Karice Designers Envision What Leonardo da Vinci Would Do with Today’s Technology

Award-winning custom lighting and metalworking company, Karice, evokes the spirit of the Golden Age to craft pieces unlike anything that’s been seen, or even tried, before.

A clock-like lighting fixture called "Time," inspired by Alice in Wonderland. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
A clock-like lighting fixture called “Time,” inspired by Alice in Wonderland. (Photo courtesy of Karice)

Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy is as alive today as ever with people from around the world packing into the Louvre or the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie to catch glimpses of his masterpieces, such as the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. But da Vinci’s cultural influence reaches beyond fine art, something that his Vitruvian Man suggests — he pioneered in other fields as well, such as anatomy, science, and engineering.

“Da Vinci inspires me because I am very mechanical,” says Maurice Dery, co-founder and lead designer at Karice, a company that’s won numerous international design awards for its handcrafted, custom lighting and metalwork over the last 25 years. “I wish I would have met him, because he was an inventor.”

Maurice, who holds the top industry certifications as both an ironworker and machinist, is a renaissance man himself. Like da Vinci, Maurice has that rare spirit — a blend of artist, artisan and inventor.

Like da Vinci, Maurice has that rare spirit — a blend of artist, artisan and inventor.

“I feel like I’m still an old-world craftsman, a builder-designer,” Maurice says. “For me, the wheels are always turning.”

Maurice Dery of Karice, in his workshop. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
Maurice Dery of Karice, in his workshop. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
A lighting fixture designed by Karice. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
A lighting fixture designed by Karice. (Photo courtesy of Karice)

He remembers one Friday night he was relaxing at home, when Karen Dery — his wife and Karice’s co-founder and account manager — could tell he was daydreaming and kiddingly asked him, “What are you designing now?”

Maurice laughs as he recalls it — Karen knows him too well. He had an itch to make a firefly that lights up, so he went into his studio the next day and made one out of copper. Karen loved it, and they decided to use them in a show. They hung 28 “Little Buggers” — miniature firefly lights — off tree branches, with computers controlling little lights to flash on and off in a realistic cadence.

“It’s so amazing, like a real firefly,” Maurice says. “I thought, ‘This is really different.’ We had no intentions of ever selling them — it was just something I wanted to build.”

It’s no wonder Karen describes their work as “artisanal manufacturing” — “Manufacturing with an artist’s point of view in mind,” she says.

Inspired

The creativity and love for building that defines Karice truly reflects the founders’ pedigree and aesthetic sensibilities.

“You will see in the things that I like to create,… I like realism,” Maurice says. “I’m not a huge fan of abstract.”

Karen, who attended art school before becoming a CPA and then business owner with her husband, concurs, citing her adoration for Michelangelo’s David.

“The attention to detail and the realism that’s captured in that marble is just outrageous — it’s just breathtaking,” she says.

While Maurice gives some credit for his creativity to his mom, who was a painter, he had certain inborn characteristics as well.

“I’m super fussy with my work as a machinist, as a tradesman,” he says. “I was getting frustrated with the industry — I always wanted to do a better job.”

In 1992, a friend approached Maurice to do the railings for his Bread Garden Restaurant in Vancouver.

“That was actually the turning point for us,” Maurice says. “I always wanted to show the pride in my work. Even if it took longer and even if there was no profit, it was all about doing a good job. It was going to be done right, and it was going to be done on time.”

 (Photo courtesy of Karice)
(Photos courtesy of Karice)

With Maurice’s uncompromising standard and ethic, word spread quickly through the West Coast restaurant industry. Karice’s business exploded. From working inside their own personal garage, they moved to a 2,000-square-foot shop, and then to a 4,000-square-foot space.

“In those days, the interesting thing was if you did a good job, you got the next job,” he says. “As we grew within that industry, some of the designers would come to us and challenge us old-timers,” Maurice says with a youthful exuberance. “Can you do this? Can you do that?”

Maurice and Karen’s answer was always a simple “yes.”

Mechanics of creativity

Robert Clark was an award-winning designer from Seattle, who loved Maurice’s work.

“Robert Clark for me was a very big inspiration. He used to push the boundaries not only in his design but even for the things that I was doing in architectural,” Maurice says. “I loved working with him because he would always give me the concept, and then just let me go.”

 (Photo courtesy of Karice)
(Photo courtesy of Karice)

They ended up collaborating on over 30 restaurants together. Clark was also the first to ask Maurice to design and build a light fixture, awakening the inventor inside of him.

“I think what excites me the most with a project is if I’m allowed to design and build the project for the client,” Maurice says. He contrasts it with the dreaded “knock-offs” he’s asked to do, when a client requests a replica of something that caught his eye in New York, for example.

