Saving the World One Chair at a Time | Grapevine Magazine

Saving the World One Chair at a Time

by Nicole Bergot-Browning

The air is colder inside Kyle Lane’s workshop than it is outside. Drill bits, stacked pre-fab bucket seats and oddly shaped wooden sculptures clutter the big, open space. This used to be an old auction hall, until 29 year-old Lane took it over a year and a half ago. And now the objects on the paint-splattered, sawdust covered concrete floors are not antique, kitchy auction grabs, but sleek sculpted wooden furniture, brought to life from years Lane has spent imagining the art he could make from slabs of wood.

One work in progress, a dining room chair prototype he calls The Ultimate Chair, is something that occupies a small space in the workshop, but a lot of his brain, as he wrestles with how to create the perfect chair. The manifestation so far is a bucket-shaped seat with a narrow back that follows the curves of the human form. It’s compact, beautiful and comfortable, all the things that excite Lane when it comes to furniture design. “I had to re-envision the chair – to start looking at it as a sculpture, rather than just a piece of furniture”.

His first commission was at 13 years old. Sue, a family friend, wanted 24 step stools to give away for gifts. Then it was high school woodworking class, but making magazine racks and candle holders bored Lane, who had already formed progressive ideas about how furniture could make life better. After high school he went to Sheridan College, graduating from the Craft and Design program to start a furniture business in Toronto until he mangled two fingers in a saw accident. They were able to reattach the fingers, but that incident severed Lane from the big city, and seven years ago he happily returned to Picton, “I came back to the county and realized how much I love this place.” He took advantage of the influx of newcomers from Toronto by renovating and working on their fixer-uppers until he decided he’d had enough of making nice kitchens for people’s second homes. “I hate making cabinets. I made some nice kitchens, but it was a bit of conspicuous consumption.”

His rejection of the idea that fine craftsmanship is reserved only for the wealthy is what drives him. The democratization of beautiful, well-crafted furniture is the thing that makes Lane worthy of the buzz he’s starting to generate in the county – and beyond. His passionate belief that the things we sit on, and eat at, every day ought to be comfortable, useful, artful. “I don’t aspire to greatness for greatness’ sake. I genuinely want to improve the world with my furniture.”

Lane comes by this lofty ambition honestly. His great-grandfather, Gunnar Söderström – which translates to Lane’s company name, Southstream – lived a life that legends are made of; his lumber mill burned down, two of his fishing vessels sank off the coast of northern Finland and the Nazis burned down his factories, until he finally found success as an entrepreneur. In addition to his tenacious drive to succeed he was a big-hearted do-gooder – he hired former convicts and built an orphanage. “I want to be like my great-grandfather and make the world better. He helped so  many people”.

Lane believes he too can help people, not only by making good furniture, but also the way he goes about it, and the combination of those two things is the crux of Lane’s long term business plan. The materials he strives to use are locally sourced, and sustainably harvested. The people he employs will be local, creating good jobs for the county. And of course, the product itself will be exceptional, or as he describes it, “strong enough for commercial but beautiful enough that you want it in your home.” He thumbs his nose at cushions, believing that wood should feel comfortable. “Padding makes up for not being ergonomically correct. If your wood is sculpted properly it doesn’t need padding.”

Diners can see for themselves by sitting on Lane’s uncushioned creations here in the county; he made the rustic hand-planed tables and bar at The County Canteen and the Bean Counter, and a simpler version of the table sits at The Golf Course Grill. He is working on filling an order from a local restaurant, Angry Birds, to make 20 of The Ultimate Chairs and six bar stools.

He puts as much thought into distribution as he does design, and throws around terms like economy of scale and vertical integration. He figures by making his furniture so that it comes apart and stacks, he can fit more into a truck. On the other end his customers can put the furniture together themselves – like a “high quality, independent IKEA”. Lane wants a start-to-finish business, using a local mill, local wood, built here in the county, sold online, and shipped to the buyer – wherever that may be. That’s Lane’s way, as he says “I love design – creating things and solving problems. Saving the world one chair at a time.”

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