. Something like a small batch production, producing maybe 10 pieces at a time. I hope to see myself in a shop with a few assistants, or apprentices, or cabinetmakers, working with me producing limited batches of really high quality stuff that’s produced in a way that isn’t too much. I think it would nice to make something that is still expensive, but not too expensive – something that someone has to save for, but can see him or herself owning.

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How’s the furniture market been in Hamilton?
Hamilton has a lot of wealthy people in it, for sure. There are a lot of wealthy families out there. I’m trying to service my peers as well. I want the price point to be manageable. The frames I’ve made [which are for sale at Earls Court Gallery] have been a success. I’m hoping that will keep going. I want to have people enjoy them in their house.

What drew you back to Hamilton?
All the pieces were in the right spot. A lot of my friends were moving back to Hamilton, doing their trades and building families. To trump all of that it’s where my friends and family are. Everything came together at one time.

And what do you love about Hamilton?
I love the constant development, the unpretentiousness of the people, the beautiful architecture, which we can all agree on. The opportunity. The energy. It’s got everything going, really. It’s kind of perfect for me. And it’s so close to Toronto too. It’s not like I’m sacrificing a big city market living in a far-flung area. I can make inroads in Toronto on a very casual basis and that’s nice.

Going back to influences, who influenced you in furniture design?
I’m not a big names guy. The major names like (Charles and Ray) Eames or (Hans) Wagner, they’re big influences. Any of the big modernists influenced me a lot. Probably the Art Nouveau is my biggest era of influence. The beautiful thing about Art Nouveau is that it’s a mixture of organic inspiration and geometric minimalism. I’m a big nature lover and hiking in the forest rejuvenates me and inspires me. I’m also inspired by a lot of contemporaries who are creating small batch production throughout North America.

What part of the process do you like the most when it comes to designing and making furniture?
The design process, for sure. It takes so damn long to build everything and a lot of cuts on your hands. It’s tough and really, really hard to get through sometimes. When I’m sitting in my studio, drinking a coffee and sketching is where I really get my kicks and the most excited. But I think that’s the same for any maker. Sometimes you don’t want to finish and hate some of the process, but when you finally finish you can’t believe you created that piece of furniture. There’s still a big romance with the whole process. I love the smell of wood and working in a shop.

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What is your favourite piece of furniture that you’ve designed, so far?
My latest piece, the Danish cord bench. It was one of the hardest things to build, technically. There were a lot of challenges to it. I had to troubleshoot a whole host of problems. It took me almost a year to build three of them. I love all my projects though, really. The frames are now a real product, which is nice. I love that. I’m making a toy box right now with gold leafing that I’m really excited about. But I won’t take too much of the surprise away. Stay tuned to see!

I obviously have to ask you this. What’s your favourite building in Hamilton?
There are so many great buildings. I love the Carnegie Gallery in Dundas, there’s a romance there for me because I feel like it’s always been there for me. The beautiful butterfly that is City Hall is also one of my favourites. I love the Tudors in Durand too. If I had to pick one, I probably couldn’t.

See more of Nicholas Holmes work at http://www.hamiltonholmes.com/

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Constellate 2016 @ The Spice Factory

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This Friday (March 11th) the Spice Factory is hosting Constellate Exhibition 2016.

Constellate features distinctive works by McMaster’s Studio Arts third and fourth year students. More than just painting, the exhibit includes sculpture, print, drawing, and digital work.

Artists at Constellate 2016 include: Kristina Durka, Parker Flood, Stephanie Grant, Rachel Hillock, Meaghan McMurrich, Jonathan Mitchell, Hilary Rosa, Hannah Sampson, Maria Simmons, Jasmyne Smith, Brittany Sostar, Jennifer Tewnion, Riley Vanderzee, Tess Visser, and Cassandra Whall.

There will also be performances by Thomas St. Clair, Timid the Brave, and Jeremy Sklad.

The Spice Factory is located at 121 Hughson Street North and doors open at 7:30PM.

For more details and photos visit: https://www.facebook.com/constellate2016 or @constellate2016 on Instagram

 

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Architectural Spotlight: The Waterdown Library and Flamborough Seniors Recreation Centre

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RDH Architects
163 Dundas St E, Waterdown
Completed: January 2016

Designed by RDH Architects the 23,000 square foot building is more than just a library. It also houses the city’s municipal service centre, a senior centre, Flamborough information and city services, and the Flamborough archives.

The 15,000 square foot library has better accessibility, more computers, outdoor reading areas, and even dedicated quiet spaces, to name a few of the upgrades. A huge step-up from the town’s last library, which occupied the old East Flamborough Town Hall and had limited space to meet the current standards of today’s libraries. It was too small, hidden, and dated for a town with an ever-expanding population.

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Topography played a pivotal roll in the design and programming of the new building. Situated on a sloping site, the building splits levels while managing to stay a single storey, in keeping with the character of the community it surrounds. The grade is used to create identifiable spaces through a sloping corridor, acting as the buildings axis. The spaces are also organized through levels, creating an easier navigation of site and accessibility for all ages.

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Inside the library, the children’s section includes unique furniture, and a playful asymmetrical skylight. Surrounded by glass exterior walls, it provides transparency for parents and an engaging environment for the children.

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Stairs and ramps lead you through the tiers of categorized book stacks. Skylights bounce off the punched ceilings, pouring natural light throughout the interior. And quiet studies encased in glass offer solitude from the surroundings, while still keeping the user connected to the space through visibility.

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At the top tier of the library the glass glazing overlooks Dundas Street, scattering southern light amongst casual seating, a communal table, and computer desks. The use of natural and artificial light is impressionable.

The material palette inside the library is simple: wood (some of it repurposed), polished concrete floors, gypsum board, steel, and glass. Rich but subdued, a recipe for a warm and welcoming interior.

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Outside, the glass curtain walls on the north and south sides of the building interact well with the street and the neighbourhood it surrounds. The use of the sites grade and the division of space is apparent at the south end of the building. You can see the levels split, divided by a grassy knoll and stairs with a glass balustrade. Limestone panels clad the west side of the building, meeting the southern façade with a geometrical cantilever, creating a significant punch to the overall composition.

At first glance the location seems wrong. It’s located on Dundas Street, the town’s busiest arterial road, close to big box stores and highways. But that’s exactly the point. Waterdown is sprawling and relocating it to another downtown side street doesn’t make sense. Parking is scarce and accessibility becomes an issue. The site it resides on engages onlookers with its presence and the northern entrance is also connected to the approximate neighbourhoods through the use sidewalks and bicycle parking racks. It’s a new hub for a town with ever-expanding subdivisions. Modern orthodox planning reigns supreme.

The new Waterdown Public Library and Flamborough Seniors Recreation Centre has already won a Canadian Architect National Award of Excellence and it’s easy to see why. This project is one of the best pieces of architecture the city of Hamilton has seen in years.

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