Designer Desk: Lighting Designer Matthew McCormick

Matthew McCormick

I was in the Bottega Lounge at IDS west, sipping on a glass of bubbly and admiring the gorgeous light fixture suspended above, made up of perfectly illuminated circles floating up towards the ceiling. On the table to my right; a card from Matthew McCormick Design Inc. and I thought; ‘alright, I’ve gotta call this guy!’.

I had stumbled upon Matthew McCormick’s work a couple weeks earlier via the When They Find Us Guide (a lovely curated list of great talents, eateries & shops in Vancouver).  I checked out his website and work and immediately added him to my Designer Desk ‘must-corral-into-an-interview’ list. Seeing this champagne-inspired piece in person sealed the deal and I reached out to Matt about an interview, hoping that his flight to success wasn’t already out of ear shot.

Matt could not have been a nicer guy! We met at his Kitsilano home studio a couple of weeks ago where we talked inspiration, life as an entrepreneur, and all things design over coffee (well, he had a London Fog – see the Quick Fire questions below) and Lucky’s Donuts.

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I understand that you had a long-time dream of designing lighting. How did you make the leap from your former career and when did you decide to make it your full-time gig?

Coming from a creative background, having spent years in art direction, I learned how to communicate in a way that enabled colleagues and partners to help deliver on a collaborative design vision. I also think my long-time passion for the visual arts, something I’ve had since childhood, directly translates into my work today in industrial design.

Making the leap seemed to have happened organically. I’ve always been a little obsessed with beautiful lighting and one of the first lights I’ve ever made happens to be hanging in my home. It was that light which caught the eye of a contactor who was involved in a restaurant build out. He decided to bring me on board in the creation of some custom lighting for the project, which ended up evolving into more lighting jobs in some local restaurants. Today, I’m grateful to have been commissioned to do spaces all over North America – from custom work in high-end residential spaces, to restaurants, malls and public art installations.

Can you give us a brief breakdown of the process behind your pieces?  What is your favourite part of that process?

My creative process starts by being inspired. I find inspiration in architecture, graphic design and a whole host of obvious places, but I feel you can also cultivate it. I pay attention to everyday objects – the obscure, the “ugly” or even the unseen like a conversation, word or feeling. The imposition light and shadows play on a clear day, a woman’s earrings or even a public garbage container. Everyone knows how beautiful a sunrise is, but you have to be awake to see it.

Ultimately, though, my favourite part in any process is in the final stages of completion when the light is turned on for the first time. It’s when the form comes to life, and it’s truly the most magical part of what I do.

What does a typical day-in-the-life-of-Matt look like?

My day usually starts moments after I open my eyes; my brain quickly springs into action and I’m up at my computer almost immediately. I’m a bit of a morning person so I try to get as much work done before most people arrive at work.

After running through all my emails, I try to get some form of exercise in; go for a bike ride, hit the gym, anything to get the blood going after which I usually head to the shop. I’ve partnered with a great manufacturer that helps in the majority of the fabrication in many of my large-scale installations. I’m grateful to work along side them as we engineer and manufacture our projects together. We all share the same vision and belief when it comes to quality and design.

Long gone is the 8-hour work day, but I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I do. It has never really felt like work.

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We visited your home studio but you also spend a lot of time in your 10,000 sqft. fabrication shop. Describe why each of these spaces works for you:

My home studio is my little sanctuary. Although I often work in silo, I feel like I get so much work done there. It allows me to get the necessary evils out of the way so I can concentrate on the fun stuff. It’s also great to have clients over as it offers a calm, comfortable space to review projects, not to mention it’s the shortest commute I have ever had!

At the shop is where all the real magic happens. Whether it’s prototyping new components or fabricating a new light installation, the true creative process starts there. The possibilities are endless.

What item or element of your studio could you not function without and why?

The people I get to work with. From designers, architects, wholesales, to craftspeople and clients, the relationships that I have built through collaboration is a source of my inspiration and drive.

Do you have any work rituals or habits that help you focus and get down to biz?

I find getting some exercise first thing in the morning really helps get the juices flowing. But once I have my tea at my desk and my headphones on, the day seems to slip away.

What’s next for you/what are you working on right now?

Both on the residential and commercial side of things, we’ve been very fortunate to work with some incredible designers, architects and clients alike across Canada and the US. Earl’s has been a huge support and it’s been great to have them invest in custom lights for their spaces which are getting progressively more unique. We are currently working on lighting projects for their locations in Denver, Virginia and Chicago.

We’re also in the early stages of developing a five-story public art installation for a shopping centre in Calgary, which I’m really excited about. It’s not too often you get to work with such incredible volume. On a more personal level, I’ve been slowly developing my own lighting line based on ideas I’ve had floating around for quite some time. Stay tuned for that.

Matthew McCormick

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The quick-fire round:

The first thing I do in the morning: Head straight to my computer and start going through emails
When not at my desk, you can find meOutside, taking photos, riding my bike, snowboarding, practicing yoga, or riding my motorcycle
Pencil or Pen? Pen
Coffee or tea?  Is it sad to say I’ve never had a coffee in my life?* I’m definitely a tea drinker.
*editors note: Sad? No. Unbelievable? YES.
Favourite Vancouver neighbourhood: I have to say Kits. It’s the only place I’ve lived since moving here 10 years ago.
What I love about it: I love the neighbourhood vibe. Everyone seems healthy, either comin’ or goin’ between Whole Foods and Yoga class. I know it’s so cliché, but it’s nice to be able to walk everywhere and see the same people along quiet tree lined streets.
What I would change about Vancouver: If there were surf, I would never leave.
What I’m reading right now: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
Media that I read/watch/listen to almost daily: I avidly read and review design blogs and have to have my daily dose of social media.
Vancouver Maker/Designer/Artist that we need to know about: Lock and Mortice: “Jack of all trades” they are a great group of people that have an incredible work ethic and seemingly make the impossible happen. Jeff Martin Joinery: just plain out makes incredible furniture.

Matt has created an incredible body of work for only being in his second year of business (see his pieces at matthewmccormick.ca) but it’s no surprise when you begin to understand how dedicated he is to quality in his work. I would say that was my biggest take-away from our chat; his uncompromising craftsmanship. That, and his genuine sense of gratitude and awe at being able to this work that he loves for a living.  Love that!

I encourage you to also follow Matt on instagram (stunning photos!) and I will leave you with this video from his website that shows the process behind of one of my favourite of his lighting pieces:

Matthew McCormick Design Inc. from Matthew McCormick on Vimeo.

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