– Words by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton
Aaron Gray, vice president of La-Z-Boy Vancouver Island, has spent just about his entire life in and around the furniture industry. He recently relocated to Nanaimo to get back to the family business—Aaron’s family has owned and operated Vancouver Island’s La-Z-Boy locations for more than 20 years.
“I’m helping [my father] run the day-to-day business here,” says Aaron. “I had a tenure with La-Z-Boy, so it was an obvious fit.”
“Being centrally located is amazing,” he adds. “You can go to the mountain, you can hop on the ferry to Vancouver, and you’re never far from a hike or a walk. Every month I find something new that I’m into.”
After working for La-Z-Boy corporately for the last decade, being back in a role that’s on a more intimate level feels like coming full circle.
“I worked in the family business from when I was about 13 to when I was 20, and then I moved to Toronto to try and get away from it,” he says, laughing.
He went to school for art and graphic design in his early 20s, but found he kept being pulled back to the furniture industry.
“You’re merging everything from industrial design to fashion,” he says. “It’s everything. The build quality of the furniture, the actual wood and the tacks, as well as the fabric and design. It’s a merging of worlds for sure.”
He loves the travel, the trade shows, the unique challenges and the melding of form and function.
“It’s a fast-paced industry and I thrive on change. And I saw that it put food on my family’s table growing up, so as far as following in my father’s footsteps, I have this love and respect for this industry,” he adds.
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
Alex James, the bassist from the British rock group Blur. He lived life in the ’90s unapologetically as a rock star and then retired to a farm in Oxfordshire as a cheesemaker. Both of his lives are incredibly glamorous in their own ways. There’s something about living out a romantic existence as an artisan in the English countryside, making a product you’re passionate about. I would gladly trade my skinny jeans for wool and a pair of wellies.
What is the food you could eat over and over again?
I love eating out and when I travel I base my stops around restaurants I want to try. To choose one food though, it would be anything Italian. It’s a cuisine based on the simplicity and quality of its ingredients.
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
I have this idea of renting and furnishing a room in an old five-star hotel in Paris: getting room service, throwing parties, drinking nice wine and dining at cafes. In my mind it’s a Wes Anderson movie with a Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack. Just pure escapism. And it would end with the hotel manager politely informing me by folded note that I no longer have credit and need to vacate the room immediately.
Baseball hats in restaurants. Why grown men don’t see a problem with this and insist on sitting down to a nice meal with a baseball hat on is beyond me. I’m not a crazy stickler for manners, but this one takes the cake.
Where would you spend a long time doing nothing?
My bed. I feel at this stage in my life I’ve gotten to understand the pleasure behind having a nice mattress, perfectly weighted duvet and a solid pillow. Saturday mornings are the best. My girlfriend and I sleep in, drink a pot of coffee and watch English football.
What is the one thing you’re secretly proud of?
A few years ago I restored a 1966 Vespa in a ground-up build. I literally knew nothing about mechanics, and while old Vespas are about as complicated as a lawnmower, it was still a challenge for a guy who didn’t have a clue what a carburetor was.
What makes your heart beat faster?
I’ve played in bands since I was a teenager, and there is nothing that makes me feel more alive than playing a show. It’s nerve-wracking but at the same time full of this all-consuming excitement. Anything can happen: equipment can break, the bar could be empty or packed, pints can fall and fry electrical equipment…it’s the organized chaos that gets my adrenaline flowing.