A little support goes a long way. For Lindsay Mitchell at Sovran Architectural Hardware, for Biophilia Design Collective, the support and encouragement from her grandfather, when she was studying welding and fabrication a decade ago, was ironically part of the courage behind leaving her steady position building aircraft parts to starting her own furniture and hardware line. “Sovran is my grandfather’s surname. He worked at a foundry for over 40 years and was both a very creative and practical man. He was so supportive and proud of me when I started studying my trade so my business name pays homage to his encouragement to pursue what I love,” says Mitchell.
In 2005, right out of trade school in Montreal, Mitchell built reservoirs and pipe systems for breweries. “It was very detailed work; I was on a very steep and rapid learning curve,” Mitchell adds. Returning to Victoria in 2006, Mitchell worked on ship rebuilds and structural fabrications at Point Hope Shipyard and United Engineering. Her most recent efforts in Victoria saw her building parts for de Havilland aircraft at Viking Air.
Fabricating on a large industrial scale was satisfying but Mitchell was feeling the pervasive pull to challenge herself more creatively. “Most of the work I’ve done has been very detail oriented, so it is natural for me to pay extremely close attention to how corners are finished or how seams meet, for example. With my particular skill set and being creatively inclined, it was a natural evolution to continue to work with these materials but in a more personal and creative way,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell’s aha moment was unearthed at the intersection where her inherent attention to detail in fabrication collided with her creative passion for woodworking. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a variety of materials over the years: steel, aluminum, stainless, brass, copper, bronze and alloys. Having a unique relationship with these materials, I understand how they interact with each other as well as with other mediums, such as wood,” explains Mitchell.
Responding to the current small home and condominium trend and an increase in live/work spaces, Mitchell builds lean furniture to fit smaller spaces. “I’m drawn to furniture that is proportionate to the scale of its use, in particular, lighter weights, slimmer profiles, and unique, geometric designs. Building furniture with a combination of metal and wood isn’t a new concept, but the majority of what’s out there is heavy and chunky or it has lost that handmade feel and looks overly manufactured.” By combining ten years of experience in the metal trades with a passion for working with wood and other organic materials, Mitchell has created a furniture line that is clean, elegant and purposeful.
Central to Mitchell’s handmade philosophy is her ethos regarding accessibility. “I strongly believe that custom and hand built furniture can have an affordable price point. People work hard and when they come home they want to create a space for themselves that is personal and comforting. I want to respond to this need and create custom pieces that people can afford,” explains Mitchell. In addition to her custom furniture, Mitchell offers template designs that allow her to fix a lower price point.
Tiring of the homogenous, mass-produced furniture market, consumers are beginning to rethink their choices and gravitate toward special custom pieces that reflect their personal style. People seem more and more drawn to pieces that can tell a story and can travel with them through life. “Being part of a particular demographic myself where people are setting down roots, either buying their first home or starting a family, I am observing a trend toward the need for unique, quality pieces,” states Mitchell. As a backlash to our disposable culture, “there seems to be a renewed desire for pieces that are built with care and attentiveness, that are creatively unique, but also useful. People seem to want pieces that fill a need in their life with a style that reflects them,” adds Mitchell.
Working on some of the designs with her partner at Biophilia Design Collective, Bianca Bodley, their custom designed pieces are based on a clients’ aesthetic, needs, and taste. The building process starts with a meeting with the client to share ideas and observe the client’s style. “What type of flooring do they have? How do they interact with light and space? Do they have an obvious aesthetic, such as modern or mid-century?” A common symptom of Pinterest image overload is difficulty narrowing design ideas and describing exactly what we want. For Mitchell, “providing a few visual examples during the consultation helps narrow their own personal aesthetic and contributes to client confidence.”
Once the design is established, Mitchell will source materials that complement the overall aesthetic and suit the purpose of the design. “With metal, the options are based on what material will be used, for example if it’s steel, I can choose between hot rolled steel or cold rolled steel. Within those grades, there is some variation in colour, texture and finish. Finishing options, like paint, oil and sandblasting are also a consideration at this stage. I work with a couple of people in Victoria and up Island to source unique wood. Materials like fir, cedar, and some hardwoods are a little easier to come by, but nothing is impossible,” states Mitchell.
Extending her love of custom built furniture to hardware, Mitchell describes architectural hardware as anything that is used to support a structure. She encourages clients to put an equal amount of effort into hardware as they do choosing paint colours, finishings, lighting and flooring. It was Mitchell’s disappointment with store-bought brackets, for a simple floating bedside shelf she was making for her own home, that drove her to design and construct her own hardware line. “I built a cantilevered shelf and even though it’s such a small piece, the beautiful hardware made a significant difference in the room. I smile every time I put something on it,” says Mitchell.
Crediting websites like Pinterest and Instagram, Mitchell acknowledges that now, more than ever, people have the ability to really hone their own personal style. With an increased desire to have pieces in your home that are handmade and reflect your own personalized aesthetic, Mitchell is excited to evolve with this movement to provide a custom product that is accessible and unique. Motivated by Victoria’s creative community and the growing awareness of the value of small-scale production, Mitchell looks to local coffee shops as a model of this movement. “There is a growing number of boutique and artisanal coffee shops in Victoria and they are here for a reason; people recognize that they offer a quality product that is unique and has an intrinsic value. People are discovering that by supporting artists, small businesses and entrepreneurs, we can foster vibrancy, diversity, and growth in our communities,” concludes Mitchell.