MIRAGE FOUNDERS LINA SANTELLA & PHILLIP SHAPIRO
"She's definitely details and I'm definitely not" he laughs. Phillip Shapiro and Lina Santella, are the entrepreneurs behind Atelier Mirage, an upholstery shop located in Montreal’s Grintown area. Entering their 25th year in business, Mirage is recognized as the creme de la creme for upholstery in town. From their variety of experience coming from a fashion background for Phillip, while his partner (and wife) Lina being a hairdresser allowed for a dynamic perspective and twist in this eld. Both from creative industries, both gave up what they were doing to do something together in harmony.
How did you get into custom upholstery coming from fashion and hairdressing?
I was originally a clothing designer, manufacturer, and retailer. I had stopped working for a few years and was looking for a small business to get into. Lina had been in hairdressing for many years and wanted a change as well. My younger sister introduced us to an upholsterer who was doing some work at her home. We went to his shop to see what he was making and thought that his workmanship looked really good. Within a week of our first meeting we decided to start a new business together.
Since our start-up in Little Italy, 24 years ago, we’ve moved to the Sud-Ouest where we operate out of a refurbished loft building located on the Canal Lachine.
We’re fortunate to be able to work and live in the same building. This allows us to pursue our extra-curricular loves with ease. For Lina, it’s having a studio to do her artwork. While for me, (points to his guitars) it’s playing music.
Whatever product we were going to make, we wanted it to be the very best possible. Our whole concept at Mirage is to make and deliver the best product we can. We weren’t looking to attract a clientele who was only price conscious. We really wanted a clientele who would appreciate the quality of product we wanted to make for them. Between Lina’s eye for hair design and mine for clothing design we make an unbeatable couple for putting out high quality furniture. Our company motto is “Taste is a matter of choice. Quality is a matter of fact”.
We work primarily with interior Designers and Architects, in Montreal, New York, Washington, and Miami. We cater to upscale Residential and Commercial projects.
Our foray into the US commercial market was through our neighbour, Andres Escobar. He had us make furniture for his projects in New York and New Jersey. Through that we met buying services who would commission us to make their furniture.
When we booked our first commercial project we were given a six month delivery deadline. We called the client two weeks in advance of the delivery date to inform them that we’d be ready to ship on time. They seemed shocked. They told me that no suppliers are ever ready on time and that they really didn’t need the furniture for another two months. They told us to ship to a warehouse. I refused. I explained that we never ship to warehouses. We don’t want anyone touching our furniture. We always do our own installations. We offer a White Glove Service. This was something else the buyers weren’t used to.
Well, here we are 12 years later, still doing business with those buyers except that these days they’ve built up such confidence in Mirage that we get to pick and choose which pieces we want to make for their projects. We don’t have to bid for any orders as they’ve grown to know us. We have our prices, we ship high quality product, and we’re non-negotiable on price.
When people meet us at our Mirage for the first time their first impression is that “we’re unconventional”.
When we’ve been asked to submit shop drawings fro commercial projects we always end up making a prototype rather than sketching one. Designers aren’t used to that. However, once they’ve been involved they always prefer our way to theirs.
When we came up with the name “Mirage” we dreamed of a place where designers could come to us with their ideas, close there eyes, wait a bit of time, and when they’d open their eyes their design would appear. In a way we we’ve been able to make that dream a reality.
One of the perks of making better furniture is the ability to work with amazing fabrics. We work with the likes of Loro Piana for their magnificent cashmeres, Hermes Home Textiles,
& Moore & Giles fine leathers, just to name a few. Although our clients provides us with gorgeous fabrics, it’s up to us to turn them into magnificent pieces of furniture or junk. Many finishing techniques we use today came from my clothing experience. It’s those little details which separates our quality from other custom shops.
Another unique part of our business is that neither Lina nor I are upholsterers. Our team is made up of people from Italy, France, Russia, Romania, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Caribbean Islands and Quebec. When we started on this venture I had an idea to approach the very best upholsterers in Montreal and provide them with a shop which would have the best tools. I wanted to have a shop where everyone was an “A” class upholsterer. My idea was not acceptable to the people I approached. No one understood what I wanted to build. So, we went about doing it slowly over time. Today, we feel the Mirage has the best custom upholstery team, anywhere. We try to make furniture with best finish in our industry.
Do people appreciate the quality of fine furniture here as much as they do in Europe?
It has a lot to do with upbringing. I found, over time, that the quality comes from what you’ve been accustomed to seeing or living with. If you didn’t grow up around nice furniture, or study furniture, how can you produce it? We love to see that moment when a client sits on a luxurious down filled seat cushion and falls in love......Our attention to details is what differentiates us from the other makers.
Lina is able to take any designs we’re given and turn them into something beautiful. Our clients love working with her. They don’t like me as much because I collect the money. But, the bitterness of low quality is remembered long after the joy of a low price. So, they usually come around.
For more details or to get your next custom piece made: visit Atelier Mirage