“You have to be a little more creative than that,” he says. “The most fun is when people come to me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a vision. Can you make that happen?’ That’s what excites us.”

Maurice’s abundant enthusiasm is well balanced by Karen’s calmer demeanor, a perfect harmony considering their biggest challenge isn’t dreaming up the impossible, it’s executing it.

Their biggest challenge isn’t dreaming up the impossible, it’s executing it.

“What goes into making that concept happen, that to me is where the design really happens,” she says. Karen recalls a favourite Steve Jobs quote: “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The Sprocket illustrates that problem-solving, artisan-inventor spirit of Karice.

“The Sprocket was a thing that I built on a whim. I was a little bored a couple of Christmases ago, and I just needed to build something,” Maurice says, probably telling an all-too-familiar story that has led him to unexpected breakthroughs.

It’s a 10-foot-by-10-foot LED, sprocket-and-chain chandelier that appears to float in mid-air, suspended only by aircraft cables, with no visible wires or power source for the lights. Maurice decided to run the power through the support cables, and then through each chain link, alternating positive and negative charges.

“We developed some really interesting technology to make that thing work,” he says.

Karice’s uncanny ability to turn imagination into reality became even more evident when they were approached to design a light fixture for an Alice in Wonderland-themed show.

“You’re kidding me. Can I do whatever I want?” Maurice recounts his reaction, his contagious excitement still as fervent as the day he found out. He was given total creative freedom and the gears began turning in his mind. He decided to create a clock with missing pieces, playing into the fictional world’s themes of broken perceptions and time.

 (Photo courtesy of Karice)
(Photo courtesy of Karice)
A work in progress in the Karice workshop. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
A work in progress in the Karice workshop. (Photo courtesy of Karice)

“I was just thinking about balance,” he says, pointing out the challenge of creating a clock that looks like it has exploded, while keeping the design harmonious, not too jarring. “What do I keep? What do I throw out? What am I trying to achieve here?”

Maurice dove into research on clocks and timepieces throughout history. He designed watch hands, for example, similar to 18th- and 19th-century French clocks — perfect for creating the mood of Alice in Wonderland. Their shape reminded him of a crown, recalling of the story’s King and Queen of Hearts.

With its gears, pins and gemlike lights, each detail added to the overall richness of the fractured, yet harmonious, inner workings of a clock. He called it Time.

A clock-like lighting fixture called "Time," inspired by Alice in Wonderland. (Photo courtesy of Karice)
A clock-like lighting fixture called “Time,” inspired by Alice in Wonderland. (Photo courtesy of Karice)

“We took the lights and we painted them a red colour so when the light isn’t on, the lights look like jewels, like the pivot points in a watch,” says Maurice, who also used the newest LED chips on board (COB) technology.

Back to the future

Magnifissance’s sister media, Taste of Life, approached Maurice and Karen to design a bespoke lighting fixture for its Luxury Home and Design Show in May at BC Place in Vancouver, Canada. When they heard the theme, the light came on.

“The minute [I was told the theme is the] Renaissance, I thought, ‘Okay, now I can have fun with it,’ because when I hear ‘Renaissance,’ the first one I think of is da Vinci.”

With a similar artist-inventor spirit as this Golden Age maestro, Maurice naturally wondered what da Vinci himself would design if he were alive today, with all the newest technology at his fingertips.

“If da Vinci had an LED, but we put it back in the 17th century, he would want to magnify this light through a magnifying glass, then reflect the light to where he wants it through mirrors,” Maurice says, giving a teaser of his show piece. “This light fixture is going to be interactive. You will be able to move the direction of your light through gears and chains.”

“This light fixture is going to be interactive. You will be able to move the direction of your light through gears and chains.” -Maurice Dery, Karice

Karen, just as excited about their bespoke lighting fixture for the Luxury Home and Design Show, says it has “Never been done, never been seen.”

“Ever, ever,” Maurice emphasizes, with his usual zeal. However, like all of Karice’s groundbreaking designs, there’s as much problem-solving as artistic creativity. The LEDs need to be cooled in such a way as to preserve the lifespan; they have to find magnifying glasses and mirrors that will properly reflect the light; and to keep its old-world look, they’ll use brass rivets instead of just welding everything together.

“We want it to look like it came out of the 17th century, but it didn’t,” he says, noting it will take two to three months to create due to its complexity. “Keep in mind, this thing might never sell, because it’s not mainstream.”

But to a team that loves to invent, create and inspire, their starting point is entirely different.

“[To sell it is] not why we’re building it,” Maurice says. “We’re building it because we can, not because we have to.”

Karice will display its work at the Luxury Home & Design Show in Vancouver, June 21–24, 2018. The show is hosted by Magnifissance’s sister media, Taste of Life. Learn more about the Luxury Home & Design Show.

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