NEW BUSINESS PROFILE: Mountain Haus brings a choose-your-own-adventure attitude to furniture

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
August 4th, 2010

Ever been to a furniture store and thought, “if only it was a little smaller, or had a different fabric or was a different colour, this would be perfect for my house.” If you have, then the brand new (just opened this week) Mountain Haus store on Columbia Avenue can help you.

Run and operated by Kootenay locals originally from Nelson, Mountain Haus isn’t your everyday furniture store. Bringing with them an established background in furniture design and having worked for several prominent design companies, Ian Ellis and Jennifer Harper are doing things differently.

Running what could become the world headquarters for Mountain Haus furniture, the team is retailing in house-designed furniture as well as various name brands. They are also exporting their design skills and products far and wide. This week, Andrew Zwicker visited the new shop and sat down with Jennifer and Ian to talk…Haus. 

How does a young kid from Nelson get into the furniture design business and then go on to design furniture for big name brands around the world?

Ian: Well I’m from Nelson, and originally I went to the Kootenay School of the Arts for the furniture design program. That took me to Vancouver where I designed sofas for Urban Barn and various mid-end boutique stores in the city. That took me to some more design work for furniture with a bunch of companies including Costco, Sears, The Bay, and Amazon. Ultimately I came back to the Kootenays as that part of my life was getting boring. This way of life is way more easy going and fun.

What drew you to design in the first place?

Ian: Well, I probably wouldn’t make it into regular university (laughs). I love creativity but I still like some structure–using my hands to build things but also being able to use the computer to do some design work. I don’t love the 9-5 scene: I really hate having to, you know, be at work at nine, so there is a lot of flexibility and creativity in the design world. It’s been a really great fit for me. My family has a really artistic background, so I guess it’s been in my blood since I was born.

How did you two pair up to start this new venture?

Jennifer: Ian and I went to art school In the 90s in Calgary. We actually lived together there. That’s how we met. Then we went our separate ways. I’m from Nelson as well and eventually we both trickled back t our home land. It turned out Ian needed a partner in his new business, so we’re back working together again.

So tell me a little bit about the concept behind Mountain Haus.

Ian: Our store here is more of a sample of what we can do rather than a retail outlet. Our primary business is offering packages for second homes so when people come here they just walk into their place fully furnished. The public benefits from that because we are working on volume deals and can bring that lower price to the customer.

Also, a big part of this industry in the city was always driven by local talent, designing, building furniture in house. We want to be able to bring that back to the Kootenays. We want to have our own tagged line and design new things that people can come and see every couple of months. We offer a real custom design element here. If you come in and see something and maybe you want a different size, a different colour, different legs or different fabric, we can do that for you. We can build and design furniture to fit exactly your space and your needs in house.

What you see here is also being sold at other reputable furniture stores. People can know they are getting the latest designs here. The big part of this equation is that to sell this kind of product line in the city, our overhead would be through the roof, so we’d have to charge more for sofas. Here, the rents are so reasonable that we can sell people the same things you get in high end Vancouver stores for lower prices.

What are some of the trends in furniture design these days?

Ian: What was being done in furniture in the cities is now more accepted in smaller places like here. At the same time, the style in the city is not as edgy as it used to be and is going in the eco-friendly direction. A lot of stuff carried now is using soy products rather than polypropylenes for foam and that tends to have a more attractive colorful look that more people are interested in.


Even though it’s a small region here, I think there is a demand for good, quality furniture. It’s a real nice way to live if you can afford to live in the mountains here in the Kootenays, pay yourself enough to be a part of the community and raise your kids here. That’s number one for me. It’s the Kootenay dream!


I’ve been all over the world, and this is the place I want to be. If I can make this fly in Rossland and contribute to the community, I’ll be happy. It feels like a really tight knit group of close folks here, even more so than Nelson, which we love.


You’ve been working with Red Mountain, what are you doing with them?


Jennifer Red approached us about furniture for the new lodge expansion and for their Caldera project. We’ve furnished the Red Haus in Caldera and are currently working with Red on designing and furnishing the interior of the lodge.


They want to keep a lot of the traditional backcountry, casual style and feel but want a real blend of some contemporary pieces in there as well. That’s part of the reason we are here because of our relationship with Red. We are looking to do some commercial work as well as our residential work. 


Rossland’s a pretty active, kid and dog loving town. How does your furniture fit with that lifestyle?


Ian: The furniture we design and sell is all about wear and tear and designed for kids and dogs and ski boots. This isn’t throw away furniture just for the style. It’s quality-built stuff designed to be beat around, loved and lived on.


Jennifer:  The furniture we are working on for the Red lodge needs to withstand people drinking and dancing and wearing ski boots.


Where do you see your shop going in the future? What are some of your big goals of things you’d like to do before you retire someday?


Ian: Actually, this is probably it. If I could have a studio in the back or a second site where we can do more creative things to add to the store, that would be my choice. If we can create things here than we can ship them out to other places and other stores. I think creativity comes from living in places like this, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else to find my creative peak in design and creativity.


The Mountain Haus is planning a grand opening party that is currently in the works. They’ll be letting everyone know all about it soon. In the meantime, Jennifer and Ian are settling in and are eager to get involved in the community, keep designing quality unique furniture, host art shows in their shop space, and keep on living the Kootenay Dream.



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