Posted by Renee Switzer | August 4, 2016
This post is a doozy! It is my story about how I met and became friends with someone I admire, Renee Switzer, a special interview with her and your invitation to Oden Gallery’s Artisan pop-up at the new SwitzerCultCreative showroom. It’s intimate, inspired and behind the scenes. Enjoy!
Renee Switzer contacted me 2 years ago when she saw a campaign I was running for my company, Oden Gallery. I knew of Renee and the impact her father, renowned furniture designer William Switzer, has had on the Canadian home-furnishings landscape and I remember the surge of energy that flowed through me when I received her introductory email and invitation to meet. The feeling I experienced was anticipation flanked by fear.
I was 2 years into my business. I was excited that someone with as much experience as Renee took an interest in what I was creating, but I was also acutely aware of my inexperience; I felt transparent, vulnerable and green!
I met with Renee at Matchstick, located in Vancouver’s Chinatown, and much to my relief I instantly felt at ease in her presence. With passion on her sleeve, she told me about her business, SwitzerCultCreative, she asked me challenging questions about my business and her generosity flowed as she shared business wisdom with me. We connected, discussed our individual goals and plans and I left the meeting feeling like I made a friend.
Fast forward 2 years and I have had the privilege of watching her alongside her business partner and son Adam Bellas open their first showroom, a sophisticated, airy space filled with a unique collection of furniture and home decor located in Vancouver’s Armoury District. The showroom is open 6 days a week and after the interview with Renee I have a special invitation for you to come see the jaw dropping venue. Renee has generously opened space on her showroom floor for an Oden Gallery artisan pop-up! Open house is next week and we’d love to see you there. More details below.
Renee, how long have you been in the home furnishing space?
The showroom opened on April 14, 2016 in the Armoury District after a long search for space, and a few months dedicated to making the space work for what we wanted to do. It was almost fours years to the day after starting SwtzerCultCreative in April 2012. During the intervening period we developed a representation network in the United States where our collections are shown in designer showrooms located in Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Atlanta accompanied by dedicated sales teams including California.
Is SwitzerCultCreative your first departure in home furnishings from your family business William Switzer & Associates Ltd.?
William Switzer & Associates Ltd. was sold September 1, 2011 and from that point, the family was no longer involved in the company. My Father retired and I took some time to consider my next steps. I took a business entrepreneur course, which was very helpful particularly for someone like me who had been involved in a successful family business, but felt I had a lot to learn about starting a business for myself. So, yes this was the first departure after working in my Father’s business.
Which collection are you most excited about right now?
That is a question that does not have a singular answer! Each collection has a unique story to tell and was selected first because the story and product resonated with me, and second because I connected with the designer and company in some way. For instance the AHRPA Collection, made in Italy was the first major collection we took on. It felt contemporary, the quality is exceptional and the company owner is an old friend.
The Emerald Collection is made in Vancouver by Sholto Design Studio. I first saw it a couple of years ago when touring the Vancouver Eastside Culture Crawl. There was something special about the design, the way it is crafted and the designer/maker Sholto Scruton. We connected, and since then, have been working hard to develop the market in both the USA and Canada.
More recently, I saw Aqua Creations in Chicago last October when visiting our Showroom rep there. I just fell in love with the concept, did a little research and visited the New York headquarters this past spring. Again, there was a great fit between myself and the owners. Each and every collection has its own story and just works so well to complement the other collections. So I can’t say I have one that I am most excited about. It would be like saying I have a favourite child.
Your showroom is stunning and and you have a unique collection of work. There is work which is produced in North American as well as Europe and some is crafted by independent artisans and some is manufactured in larger facilities. What are the unique challenges that come with working with artisans versus manufacturers?
The artisans and craftspeople we work with are incredibly talented and passionate about their work and that is a great part of the pleasure in working with them. They do custom work, one piece at a time, which poses a challenge when developing a collection that needs consistency in the product, the production time and costing. They are also not in a position to invest in inventory to place in the market. I have to really believe in the design, enjoy working with the artisan and develop trust that it will be a long-term relationship. If all of those pieces come together then I’ll invest in the inventory, place it in Vancouver as well as in our other representative showrooms and my team will work very hard to introduce the designs into the markets which will in due time create sales.
Why do you support and include work by small independent artisans in your collection?
That is the easiest question to answer. These talented artisans play an important role in the quality of life and culture in our society. It is extremely difficult for individual artisans and small shops to create the work and do the sales and marketing for their designs. Both the creation, and the sales and marketing are full time jobs. When my Father transitioned from Interior Designer to manufacturing and distribution of his own furniture collection he was fortunate to have found a champion in Dorothy Kneedler and Harry Lawenda the founders of Kneedler-Fauchere, high end designer showrooms located in California with its main showroom in Los Angeles. Dorothy provided opportunities for talented artists and artisans to grow their brand. My Father’s furniture collection took off as a result. These artists and artisans have families and simply want to do what they love while supporting their families. Our cities benefit from these talented creative minds and I want them to be successful. So, that is why we support small artisans.
What do you love about your work?
What I love most is the idea that by opening a SwitzerCultCreative Showroom in Vancouver, others will see and appreciate inspiring design, and want to invest in a piece whether it is a gorgeous glass bowl made by a local glass artist or a special piece of furniture, lighting or textile that has not been available in Vancouver before. By extension, the artisans, craftspeople will continue to create and live by their work. I also absolutely love working with my children. I could not have opened the showroom without my son Adam Bellas. It is a real pleasure to come to work and have both my son and daughter, Jennifer Wosk, who is also a talented jewelry designer working together with me.
What is the greatest business lesson or advice you learned from your father William Switzer?
The most profound lesson was that a person’s reputation is what carries us through our lives and careers. If you are honest and trustworthy then even when life is chaotic, and there are things happening around you that are out of one’s control, if you’ve worked hard, have developed good relationships with colleagues and peers and can be depended on to say what you mean and do what you say, there is great satisfaction in life and work.
Your Invitation Oden Gallery Pop-Up and Open House
Thursday August 11th 12-5 and Saturday August 13th 12-5. 1725 West 3rd Ave.
Come on down! Renee, Adam, myself and a few of Oden’s local artisans are looking forward to meeting you.
Russell Hackney is a 4th generation ceramic artisan and even the Queen of England has his work in her private collection! Russell is debuting Cabin Vibe a collection of ceramic vessels fit for any PNW home.
Also showcasing textile work by Vancouver’s sought after modern quilter Diane Thompson and internationally acclaimed artist Anyuta Gusakova is presenting her newly released limited edition Japanese Dolls.