Interview and photos by Jody Beck (with the exception of the Balnahard desk – image courtesy of Caledonia Silva).
Have you ever noticed that some people just have an authenticity or energy that draws you in? Spend any amount of time with Oli Scott, owner of Caledonia Silva Woodwork and Design, and you will likely experience this feeling. Perhaps that’s what gives his latest custom furniture collection, Bothy, the same warmth and appeal. We caught up with Oli at the opening of his pop up shop at the new, Gage Gallery, on Oak Bay Avenue to talk about moving to Canada, studying furniture design, and creating his own unique line of furniture.
MHV: Tell us a little about where you grew up and what brought you to Victoria?
OS: I grew up in Scotland on the West Coast in an area called Ayrshire; the closest major city would be Glasgow. I came to Canada back in 2008 to totally change my life and wanted to do woodwork in some sort of capacity for a living, if I could. I found a (fine furniture) course at Camosun College, literally on Google. I actually found a few online and narrowed it down to the Camosun course and one in Tasmania, Australia. I just went for it, and ended up here in Victoria. I spent about a year at Camosun in the program, which was easily the best year of my life – great people and great teaching staff there. I went on to work for boat builders and cabinet makers, all the while processing my application to stay in Canada. I eventually received my permanent residency in 2012 which was about the same time I decided to set up my own business.
MHV: Your current collection of furniture is named Bothy. What was the inspiration for this name?
OS: Bothy is a Scottish term and, basically, bothies were (traditionally) very simple, rural accommodations that farm labourers might stay in. Nowadays they are used by hikers while exploring the Scottish wilderness. This term relates to my collection because when you visit a bothy today, it’s really a bare bones structure. Inside you will find a couple of bunks, maybe, and a fireplace – only what is required to survive and keep yourself dry. One of the main goals for the Bothy collection was to strip the design down to its most simplistic form which is in line with a Scandinavian-type of aesthetic that I like and appreciate. I also tried to make the furniture as simple and cost effective as possible, without taking away from the quality. It was important to me to use traditional joinery methods.
MHV: What materials have you used in the collection?
OS: The materials are all North American hardwoods: white oak, ash, walnut and Douglas fir. When you look at the pieces they are all available in most combinations of those woods which creates an interesting visual and highlights the construction of the pieces themselves.
MHV: Any personal favourites within the collection?
OS: My favourite piece is the Balnahard desk. It’s just the piece that I’m very proud of. The design itself, again, is stripped back to the bare minimum, but at the same time it does have storage in it. It’s very functional but also really light. Unless you are a woodworker, you probably wouldn’t notice but it’s constructed in a manner that’s really different than a typical table. There is no cross-grain joinery; everything runs the same way. There are no rails that you would see on a typical table to keep the top flat. The top itself, the way it’s shaped, actually creates a box structure that is rigid and solid and stops any torque from occurring.
MHV: How did the naming of each piece come about?
OS: When I look at furniture these days, a lot of it seem so cold and sterile and I don’t really understand why you would want something like that in your home. I am trying to design something I would like, something I would put in my own home. For me, you can’t really get much better than a nice, beautiful piece of wood. The names tie into that because the names are all places that I visited as a child, growing up on summer vacations with my Mom and Dad. Some of them are named after beaches, some of them are roads, just places that we visited. For me, I have real fond memories of those times and a genuine feeling of ‘home again’ is what I was trying to create.