In his previous life, Vancouver-based lighting designer Matthew McCormick had a corporate job as an art director with Best Buy. But when he wasn’t working on ad campaigns and marketing strategies, he was setting up a side hustle: making lights. “I’ve always loved to work with my hands,” he says. And he loves lighting because of its ability to create moments of “awe.”
He got the idea that he could transition his career when someone spotted one of his creations at a dinner party, reached out and commissioned a custom piece for a local restaurant. “A mentor of mine at the time asked me how many lights you would have to make before you are making enough money to quit your job,” he says. After doing the calculation, he realized that if he got enough commissions, he could set up his own studio (which he did in 2013) and still pay his bills.
His ascent as a designer is marked by his successive work set-ups. When he started out, he was crafting his lights in an abandoned parking lot across the street from his condo, using hand tools and a blowtorch. “It was truly a passion project,” he says. “I was very much hands on. Getting sweaty and dirty, getting cut up. I was driven by sheer passion and curiosity.” Then he stepped up into his father-in-law’s garage (at least he had a roof), before moving into his own dedicated shop and working with other craftspeople to up the refinement of his pieces (he no longer blowtorches everything himself).
As his work spaces became more sophisticated, so did his design sensibility. His first commissions were custom projects, each catering to the look of a different client. One was a fixture for a farm-to-table restaurant, made by “chopping up some pitch forks and circular saws,” he says. “It felt very much as though it were crafted with tools found around a barn.”
Not that it was bad, per se – “In this space, it made sense,” he says. But it’s hard to reconcile something so rustic with the arrestingly minimal pendants and chandeliers he produces for his own line, under his own authorship. His Halo, for example, is tailored like a Jil Sander suit – clean lines and striking, yet unadorned and unfussy.
“It’s just a ring in a box,” he says, before pointing out the technical challenges of getting the circular bulb thin enough to look ethereal and delicate, and the metal box (available in brass, copper, nickel and even 24-karat gold) machined perfectly so that it both houses the electronics and looks sleek. “Lighting affects the ambience of the room,” he says, “It’s the jewellery of the room, the thing that holds it all together.”
So it’s important to get the details right, which McCormick does. His Dodeca is another standout. It’s shaped a bit like an industrial nut, but uncannily delicate, especially in the way hovers in a room, suspended on wires so thin it could almost be floating.
Following his passions has paid off. McCormick’s lights can now been seen in chic residences, retail spaces (Kit and Ace in Vancouver) and restaurants (Cactus Club in Toronto) in Canada, the United States and Britain. This spring, he’s showing his pieces at Euroluce, a major international lighting fair in Milan. “I’m really interested in expanding our distribution into Europe,” he says. Not bad for something that started in a parking lot, with a blowtorch and a dream.