Industrial Designer of the Year 2016: Matthew McCormick
Matthew McCormick’s graphic designs are lighting up the West.
Portrait by Carlo Ricci
“I’ve always loved light,” says Vancouver designer Matthew McCormick. “It creates ambiance, sets a tone, tells a story.” Even when he was working as an art director in the advertising world, he was spending his nights “tinkering” at home with renovations, building his own furniture and creating his own homespun lighting designs. But it took a random dinner guest to take McCormick’s tinkering from a hobby to a lifestyle: a friend of a friend loved his handmade lights and asked if he would design something for a new restaurant in Kitsilano called Fable.
That first commission was created in a parking lot across the street from McCormick’s house: he was armed with a blowtorch and some hand tools. “My mentor at the time asked me, ‘How many more lights will it take to convince you this is what you have to be doing?’” he says.
Since then, this year’s Industrial Designer of the Year has been creating work that judge Paolo Cravedi describes as “fascinating and poetic, fresh and compelling.” McCormick quickly outgrew his parking-lot workspace and moved to an East Vancouver studio as one light led to another, and another, and another. His Halo pendant—circular fluorescent tubes with an anodized gold base—was originally designed for Italian Prosecco company Bottega (the bubbles and gold-foil-wrapped bottle sparked an idea for a vertically oriented installation that mimicked effervescent bubbles). The Dawn light is a scramble of brass posts and softly glowing chemical-glass lights, inspired by the intricacies of an earring. You’ll spot these, and more of McCormick’s graphic designs, at restaurants (Earls), shops (Kit and Ace, Provide) and homes in the West and around the world. Their popularity is due in part to the chameleon nature of the deceptively simple designs—his 24-karat-gold 12-sided Dodeca ring lamp looks equally at home in a minimalist Scandinavian-style dining room as it does in a chi-chi Toronto Cactus Club.
Considering his graphic design background, it’s not a surprise that McCormick’s lamps have a graphic quality themselves. And though they may look basic—like the brass-lined linear tube lights that criss-cross at Vancouver’s Bauhaus restaurant—McCormick knows there’s an art to keeping things simple. “I admire minimalism. I love going into a design shop and looking at lamps and knowing they’re using just $30 worth of material, but that they’re so much more than the sum of their parts,” he explains. “It’s the intrinsic way they’re put together. Being lavish isn’t the point. It’s about the challenge of paring back.”
But as he’s trying to pare back, McCormick’s also scaling up, partnering with larger-capacity manufacturers and fabricators to meet the demand for custom installations and consumer-ready pieces. Handcrafting small stand-alone fixtures was one thing; for bigger projects—like the angular 1,400-kilogram aluminum Shattered light installation he designed in 2014 for an Earls restaurant, a project that took two 18-wheeler trucks to ship to Virginia—he’s the first to admit he needs some help. Luckily, McCormick is a team player through and through. “My fabrication team, the glass-blowing guy, other designers and architects—we’re all in it together. It’s all done with a collaborative spirit,” he says. “If you can’t share the toys in the sandbox, I don’t think you’re in the right sandbox.”
Header Image Credits: Ryan Tam.