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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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The Tims They Are a-Changin’

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On Saturday, the newly built two-storey Tim Hortons Store Number One, located at Ottawa Street and Dunsmure Road, opened its doors to the public.

After a slow down in growth and decreased market share due to the emergence of independent coffee shops, smaller coffee house chains, Starbucks, and other global chains like McDonald’s McCafé, Tim Hortons have rebranded themselves as a “café and bake shop.”

Part of this rebranding strategy is building stores that have an urbane feel to them. Stores that accommodate the in-and-out customer they’re used to, while providing a welcoming atmosphere for all demographics that wish to stay. This new design strategy is largely due to the ground they’re losing in larger markets, like Toronto, as small towns are already saturated with Tims at just about every corner.

The new Store #1 fits into that rebranding strategy that’s been contracted to WD Partners Architecture + Engineering, a global firm responsible for the design of many large retail companies like Whole Foods, TA, Big Lots, and Walmart. They are responsible for building and remodeling over 1,200 Tim Hortons locations and providing them with a ubiquitous look, complete with fireplaces, comfortable seating, and a more relaxing atmosphere.

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The exterior of the building resembles many of the newly constructed prefabricated Tim Hortons throughout Canada but with some notable touches, like the two-storey glass curtain walls, and iron I-beams projecting horizontally between storeys, paying homage to Hamilton’s industrial past.

The location of the entrance at the corner of Ottawa and Dunsmure is a much better location than before, when you had to make your way through a busy parking lot and risk getting hit just to reach the door. However, the new parking lot located at the rear is very small and bottlenecks at the entrance. Cars have to complete intricate dances in order to get in and out of the postage stamp sized lot.

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The landscaping isn’t very welcoming. Apart from the building being nearer to the street, and a beautiful statue of Tim Horton, there is nothing to keep patrons around. There is no seating, unless you want to sit on planter boxes, or the base of Tim Horton’s statue. Hopefully with summer comes a patio, like the initial renderings show.

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Inside, the counters are within close proximity to the entrance. If there is a lineup of more than six or seven patrons, you will be standing inside the vestibule of the building, or even outside the front doors. Although there is sixty seats in the new store, there is very limited seating on the main floor. Just a slender tabletop facing a window, with a handful of backless padded stools.

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There are two flights of stairs, as well as elevators that take you to the second floor, where the “Memory Lane” museum and additional seating is located.

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As you make your way to the seated areas, a hallway of Tim Hortons memorabilia and souvenirs welcomes you. This trip down Memory Lane begins at the top of the stairs with a retro Tim Hortons counter, like the original store in 1964, and ends in the future, as you pass the by-gone eras of an iconic Canadian franchise.

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The upstairs seating area is open and includes communal tables, armchairs, and a panoramic view of Ottawa street. The light is there, but the warmth isn’t.

Although the outcome of the new Store #1 is better than expected, it would have been nice to see this project go to a design competition, where local architects could submit their concept designs. After all, they understand the context of an evolving Ottawa Street better than a firm that designs Walmarts.

At least there’s still no drive-thru.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY – May 2nd

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“Râfaga – Unleashed” by Veronica de Nogales Leprevost and Edwin Dam – Pier 8, Hamilton

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May 2, 2013 · 8:16 pm

Inaugural Hamilton Santa 5k run a success, despite cold

Over 500 runners dressed as Santa Claus took part in the inaugural Hamilton Santa 5k run on Sunday morning at Hamilton’s waterfront.

It was a windy, brisk morning, with scattered flurries. Despite the cold weather, runners came out in droves for the festive event.

All participants who entered the run were given a full Santa suit, including a beard.

Santas of all sizes take over Hamilton’s waterfront during the Hamilton Santa 5k run

The race started at the Hamilton Yacht Club, went through Pier 4 Park, looped around Bayfront Park, and finished out front of Williams Coffee Pub.

VR PRO, the company that held the event, already has a Santa 5k run in Burlington, Ontario and Burlington, Vermont, before adding a third Santa race in Hamilton.

Kelly Arnott, Race Director for VR PRO, said that despite the cold weather, the run was a success.

“The event was totally amazing today […] it was everything we expected. Young Santas, old Santas, fast Santas, slow Santas, tall Santas, short Santas – everything,” said Arnott.

Victor Gatundu, who won the 5-kilometre run with a time of 16:50, said the race was fun, but he had some technical difficulties during his run.

“It was a good race. It was very cold and windy out there, my gloves were too thin, and my [Santa] pants exploded during my run!” said Gatundu.

Arnott said all the participants had a great time and next year she expects double the amount of registrants.

“[Hopefully] next year we’ll get one thousand [participants],” she said.

The Santa 5k run raised funds for Hamilton’s Waterfront Trust and the Good Shepherd Hamilton.

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