As part of our annual ‘darc designers’ feature, this year we take a closer look at some of the emerging talents in lighting. Having first discovered Hollis+Morris at ICFF in New York, darc profiles its lead designer Mischa Couvrette.
Mischa Couvrette launched his lighting studio hollis+morris in 2015 and is the sole designer at the studio. From the beginning, he knew he wanted to build a design studio centred on local production and sustainable design. Today, all of the pieces are made with components manufactured in North America, then fabricated and assembled at the hollis+morris workshop in Toronto, Canada.
“I’ve always loved design and architecture but it never crossed my mind that I could make it a career,” Couvrette tells darc. “So much of the hollis+morris portfolio meditates on our connection to the earth and nature and I think this is largely informed by my university studies in environmental science and marine biology. I’m the type of Canadian who grew up immersed in nature, never too far from the ocean or the forest.
“When I was 25, I bought an old sailboat with friends and we spent two years designing and building it from the bottom up. The refurbishment involved a lot of woodwork and metalwork and it was the first time I had made something so substantial with my hands. I couldn’t believe the joy and empowerment – I fell in love with the process. The thought of having an idea and executing it through manufacturing fascinated me and I’m still invigorated by it to this day.
“After that, I started creating original designs, the first of which were furniture pieces – a table and a chair. I have no formal training in design and think that has brought a sense of humility and appreciation to every product I produce. Especially when I started designing with light – I tread very carefully. Now, I feel I’ve come into my own and I’m comfortable with light and love using it as a tool to inspire people.
“My approach has always been to let nature inspire function and form. My philosophy lies in abstracting natural elements into their subtlest forms. Recently, I watched the moon rise over a lake; this vision will surely find itself into a new lighting fixture. I’ve also always believed that less is more – that if you can distill a design to its core, you have the highest chance of reaching the most people. The more essential the form, the more opportunity there is for it to spark something subjective from a person’s life experience.
“The most signature element of my style is design rooted in honest materials. Almost every piece in the portfolio considers how wood, such as oak and walnut can interact with metals like powder-coated aluminium or fine polished brass. People often describe our pieces as playful and I think that reaction has a lot to do with the relationship between these two materials in the collections.
“A lot of our lighting is also linear and in a sense it’s a defining part of my design approach because I spent years perfecting the light-in dowel design of the Bennington Collection. In fact, what makes the Willow Collection so special to me is that its our first series to invoke the orb light into a more familiar hollis+morris design.
“Our focus at the studio has always been on decorative lighting. I’m interested in how people interact with our designs, how those designs can impact a room and I’m always thinking about the sculptural potential of lighting – how it can define a space. Light is such a critical layer of design.”
Quick Fire Questions:
Lighting Hero Bertjan Pot – I particularly love his lighting designed for Moooi – he pushes the boundaries of new technology. He pushed the limits of our existing technology to create incredible pieces that stand out because of their originality. Also, Neri & Hu’s lighting designs settle their gaze on the natural world and when I first saw their work – that was very empowering to me. It gave me the confidence to pursue my design vision – invoking the mysticism of the natural world into a contemporary design tradition.
If I could have worked on Bocci’s Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver – the project, 16 Trees, is a steel armature system that connects glass pieces to a series of branches and stems. The installation inspires me every time I see it – it embodies craftsmanship, design and technology coming together to create something beautiful and arresting.
Stand out project The Willow Collection – it really stands out to me as a testament to five years spent honing my craft. In a way, it’s the culmination of an entire portfolio that has considered new ways of abstracting our experiences with nature into objects like lighting and furniture.
Moving forward We’ve had the opportunity to light offices of some of the most forward-thinking companies in the world. Every day, that inspires me to continue designing.
Working with light is Is magic. It will be whatever you need it to be.