Edmonton is a place filled with talent, known and hidden. It’s been called a center for pioneers, a city that encourages exploration, trailblazing, innovative design, and a return to craftsmanship. Artists and makers can be found in each of its neighborhoods, working to build the city that they want to both live and thrive in. Its creative community is so intrinsically connected that its population of less than one million has stitched together a cohesive, artistic atmosphere that can be seen and felt throughout its streets, even when temperatures fall below freezing.
Hoping to learn more about this creative community, we sat down with Landon Schedler and Chris Provins of Oliver Apt. and Shawna Heide of Concrete Cat to chat about why they’ve chosen to stay in Edmonton and where they believe the city’s headed.
How did you first get involved in your respective craft, and what drew you to the medium?
Shawna: My husband Matt and I first turned to concrete because it’s a medium that can do just about anything. We jumped into it around the same time that artists in Brooklyn were, and we eventually started Concrete Cat, which, at the time, focused solely on residential applications like countertops and fireplace panels. Although we still do these, we’ve since expanded. We also pushed past traditional gray tones but found that most people don’t want colored countertops. So, we did a lot of work developing a library of recipes for colors outside of the industrial templates for sidewalks and driveways, and we now work in commercial and residential spaces, making smaller pieces as well as larger ones.
That said, my favorite aspect of our work is the live-castings that we do, because they give concrete a different life and make people see things in a new way. There’s a beautiful accessibility with concrete. As it cures, you can truly make it your own. So, while it’s controlled, it’s also sort of blind because the result is never quite the same. You can guide the visual texture, but until you pop it out of the mold, you never really know what you have. That’s the most exciting aspect of the medium for me, because it encourages true creation and gives way to things that you don’t expect, which is really magical.
What about you two?
Landon: My dad is a carpenter, and his dad is as well. But I didn’t start working in carpentry until I graduated from high school and was looking for a job. I was offered a carpentry position from someone, and I started working with them. That’s when I realized that I found enjoyment in making something with my hands. Later on, I did a four-year carpentry apprenticeship with my dad. It was great, but I wanted to do something more creative. So I took the skills and the tools I had acquired and started making my own furniture pieces. From there, I founded Oliver Apt. as a small online store of home accessories and furniture pieces that I was making for myself and others. Fast forward to a year and a half ago when we launched the new line. I went to Chris for help redesigning the website, which was something that I wasn’t able to get done in-house. So, it became the perfect partnership. We both bring different things to the table (literally).
Chris: So yeah, that’s where I fit into the picture. I partnered with Landon about six months ago, but I have always been interested in the creative industry. I graduated with a degree in industrial design and worked for a number of years in that area. I then moved to Brisbane, and since there wasn’t a lot of industry there, I fell into branding and digital interactive media, which became my next career step. And that’s what I’ve been working in for the past 10 years or so — just developing brands, websites, and projects for other people. I’ve been good friends with Landon for some time, though, and one night, we joked about working together — and then we took it seriously. Instead of doing this stuff for everyone else, I decided to take the plunge and do something for myself, and do it with someone that I care deeply about and can see a working future with.
What was it like transitioning into the maker space?
Chris: Well, I’ve always been sort of connected to it. In fact, my wife and I run a jewelry company. That’s a different story altogether, but I’ve always been doing that sort of stuff on the side. That’s what industrial design is, really — the design of everything that isn’t architecture, be it jewelry or furniture. Because of my background, I don’t really see boundaries in creative industries. It’s the same method of thinking, just different outputs.
Shawna: And I’d say that’s the advantage of being a small studio. We have a team of six and everybody brings different disciplines and mediums to the table, so it keeps the creativity flowing. And for a small studio, that’s everything. Being flexible allows you to create things that are new and made-to-order. It allows you to design as you go, which keeps things interesting.
What brought you to Edmonton — or, what called you to stay?
Landon: I grew up in the area and was happy to be here because I got into woodworking at a time when some of those first restaurants were just coming up — the beginning of the food scene sort of became the beginning of the design scene in Edmonton. So, I was happy to stay here because there was so much going on. There was so much opportunity to lend a hand and have a piece of every project. It was fun to feel like a big fish in a small pond.
Shawna: I second that. It’s a really great place to live as an artist. There’s just a lot of space. You have the opportunity to mingle with other creatives, but you also have space to zone in on what you want to do and just do it — especially when it’s cold. And there’s nature close by, which we draw inspiration from all the time. But yeah, we originally wanted to move away and live somewhere else, but then we realized how good it is here. The city seems to appreciate what we’re doing and allows that to be 100 percent of our focus.
Chris: There’s definitely opportunity here. My story is a little different than these guys. I moved here from Australia six years ago because my wife is from Edmonton, and I managed to get a job in a digital agency in the city. I then doubled-down when I partnered with Landon. When I did that, I felt a definite support. There’s a unique approach here: people are able to actually do something here, unlike other big cities like Sydney and Brisbane back home, where it’s much tougher to crack the market. But here, it’s sort of like, straight away, people are willing to give you a chance and support you in that.
Landon: And get excited about it.
Having any support when you’re doing something like this is so crucial — the community side of things, feeling noticed.
Landon: And the city is sort of a sweet spot in size: it’s large enough to support us in what we’re doing and there are enough restaurants and other places opening to sustain us, but it’s not so big that it’s already saturated.
It feels like it’s on the upswing, too. So, while you’re in conversations with those spaces, those same interactions are helping spark new ideas for other projects. When that happens, the possibilities for collaborations and installations just keep expanding.
