Make Coffee and Stuff is a Winnipeg-based coffee shop that, when not busy satisfying locals’ caffeine cravings, plays host to the coolest architectural and design exhibitions the city has to offer. It was here that we discovered 2213 Inc., a Canadian design company that’s been building major steam ever since it’s launch in December of last year (2012).
Image source (for above image only): portrait of Valentin Mittelstet by Sandra Birkner
Valentin Mittelstet – the founder, president and designer behind 2213 Inc. – grew up in Germany and studied constructional design out there before moving to Canada to live and work. After a stint in photography, followed by time spent travelling, Valentin put down roots in the southwestern part of Manitoba to launch his new creative venture. German and Canadian influences are both evident in 2213’s products, which combine modern and minimalist design with quality materials and craftsmanship. The company is quickly becoming known for their steel mailboxes and house numbers, meeting the demand for attractive, well-made fixtures for the front of the home – something that’s surprisingly hard to come by.
We recently sat down with Valentin in the 2213 office to talk about his products, the design process and where he looks for inspiration.
EQ3 What’s your earliest memory of design?
VALENTIN MITTELSTET I grew up very creative. From a young age I was actually drawing and painting. I used to do pretty much everything from graffiti to oil painting to photography. When I was 16 years old – in Germany it’s a bit different – I was done with school and I started to study design – constructional design. I was working basically part-time at a company that was building steel constructions…big industrial buildings, bridges and stuff like that. So I think that would be my first contact with design.
EQ3 What brought you to construction design to begin with?
VM It’s very simple. I was only 16 years when I was done with school, so that was pretty early. I was interested in actually getting into an art school, but art school would be further away, so I would have to move away. My parents weren’t okay with that so I had to stick around and do whatever was available. That was the next closest thing to being creative, at that time I thought, so I just jumped right into it. Later on I figured that it’s not really being creative at all – it’s just work.
EQ3 Then, how did that prepare you for the creative work you do now?
VM As I mentioned before, I was creative all my life so that was always somehow in the back of my head. But how it prepared me to design itself? I mean I learned the basics for design, obviously. A chair or a mailbox – the principals or the basics are the same as if you build something big. You can just scale it down and that’s what it is. Construction is construction. So design: it prepared me for everything. I learned materials. I learned different ways of producing things. I learned everything that has to do with design just on a bigger scale, that’s all.
EQ3 And so how did you get from there (in Germany) to owning your company here (in Canada)…because that’s a big jump!
VM It’s a big jump, yeah. I was in Germany studying. Then I was working there for a year at the same company; and, then I was kind of tired of it. As I said, it was always an artist’s life that I had in the back of my mind. I wanted to do it for at least a short time of my life. So I moved to Winnipeg because my parents were living in Manitoba at the time already, so it was the easiest way for me to get out of Germany and move abroad, move to a different country, do something else. So I moved to Winnipeg and did photography. I did (fashion) photography in Winnipeg for three years. I was quite well known in Winnipeg and then I realized there was no money. So I started travelling and then was tired of it – travelling all the time. It’s not something for me. It’s fun for a while and then it kind of gets annoying. It was time to get back, but I didn’t want to just be a part of a big company and be a little part of it. I wanted to create my own. So right now I am here with my mailbox and house numbers, with more to come…and, happy about it. It’s going well so far.
EQ3 What influences do you draw from when you’re designing?
VM I am an extreme minimalist. Is that sad? Influences I draw from everywhere that’s around me. I know that’s a generic answer, but it’s true. I’m inspired a lot by Japanese architecture and Japanese architecture is just very minimal and cutting edge. And I personally think that it’s a good thing to cut down on details and just really go back to the basics: make it functional – make it very functional – and have it be a good quality product, but have it very clean for the eye. And I think you can see that in my products – it’s very minimal – and everything else that will come on from now will be very minimal.
I don’t know if I want to call it modern…it’s very minimal and very back to basics.
EQ3 Do you find that you have to start with something more elaborate and then strip away to get back to the very minimal basics?
VM My thought is obviously there’s a process behind it. Let’s just say about the mailbox – everybody knows what a mailbox is. Everybody’s seen a mailbox before and everybody knows how a mailbox usually functions. You always have that in your head, somewhat. And then you have to erase it and create something totally new. Like our mailbox: it’s very minimal, actually very simple, but at the same time it’s super functional and sturdy and running smooth.
That was very important to me to actually get it to that point.
EQ3 There’s a strength to your pieces, I would say. Is that intentional?
VM Yes, it is. I know a lot of people say that the mailbox is heavy, and it is heavy because we’re using steel, but at the same time I could use aluminum in the production process. It wouldn’t make a big difference, actually, but I want it to have a little weight to it.
EQ3 You mentioned about the process: knowing something and then erasing that and creating something totally new. Can you give us a bit of insight into your creative process? Where the ideas come from? How you explore them? How you implement them?
VM I research a lot. I’m reading books.
I was looking for a product that we can produce that is small, that is cheap to produce, that is easy to produce and that can actually make an impact. When I was living in Winnipeg, I was walking through a neighbourhood and I was just wondering “okay what is missing?” I was looking at the house numbers and everything out there looked pretty bad. There is not very much available that is modern.
So we thought we could create something that is minimal, different and that people would love to have on their houses. That’s how I started to design house numbers. The process of designing this font (Valentin points to the product sitting on the desktop next to us) was actually quite long. I designed 10 different fonts and then I decided on this one because it was so different.
The creative process behind this font: I designed the number 8 first because it’s the number that has the most material to it. So then from the number 8 I was cutting away. “How do you create the most simple number 8?” That’s where I went and then I just cut away and made the rest look similar to the number 8 to make one font. There’s a little bit here or there that you’re changing, but that’s basically it. That’s how I got to those numbers.
EQ3 Was the mailbox just a natural off-shoot of that, then?
VM The mailbox for me was the logical next step because, again, there are not many mailboxes out there. Especially around here…if you find a nicer mailbox, you pay right away 500, 600, 700 dollars for it. And we don’t want that. We want the product that is still medium price but that looks good. It was a natural step. The concept of 2213 is actually to start with the first thing you’re looking at – that was the house number. If you want to visit someone, what you’re looking for is the house number. So that was the first thing. The next thing was the mailbox.
EQ3 Any role models or mentors that you could name, or peoples’ work who inspire you?
VM People that inspire me – there are always people…like Steve Jobs, obviously. He had a few things that really inspire me. Like Apple – the product itself inspires me. It’s very minimal. It just functions. It just works. That’s what I want from a product.
And, there are a few architects out there that inspired me in the past…that I liked the work of them. There are a bunch of Japanese accessories that really got my attention. But I don’t really have a role model.
EQ3 Stepping aside from work, when you’re not working what could we typically find you doing?
VM I’m always working. I am married, so I try to spend as much time with my wife as possible, otherwise I get in trouble. But that is basically it. I mean I like to be in nature. I personally think that it’s beautiful out there so I try to get out from everything material and go back to basics. I love trees, I love sunshine, I love water. If I don’t do that, I read. If I don’t do that, I am working. To be, I think, a creative person you never stop. You always think. Even if you’re not at the office…like I’m not saying I’m 24/7 at the office…but wherever I am, you kind of still think about what’s next.
EQ3 So seeing as you’re always working, what are your 3 must-have tools for living and working…things that you can’t work/live without?
VM My iPhone. My iPad. My MacBook. I’m drawing on my iPad, I use my iPhone for a lot of things, and my MacBook obviously that is where everything is getting finished up.
Thanks Valentin for inviting us inside your studio and warehouse.