Category Archives: Coversations over coffee

Coffee Talk: Agata Mancini of McCallum Sather

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Photo Courtesy of McCallum Sather

What got you into architecture?

It’s kind of hard to say. For my graduation write-up in grade 8 I said I was going to become an architect, travel the world, and to settle in the south of France. Hamilton is a bit of a far cry from the south of France, but somehow in grade 8 when I really had no idea what architecture was, it was kind of what I wanted to do. I have a slight inclination that my mother may have brainwashed me a little bit, because later on when I was in architecture school, at the University of Waterloo, I found out that it’s what she wanted to do. I really don’t know where it came from, but what I have always loved about being an architect is the story telling aspect. You look at a building and you can tell when the building was built, the materials, the style, and who it was made for. That’s always been my favourite part. It’s just this natural thing that crept up on me and I just grew into it.

What’s it like as a female in what is a predominately male profession?

When I was at Waterloo the number of women was 2-to-1. In a class of 60 students it was 40 women and 20 men. But what happens is you see the OAA numbers and the percentage decreases from the women in school to women practicing and women in principal roles. There’s a large part of us that are starting off in architecture and fewer continuing and if that has to do with traditional gender roles or whatever, it’s kind of hard to tell. The low number of principal architects is because they’ve been working towards it for the last 30 years and there weren’t as many female architects at that point, so you’ll definitely see those numbers increase.

It’s been a little different for me, because I never felt out of place. However, you do get comments here and there that remind you that you’re one of a few. We’re lucky in Hamilton, though. There are so many strong female architects in this city and I’m happy to have them as my peers. This is what’s so exciting about Hamilton. And women that came before us, like Joanne McCallum, have really paved the way. The amount of work they’ve done and the stigmas they had to brush off is an inspiration. It was a lot harder back then for a female in this profession. It’s still tough to show people you’re in charge sometimes, but it also comes down to personality and how you approach it. Overall the support here in Hamilton has been pretty awesome.

Tell me about your career path so far.

Well, University of Waterloo and back Waterloo for my masters. While I was there I did a bunch of co-ops. My very first co-op was in San Francisco with a firm called Baum Thornley and that was really awesome. I essentially landed that job by being very persistent. I just kept calling back because it was a choice between San Fran and Lindsay, Ontario and thank goodness I got it, because I didn’t want to do work in Lindsay. From there I worked at MMMC Architects in Brantford. I also worked at Jestico + Whiles in London, England which was a cool experience. I also went to Melbourne, Australia and worked at the firm Omiros, but I think I worked more in a bar because it paid better. It was an interested climate.

And then Bill Curran posted in our Masters E-group at Waterloo for a position available at TCA. I had no intention of moving to Hamilton, really. I have no roots in Hamilton and didn’t really know anyone, but I applied, and thought the interview went terribly and thought it was a huge waste of time. Surprisingly, Bill offered me the job like 3 days later. I commuted for about 9 months and then I had to move here. The commute was killing me.

I was at TCA for 3 years and I wanted to gain more experience. Which is a great thing about this profession. Every firm does something different. The style of work they do. The type of projects they do. You can learn from everybody. I’m now at McCallum Sather and have been for 4 years. It’s been really cool because the range of projects and types of projects are really interesting. The people are also fantastic and I think we’re almost more than half women. Our mechanical department is now 3-out-4 women. Which is crazy.

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Speaking of moving to Hamilton, tell us about your #greendoorhouse.

The Green Door House started out as a crazy idea. We bought a place in the North End when we first moved here in 2010, which apparently was the most perfect time ever to buy a house in Hamilton, because I think if it was two years later we would have never been able to afford it. We did all the boring stuff to the house like a new roof, soffits, and insulation. All the boring but necessary stuff that needed to be done. Right before I was going on maternity leave for my second time, this piece of land and this little house in Beasley was listed for $124,000. To find anything downtown for that price is unheard of. I somehow talked a lot people in doing this.

It was an 18-month process to tear it down and rebuild. We sort of wanted to build something that was tailored to our family. The way we function. The way we want to use the spaces. The way we wanted our day-to-day to look. It was really interesting because the experiment worked, which is really nice. So the way I imagined our life would be in the house is the way our life is. It has also opened up the neighbourhood a little bit. I’ve met so many people stopping by to look and just to touch the house. I really liked doing it. It’s really neat to see everything from the beginning to the end. I learned a ton of stuff. I’d do so many things differently, especially mechanically, but it’s been amazing.

Rumour has it you’re running for OAA Council?

I am! I had absolutely no intention of running. On the last day of nominations somebody nominated me. I found out it was a coworker I worked with while at Bill’s who now works in Australia. He thought I would be great for it, because I’m not afraid to speak up or be involved. I joked about it to other people and everyone thought it was a good idea. I got the three nominations that are needed and now I’m running.

I’m interested because the OAA is our governing body. They make a lot of decisions that affect us, they are a part of all the things that happen in the background, and I think it would be a really valuable learning experience. If something comes to me that I didn’t expect I try and say yes, because the unexpected is usually where there can be a lot of reward. I like this opportunity. The chances may be slim, but I think it would be fun.

And lastly, besides your house, what’s your favourite piece of architecture in Hamilton?

Honestly, I think what I like about Hamilton is the collection of architecture. That’s what I love the most. I love the contrasts and the details. I think that’s what makes Hamilton so good. It’s not just one building. I love the Medical Arts Building. I love First Place when the light hits it right. The houses on Bay Street South, the Pigott Building, and the Landed Banking and Loan Building are all amazing. How can you pick one? How can you compare them? It’s too hard. So really, it’s the collection. It’s the moments when you see them just right. You’re always surrounded by beautiful architecture in this city and that’s what makes Hamilton so special.

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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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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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