Martin Gerard: Going against the grain

Downtown Vancouver business Niche Wine & Art

“At that time, the owner of the company told me it was the most beautiful chair he’d ever seen, designed in America,” said Gerard.

The success led Gerard to pursue his own work. Living in Spokane at the time, at 25 he started in the arena where he was most comfortable.

“I landed my first hotel in Spokane. We did all the furnishings for the entire hotel,” he recalled. As he built his business, he also honed his craft and explored the artistic realm more and more.

“I came from a production background,” Gerard said, “and as I climbed the quality ladder, I also got into the ‘artsy’ stuff.”

His process – both for the furniture he designs and the artwork he creates – is indeed unique. As a painter, Gerard uses a reverse-painting process on glass. Applying enamel paints to the back of the glass, he often adds metallics into his paints, creating a “light dynamic” effect that gives the painting a changing quality depending on the angle of the light. In addition to wall pieces, his reverse-painting approach also allows him to create beautiful, functional bar tops and tabletops.

As a woodworker, his medium is real wood veneers. By applying the wood veneer directly to raw wood products using a veneer press, his process is both cost-effective and flexible.

“Using my process, clients can choose the exact tree – the exact grain – they want, and I can show them a mock-up that looks exactly like what they’re going to get,” said Gerard.

“People look at what I do and often think they can’t afford it. The main hurdle I’ve found in this economy,” he said, “has been convincing people that you can have a tailored work of art, and it’s cost-competitive.”

Gerard was able to survive the economic downturn by stretching his labor and working with clients to find affordable solutions for unique, signature pieces.

“It all depends on the veneer they choose and the labor involved. Plastic laminate can cost $3 a foot, while veneers can be $2 a foot,” he explained.

Gerard’s clients have included international knife company Kershaw Kai, as well as Tom Holce, past chair of the Portland Art Museum. He recently finished the iPad wall installation at the Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23.

Gerard has noticed that his client base is starting to see some improvements.

“I feel like people are starting to get out of the ‘IKEA’ mindset and starting to look for quality again,” he said.

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