Landon: That’s why we’re expanding as well — having Chris on the design side, with his background in industrial design, branding, and marketing. That’s how we’re going from just doing one-off pieces or small parts to doing the design and the build.
Since you all started doing what you’re doing, how have you seen the creative community in Edmonton grow and evolve?
Landon: There are definitely more people doing custom woodworking, creative woodworking, and small-accessory woodworking than when I first started. I think that’s a fairly global trend, though. Young people are seeing an appreciation for the older craft of woodworking and traditional joinery. So, where there weren’t a lot of woodworkers before, there are definitely more now.
Chris: For me, being new in this country, as well as in Edmonton, I’ve definitely seen the creative community grow since I arrived. I’ve also tried to seek out what a Canadian identity is, and that’s something that doesn’t seem to be super defined. When I came on board here, I reached out to a lot of other furniture companies, asking them if there was a common thread, and the answer was a resounding no, which is kind of a shame. You look at other countries and there’s a baseline aesthetic, something to fall back on, whereas I don’t think we have that yet. But that means that we can define what that is. And that’s exciting. It might seem like a bit of a surprise coming from Edmonton, but why can’t it come from here?
Are your materials sourced in Edmonton as well?
Shawna: Ours are all sourced locally. The concrete is local, and the pigments are shipped from abroad, but it’s a very small percentage. Every city has a local supply of concrete — it’s heavy, so it’s not a great idea to ship it around too much. But there are some positive environmental aspects to that as well, in that it’s sourced locally and it’s something that can be recycled.
Landon: We get ours from a local supplier, but our wood comes from various places, depending on the species. The typical woods that we use are ash, walnut, and white oak — kind of a light, medium, and dark. And those are all North-American. We choose our supply based on stability, tonal trends, and what we like, but one thing that we have been strategic about is trying to reduce our waste. So, when we’re designing larger pieces, we’re also building smaller and smaller things using those excess pieces. These can be anything from wall hooks and racks to children’s blocks. We try to be resourceful and use as much of the wood as possible.
When people visit Edmonton, are there certain ways that they can be supporting local makers?
Chris: There are a few retail spaces that do great stuff, though it isn’t always local — like Hideout Distro. But I don’t think there’s an exclusive Edmonton shop, though many support Edmonton.
Landon: And there’s the Gifted Guide, which showcases local makers who have somewhat outgrown art fairs like the Royal Bison. And that’s nice, especially for people like us who are choosing to sell large tables.
Landon: I have a question for you: had you heard of Edmonton before?
Shawna: What do you mean, “of course”? I feel like most people haven’t.
Landon: Or if they have it’s because of Gretzky, the mall, or the bison. That said, I think that our culinary scene is beginning to gain notice and push a lot of other things. I’m sure it’s fairly universal across other cities, but we’ve had a great explosion of restaurants over the past five years, and some have done really well. And those people have gone on to do other things — it’s become really common, actually. For example, Tres Carnales, a taco place, went on to do Rostizado and then Kanto. Same with Corso32, which then led to Bar Bricco and Uccellino. My wife even opened the Next Act, then MEAT right next door, and then Pip right next to both of those. So, it’s been cool to see these people make something, get it going, and then push themselves to do the next version that’s similar, yet different enough. Like, how can you have three good Italian restaurants right next to each other that are all unique? It somehow works. But just five to 10 years ago, you had to travel elsewhere to get that. Now we’ve got it. It’s not just that we have a version of it. We have a really good version of it.
Where do you hope to see the city in another five years?
Chris: Closer to the coast? No, but I think that instead of people being surprised by or hearing about Edmonton for the first time, it would be great to have people already know about it — or, who knows, meet people who have been here before.
Landon: Yeah, we’ve come a long way, but there’s still room to have more and more competition, whether that’s in the maker and creative scene or in restaurants. I’d also love to see more large-scale projects in the city — like, they put in that massive arena, which draws so many people, and there are total pros and cons to it, but it’s completely expanded the downtown area, and the population of downtown outside of business hours, and funding for things like the Funicular. Any attraction that the city has, whether it’s the best or not, is a cool thing.
Shawna: No, I think that’s important, ’cause like you said, things like that encourage us to explore our own city, which means that people from Edmonton are spending more of their money in Edmonton. That’s how the city can keep growing and improving as it does. We need all of it — we need all of the funiculars.
Lastly, would you say that the city has an overwhelming sense of support when it comes to its creative community?
Chris: I think there’s a natural urge for people to want good stuff, so I don’t think it’s just blind support. So long as you’re doing something that’s good and has a story and there’s authenticity to it, people here want to back it. So I think, in that way, there’s a ton of support. People here want good stuff that is made by their neighbor.
Shawna: And I think that’s challenging people to step it up. So, you can now find things that are good and comparable to what you might find in Vancouver or somewhere else.
Landon: Also, the makers and small business owners in Edmonton are very supportive of each other. Like, on the opening night of a new restaurant, all of the other owners are there — so as to say, “You just worked to get this place up and running and that’s awesome. We’re here, and we’ll be back.” It reminds me of the “Still in Edmonton” decal you’ll see around the city. How I see it is: “I’m still good in Edmonton. I’m here and I’m doing it here. I didn’t rush off to Vancouver. I’m still here and I’m happy to be here.” At least, that’s how I feel, and there seems to be a large group who feels the same.
To learn more about Edmonton’s creative scene, check out our Creative’s Guide to Edmonton.