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Discover Squamish: Crafting a design and innovation hub

The Leon Lebeniste team aims to build a reputation as a creative hub for those who want their interiors to be as stunning as the local landscape.

Something big is brewing between two of Squamish's craft breweries. A striking new building in the Squamish industrial park — roughly between A-FRAME Brewing and Backcountry Brewing — is the new home of Leon Lebeniste Fine Furnishings and Architectural Woodwork.

Owner Jon Hewitt has specialized in high-end interior woodworks in the Sea to Sky for more than a decade. In the spring, he moved the operation into the new 28,000-square-foot building.

"It's architecturally significant," he said of the new digs. "Many people have said that it's the nicest building in Squamish."

While the exterior may be striking — as is the interior, with an imposing grand staircase — it is Hewitt's plans of making the site a hub for innovation and design lovers that gets the Montreal native riled up.

The main floor of the two-storey structure will be the factory and showroom for Leon Lebeniste. Upstairs, Hewitt foresees a café or small restaurant alongside a couple of complementary craftspeople or manufacturers.

"The idea is that it's a boutique café where our products are for sale," he said. "It will be a beautiful physical environment, kind of like the places you might have at a university, where there's a nice café and smart people hanging out having these conversations over really good coffee, a really good place for the community to be."

The rest of the second floor, which also features a stunning patio with views of the mountains, can be configured to welcome two or possibly more companies, which Hewitt says will be a magnet for folks driving through town.

"The idea is if you're driving down the Sea to Sky Highway, our building is a beacon of incredible design and manufacturing," he said. "Imagine stopping in at the Louis Vuitton factory to have a really nice coffee and see remarkable things being brought to life."

Hewitt and his team have been working primarily on luxury homes in the area since he moved west in 2009. (While Hewitt will respond if called Leon, there is no person named Leon Lebeniste – Leon is Hewitt's dog and "lebeniste" is French for cabinetmaker.)

A recent home project saw $1.5 million in interior woodwork alone. But while Hewitt acknowledges that his business aims at a niche clientele, he adds: "The last thing we would ever want to be is pretentious."

The new showroom exhibits will be dining tables and chairs, coffee tables, upholstered wooden sofas, and a growing range of made-to-order furnishings. While the space is open to the public during weekday business hours, Hewitt acknowledges they are in a sort of "soft opening" phase. As a design destination, it is still evolving as they vet potential tenants for the second floor. Since he expects they will be neighbours for several decades, Hewitt is taking his time to find the right fit.

The eye-catching new building is a culmination of Hewitt's dreams, though he did not start out designing and building furniture and residential woodwork. He was studying mechanical engineering in Kingston, Ontario, but found himself in the machine shop as often as not.

"I wanted to design and manufacture things rather than study thermodynamics," he said. "So I stopped pursuing mechanical and I ended up going to school in Montréal." He studied at Ecole Nationale du Meuble et de L'Ebénisterie.

While Hewitt is the principal and visionary of Leon Lebeniste, he credits "an amazing design team" for their achievements.

"The design development truly is teamwork," he said. Hewitt is especially effusive about Ryan Westfahl, who he calls "the Michael Jordan of 3D modelling."

They use computer numerical control machining —"Imagine computer-controlled robots that make amazing things," said Hewitt — and Westfahl is the master.

"He is a tremendously talented guy," Hewitt said. "He's been at the source of many of the most remarkable things we've ever made."

Squamish is renowned for lots of things – hiking, climbing, watersports and a variety of outdoor activities. Hewitt and the Leon Lebeniste team aim to build a reputation as a creative hub for those who want their interiors to be as stunning as the local landscape. 

This story originally ran in The Squamish Chief's magazine Discover Squamish in the winter of 2022. 

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