i+D - July/August 2019 - 43
ICONic Profile: Mitchell Freedland - By Ambrose Clancy
Mitchell Freedland, owner of the eponymous
design firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada, is an innovative and sought after designer
of residential interiors in North America, Europe,
and Asia. But, his scope isn't limited to the private
sector. Throughout the two decades of managing his
own studio, Freedland has brought hotels, airline
lounges, restaurants, offices, libraries, and
spas to vivid life. His inimitable style focuses on
carefully curated materials and never forgetting
how people move and live within a space.
In addition, his artist's touch with lighting brings
a space elegance, charm, and convenience.
A Toronto native, Freedland is the recipient
of multiple design awards for his work in many
different categories and venues. Educated at
the Ontario College of Art (now known as
OCAD University), where he received honors in
Environmental Design, Freedland lives
in Vancouver with his husband, Sean Tracey.
i+D: When you read, do you prefer paper or screen?
Freedland: Oh, paper. I'm super old school. I'm the
only one in the office who doesn't have a computer.
Freedland: Yes. I do everything by hand. Total
dinosaur. But, it's one of the things clients love. I give
them handwritten designs and they absolutely love
them and keep them as gifts at the end of a project.
i+D: You always have to be near pen and paper.
Freedland: Always. My hands are always doodling.
It's the only way I can get things out of my head.
i+D: We're speaking now and it's 7 a.m.
in Vancouver. You don't like sleeping?
Freedland: Sometimes I'm in earlier. It's a good
time to get things done.
i+D: How long does it take after you wake up
before you start thinking about work?
Freedland: A minute? It's crazy. It's always in my
head. It's the way I'm wired.
Image: Danilo Agutoli
i+D: Was there anyone in your family who was
in the arts?
Freedland: Surprisingly not. I'm an only child.
My great-grandfather on my mother's side had a flair
for designing; he built a lot of his own furniture and
models. But, he was the only one. No one else.
i+D: Who or what inspired you when
you were a kid?
Freedland: Growing up in Toronto and the ability
to travel around the big city and go into the hotels.
I'd ask my parents: "Please, can we go into the
latest and greatest hotel and check it out?" And,
they thought: "What a strange child, who wants
to see hotels?"
i+D: Did museums or galleries inspire you?
Freedland: We had the Royal Ontario Museum
in Toronto and, as a child, I was always fascinated
by anything to do with the decorative arts or jewelry.
My parents weren't particularly interested in the
arts, but they were kind to me, knowing every kid
wants to go to a museum to see dinosaurs, but
I was the kid who liked anything to do with antique
furniture. They'd go: "Well, he is happy."
i+D: You designed airport lounges.
Freedland: It was a fun thing to do and it happened
by chance. Canadian Airlines, which is no longer
with us, was looking for someone who had a bit
more of a residential approach to partner with
at the Vancouver Airport.
i+D: Stress and anxiety are baked into
the airport experience. What were your ideas
to solve that?
Freedland: To have comfort, and not a corporate
approach. A lot of tactile materials. It still has to
be practical, like a restaurant or any public space.
But, we made it so you wanted to touch things
and sit on things, and light the backgrounds.
i+D: You're renowned for your use of light.
How do you make a large space intimate,
and enlarge a small space?
Freedland: Lighting is key no matter what the
situation. You have to create positive and negative
spaces, relating a warm spot to a cold spot.
Retail spaces are always looking for that kind of
theatrical affect, defining objects within a space.
i+D: Do you believe in the concept of regional
design, such as a southern California look or
something suitable for the Pacific Northwest?
Freedland: There is a certain amount of blend,
since there's so much material available online.
Everyone sees everything and they want to create it
for themselves, whether it's regionally correct or not.
Regions have to be considered to be aware of climate
and environment-hot, or cold, or humid; rainy or
bright and sunny. And, you have to consider cultural
facets. But, you look at midcentury modernism,
which has gone through America, Europe, and Asia.
Those California-style ranch houses are all over the
world. They're wonderful little gems and definitely
have the original southern California aesthetic.
i+D: What are you reading?
Freedland: I'm a design book junkie.
Atelier AM has a book out called Houses.
I'm slowly devouring it.
i+D: When you look up from your desk-you
don't see a screen-but what do you see?
Freedland: Directly ahead is a blank wall. I don't like
things in front of me because I like to focus on the
work. If I turn sideways, I have a window, so I see the
city and the mountains. Buildings going up are slowly
eroding the view. But, the mountains are still there.
i+D - July/August 2019
i+D: What do you always have with you?
Freedland: My wedding ring. If I've taken it off
in the house and suddenly realize it's missing,
it's like: "Oh, what did I do with it? My husband
will kill me." And, after 17 years, I never get
anniversaries or birthdays right. I'm terrible.
i+D: What's the most important factor
in hiring someone?
Freedland: I want to see if the work looks good.
But, the most important thing for me is their
personality. There's so much talent out there, lots of
great schools and lots of quality work, but it's how
people handle themselves that's the key for us.
i+D: Someone comfortable in his or her own skin?
Freedland: Absolutely. We're looking for energy, for
lack of a better word. Some people are confident and
some are too cocky, there has to be a balance,
and you get that when you meet people. We have
a lot of strong personalities in the office.
i+D: How important is it to understand art
history to successfully create livable spaces?
Freedland: It's critical. It's one thing I really
appreciated in my education, and design history was
a paramount part of it. From what I see from a lot
of younger designers, I don't feel that history is as
important in the curriculum. It's a shame.
i+D: Have you ever taught?
Freedland: I've done some assistant teaching. I'm
very good at drawing, as I mentioned. I've helped
in art classes, but I've never actually taught design.
It's something I think I'd probably be good at.
i+D: What exasperates you?
i+D: Besides people asking you what
Freedland: Yes! But, also, clients who have
unrealistic time expectations. Makes me crazy. Not
understanding how long things really take. Some
people are good about it. And, some people are not.
i+D: How has the business of design changed
since you came into the field?
Freedland: Technology is constantly changing it.
Some products were once protected to the trade
only, but now everything is accessible to everyone.
You have to keep rolling with it and working your
business model to keep up with the times.
i+D: What was the first thing you designed
Freedland: I was always drawing floor plans, so
it was probably making a model of a house. I grew
up in a city apartment. I never lived in a house, so
I was probably always fantasizing about houses and
the people who lived in them.
is the editor of the Shelter Island Reporter
and a novelist, nonfiction author, and
journalist. His work has appeared in GQ,
The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.
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