In his element
Toronto furniture designer Mischa Couvrette is no stranger to risk-taking
Designer Mischa Couvrette is an uncanny mix. He's an arch minimalist combined with a rugged, Hemingway-esque character. His Toronto studio is bright white and pristine (despite housing a wood shop) and his lighting, chairs and stools are sleek, straight-lined and sharply tailored.
Yet, far from fussy, he also has an insatiable sense of adventure and isn't afraid to take risks. He's lived in the Amazon ("Almost everywhere you step there's a creature that can kill you," he says), and once sailed from Halifax to Guatemala via New York.
The seafaring mission started as a post-university diversion. He studied marine biology and environmental science at Dalhousie University but didn't want to settle down right away. So he and some close friends pooled their savings and bought an old, broken-down sailboat "from someone named Angel," he says, "a pirate-like guy who spoke five languages fluently. Although he mysteriously struggled with English every time we asked him a tough question about the boat."
He and his friends spent months gutting and redesigning the interiors, repainting the hull and replacing the engine (they had to, among other things, get rid of a scary face that adorned the bow). They set out before they were fully finished, unsure whether the vessel would hold up to the elements. "We were naive boys," he reflects. But after surviving their first storm (which happened soon after they left Halifax), the crew gained confidence and kept going.
Couvrette has maintained the same sense of perseverance in his professional life. The adventure with the boat is what gave him the idea of making fine furniture for a living, which isn't an easy profession in which to launch a career (not in a world dominated by flat-packed particle board with super cheap prices). But he had fallen in love with working with this hands, so he set up a shop in his father's garage back in Toronto, took some woodworking courses at Sheridan College, and watched DIY YouTube videos.
What sounds like a recipe for splintered hands, cut fingers and plenty of frustration turned out remarkably well. Couvrette launched his own line, Hollis + Morris (named after an intersection in Halifax), at the Interior Design Show in 2014, and has continuously developed both his business and his aesthetic ever since. His furniture and lighting include the beautifully engineered Parkdale chair made from slender pieces of locally sourced wood, and the Bolt, a graphic sconce that evokes lightning.
He now sells his pieces to homeowners internationally through YLIghting, the largest e-commerce site for modern furniture in the world, and works with notable interior designers such as Toronto's DesignAgency and international behemoth Gensler to kit out offices. His lighting is already in the Toronto spaces of Vice and Facebook. He's sending 15 of his triangular Tria pendants to Google's San Francisco headquarters.
Couvrette's sense of adventure might not instantly be evident in his work, subtle and understated as it is. But to create such unapologetically simple, finely detailed pieces in a Kardashianized culture – one that seems to prefer screams and can't hear whispers – takes a lot of confidence, and a lot of risk. "There's nowhere to hide mistakes when a piece is so minimal," Couvrette says. No, because everything is right out in the elements.