The AIAVT Axis Lighting Trip: Un Expérience Magnifique

By Carol Miklos 
Near the end of last year I was fortunate enough to have been included in a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Montreal hosted by Axis Lighting, a company that specializes in architectural fixtures for nonresidential projects. The invitation—extended by our Axis contact, Josee Bacon—was my reward for securing participants and coordinating travel for a small group of AIAVT members and their families who were to be part of this multifaceted educational, activity-laden, and superb gastronomic experience. 
Families? Yes, you read correctly. Axis, a family-owned company with 500 employees, is of the firm belief that their target customers—design professionals—are more likely to have a positive experience in association with a visit to their manufacturing operation if the entire family is welcomed. “This way,” Bacon told me, “the trip doesn’t mean leaving a spouse or the kids behind.” 
Besides me, our group consisted of Jay Caroli, Andrew Curtis, Bob Duncan, Adam Ginsburg, Kristen Lesperance, and Lisa Rovner.  Some of the group went solo and others took Axis up on the offer to bring family. Most of us met at the Park and Ride in Milton Thursday afternoon, where we boarded a comfy bus Axis had arranged for our transportation.  As Lisa Rovner said, “All of us on the trip were thrilled to cross over the border and leave our culturally homogenous state for awhile to enter the multicultural world of Montreal.” 
The bus took us to l’Hotel Nelligan (“polished, urban living” as per the website—and I’d agree). Once settled in our rooms we met for drinks in the hotel bar, where we introduced ourselves to the New Hampshire group that would be joining us for the duration of the trip. Their group included interior designers as well as architects. We also met Bacon and other key employees of Axis. 
After cocktails that night we were whisked away to the Académie Culinaire, where as part of a timed team-building exercise we selected ingredients (including leg of lamb, salmon, and all manner of vegetables) from a well-stocked kitchen and competed to whip up our own dinners without the benefit of recipes. For some teams, this activity produced better results than others (!) but no one went home hungry. 
The next morning, after an ample hotel breakfast, we were transported by private coach to the Axis Lighting plant.  Lively presentations, interspersed with tours of the factory, office and showroom, were led by Axis CEO Howard Yaffe and allowed attendees to earn four LUs (HSW). Yaffe explained that Axis builds and designs all of its lights to order. “We never specify the same thing twice and since we’re family-owned integrity is important to us,” he said. 
Throughout the day, Yaffe also stressed the emphasis that Axis’ puts into research. The company, whose workforce includes 65 engineers, recently collaborated with the National Research Council in Canada to build new color labs and currently has 40 patents pending. Among the innovations we learned about was Axis’ SurroundLite ™ technology—an industry-first whereby 3D distribution emits as much light from the ends of fixtures as from the sides. The technology allows for wide spacing and reduced cave effect, Yaffe told us, meaning fewer luminaires can be used.  Adam Ginsburg was impressed by the fact that the “SurroundLite technology virtually eliminates shadowing on walls and ceilings.”  Yaffe told us that we could see the benefits of this technology locally in labs at Champlain College. “Direct  and indirect SurroundLite are featured all in one fixture,” he said. 
Jay Caroli thought highly of what we learned about Axis’ product research, especially with regard to recessed LEDs. The company uses custom binning structures—paying extra to buy single bins for voltage, flux and color to ensure consistency in extra-long fixtures. “Axis makes light fixtures only after extensive research and testing of how to get the best quality light, appropriate for a given situation, using the newest technology,” Caroli told me. “Most important, they are tackling LED lighting from a new perspective and not simply adapting LED technology to old lamp fixtures.” 
Dawn Horan, an interior designer at Stibler Associates in Bedford, New Hamphire had been specifying Axis products before the trip, but had never seen their factory.  She said that in her experience Axis is a loyal, honest company that relies on forging relationships and building trust.  “Axis makes great architectural lighting products that designers can rely on to perform,” she added. 
Something we all were pleased to observe was the ethnically diverse workforce at Axis—on and off the factory floor. As Adam Ginsburg put it, “We heard something like 15 different languages spoken while there.”  Lisa Rovner echoed, “We heard about and witnessed that Axis invites the employment of immigrants, works to help them acclimatize, encourages and supports their education, and treats all their employees well.” 
On Friday night, we had the option to participate in what’s known as an “escape game.” Clearly, I don’t get out enough, because I was previously unfamiliar with this activity. Some of the group participated in this team-building exercise, competing to see which could get out of their “different world” room first. Others, including me, needed some down time after the tour, so we skipped the game but met up at Escape Masters for buffet-style ethnic cuisine that night.
On Saturday, Axis arranged a tour of Old Montreal for us and we had the opportunity to see many architecturally inspiring sights, including the Notre-Dame Basilica and Place Jacques-Cartier. One of my favorite stops was L’ Hotel Montreal, a boutique establishment opened in 2010 by Guess fashion-empire founder Georges Marciano. The hotel, a French revival gem, is home to a contemporary art collection with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Joan Miró,  Andy Warhol and others and features Louis-Philippe décor. 
Our last night’s dinner at Jellyfish Crudo & Charbon (i.e., raw and charred) was the pièce de résistance.  The structure itself boasts 16-foot-high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and dramatic chandeliers; the décor is black, white, and grey and with spring green accents. The chef seemed to have been given carte blanche to stun us with a broad sampling of the menu. If you haven’t gotten the hint by now that I’m a foodie…well let’s just say I was in heaven. We feasted on salmon belly in sour cream wasabi, rotelle with mushroom and oxtail ragout, heirloom carrots with ricotta miso glaze, avocado carpaccio with black truffles, cod in miso beurre blanc and caviar, veal short ribs with peanuts, soy, and ginger, and much more. Unfortunately, I was so taken by the bounty of the appetizers alone I didn’t have much room left for the main courses. 
All told, this was a memorable and rewarding long-weekend getaway that made me wonder for at least the hundredth time why I don’t go to Montreal more often.  And, getting back to lighting, in case you’re wondering about Axis’ price point, it’s quite reasonable.  Take it from one who knows, Helen Principio, a second interior designer among our group who specifies the company’s lights often. I asked her what I should tell the AIAVT membership when I wrote this story. She said, “Axis’ designs the products to be very cost-effective. With other companies, you can have great looking fixtures, but they’re too costly for most jobs. Axis offers good values for a fine aesthetic.” 
If you’re interested in participating in a future trip to Axis, contact Bill Curley at Charron Inc., the company that represents Axis Lighting products in Northern New England. Curley can be reached at bcurley@charroninc.com.