Minimalism, hard woods and right angles – the work of Mischa Couvrette may seem a little at odds with his home, where it’s all cuteness all the time. Inside we explore how his two worlds collide and what he’s been up to since lockdown.
Do you know Mischa Couvrette? You may. The industrial designer – founder of Toronto’s Hollis+Morris – graced our cover in 2015. Back then, Couvrette had just debuted a seating collection too sharp to overlook and, on top of that, he had production figured out as well, all at the age of 29.
Chances are that you might have met Couvrette at the Interior Design Show – you may have even shaken his hand – as he’s shown his work there numerous times. The display of Hollis+Morris furnishings, a collection now rich with table, lighting and accessory options, always stops the smart locavores in their tracks, as well as some major international companies. Because Couvrette not only exhibits at home but takes his show on the road, he’s participated in such massive design platforms as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, has been written up in magazines and been a finalist in design competitions, too. Thanks to all this exposure, Couvrette counts Vice Media, Kimpton Hotels, Google, Nobu Residences, Amazon and many more as clients, all while running a production facility and showroom located up near Black Creek and being a great dad.
So if you didn’t know him before, consider yourself acquainted. In this house tour we’ll get to see the very place that the ideas of the industrious designer are born and where he lays his head.
Designlines: Where do you live and with whom?
Mischa Couvrette: We – myself, my wife Alison (a psychotherapist) and our kids Evelyn (2 ½) and Aubrey (6 months old) – have a busy house in the Junction Triangle. I discovered the neighbourhood when I found my first woodworking shop (at 213 Sterling Road, of all places. We were in the unit below where Azure Publishing is now).
My brother and I bought the house together five years ago. It was a triplex in terrible shape. We renovated it to create three nice units and then, over the years, we required more space and so we converted it into a large duplex. Now it’s setup as a single-family unit with a basement apartment. The house has served so many different purposes over the years; it really gave us the opportunity to improve our living space and not waste a ton on fees.
Designlines: It sounds like you had your work cut out for you with this home. How did you see past the many challenges that lay ahead?
Mischa Couvrette: I love a good fixer-upper. I think most people were afraid to even step into the house when it was for sale: I’m guessing that the home was built in the 50s and it had been a rooming house prior to my brother and I buying it. But my parents renovated homes throughout my childhood, so I had no problem seeing past the disaster. The savings on the purchase allowed us to create exactly what we wanted.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home now?
Mischa Couvrette: The whole family loves the colourful, pillow-covered reading nook. It’s rare that I have time to unwind but it’s always a pleasure to read or work there. Both Alison and I have carved out these little spaces that we didn’t have before. I think such spots are comforting and allow for focus and creativity. We also renovated the backyard a couple of years ago and it is always a pleasure to go work and play out there, especially now that we’ve seen glimmers of nice weather.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?
Mischa Couvrette: It’s sounds funny to say, but I don’t feel our lives have changed much. Of course, we miss seeing our family and friends, and that has been very hard. But fundamentally, as pretty new parents, we’ve been adjusting to a new normal for two and a half years now – ha!
There have certainly been challenges with adjusting to this reality but there have also been so many wonderful perks to working from home. I’m used to living with prototypes or products gone wrong: I find it to be humbling and inspirational. Our house is full of wonderful pieces that I have collected over the years. As well as my new lighting pieces. I learned a while ago that you have to live with a new product especially if it is lighting, so we’ve been doing that. It is a constant reminder that function and aesthetic need to work together to create a successful product.
Designlines: How has Hollis+Morris pivoted since inception? And, creativity and business-wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off?
Mischa Couvrette: It was a huge step for this little business to move off into its own. From Sterling Road, we moved to 501 Alliance Avenue, which used to be the old Cooper hockey manufacturing plant. I had to invest in big machinery and leave the safety/comfort of a shared woodworking shop – probably the biggest step a small business can make in this industry.
Hollis+Morris is still such a young company – only five years old! – that we are meeting the new challenges that COVID-19 brings with enthusiasm. We are moving further and further away from the brick-and-mortar model and were fortunate to have launched our e-commerce platform in January. We are also pushing to develop new strategies for our product releases and brand awareness. In fact, as I write this, I am reminded that we would be setting up our Hollis+Morris space at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York right about now. I’ve cursed doing that show for all of the hassle and now I really feel sad that we are not there.
During the lockdown I’ve been able to find the time to be more creative than ever. Going into work with the intention of creating new product and finding the time to tinker with prototypes was always something I actively pursued, but it is very easy to get distracted there with something else. Putting out fires in production, sitting in on sales meetings, playing ping pong in the lunchroom – these are all things I miss dearly. But working upstairs at home, at my sometimes-quiet desk, has led to some much-appreciated time to contemplate what our new normal is and what people are going to need and want as we move through the unknown.