Four studios in Montreal that are hitting it big

Working out of the city’s brick-clad warehouse lofts, these local firms are creating highly experimental works in graphic design, video installation, furniture and interiors. 

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Jean-Sebastien Baillat and Guillaume Cardell
Multimedia designers

Graphic design, branding, motion design, scenography, video, print and installation: there is no accurate way to compartmentalize the mood-enhancing environments created by Baillat Cardell & fils, a five-year-old studio that operates out of a warehouse near Mile End. Principlas Jean-Sebastian Baillat and Guillaume Cardell, both former VJs, have earned numerous awards for their live event visuals, which they have created for such acts as British DJs Sasha and John Digweed and Québécoise singer-songwriter Ariane Moffatt.

Perhaps their most accessible piece is a 15-meter-long wall of video screens installed in the underground passageway of the Espace Culturel Georges-Emile-Lapalme in the Place des Arts in downtown Montreal. It consits of meditative and oblique vignettes, accompanied by ambient sounds, that flash across flat-screen TVs, with a mix of animated faces and illustrations by local artists worked in.

While Baillat and Cardell now employ a full-time staff of six, they built the firm from the ground up. In 2008, while their office was still a work-in-progress they hosted a open house to generate buzz. “We were forced to improvise,” says Cardell, “We used masking tape to outline the desks and divisions to make something that would surprise and amuse people when they visited.”

Creatively they still get their best results by ping-ponging projects between teams and staying late to jam on Magic Tuesday Nights. “There are no interruptions or clients calling. We can all work together with loud music going,” says Baillat, “Those moments are sacred.”

Jean-Maxime Labreque

Entering the office of Jean-Maxime Labrecque’s architectural practice housed in a beaux arts style building on rue St. Jacques is a bit like stumbling upon the solo practice of Howard Roark, the architect protagonist of The Fountainhead. 

A similar aura of solitary discipline permeates the tiny space, from the way Labrecque lays his books out on the table in grid formation to the monotone pallet he prefers in his work and attire. The principal of INPHO Architectures Physiques et d’Information since 2000, Labrecque says it was not Roark but rather Rem Koolhaas’ acclaiamed book S, M, L, XL that changed his creative course when he was a student. Since then, his built his iconoclastic minimalism into retail clothing stores including François Beauregard and Reborn and seven residential projects. In one recent commission, he designed a small apartment space for client who asked that it be an interior “people might find cold like a gallery.” He responded by stripping the space to its original concrete and inserting modules made of raw aluminum that serve as built-in furniture, including a bed and sofa. He finished the bathroom entirely in black.

Residential commissions have inspired him to design a new line of furniture prototypes that currently fill a portion of his micro-sized office: monolithic cubes made of glass aluminum or wood that transform into a simple dining table, sofa or desk. “Architects are filters,” he says, “And the more neutral the filter the better the result. The absolute is to make architecture vanish, knowing that you can never do so completely.”

Louis Beliveau, Simon Cantin, Pierre Julien
Interior and product designers

“We are a design-build office that offers turnkey, custom designs,” says Simon Cantin, who operates La Firme out of a loft  on the fringes of Little Italy, along with Louis Beliveau and Pierre Julien. They design from creative inception final execution. “Anything from castles to coffee mugs,” adds Believeau offhandedly to emphasize their willingness to take on whatever comes their way.  Officially open since 2010, the studio has crafted residential and commercial interiors, including a lounge made out of cardboard for the 2012 Montreal International Documentary Festival. One of its most innovative furniture pieces is a folding chair that flattens into the shape of a mail tag and hangs on the wall.  

Last year during La Cabane (an urban-chic sugar shack food experience held in Montreal’s Old Port) the studio crafted a banquet lounge by installing a 11-meter-long Adirondack sectional, stacks of lumber that served as tables, and three cloth swinging chairs woven to look like giant wool socks. It became an instant classic of contemporary lumberjack Canadiana.  

“We just try to survive in the urban jungle,” Beliveau  says. Workdays days start at 6:30 a.m. when they have construction going on and 9 a.m. for the office. We come in early to check emails,” he says, “Then we put out fires from 9:01 until 6.”

Zébulon Perron
Hospitality designer

While Zébulon Perron may be behind some of the most successful bars in Montreal, known for their artful mixture of Old-World coziness and texture, his own office does not reflect the same studied aesthetic. He’s the kind of designer who focuses on environments that engage rather than on quiet workspaces. “Our interest is really about people and their experience,” he says. “I’m interested in how the layout facilitates social contact and interactions.”

The Perron look is a skillful curation of distressed, imperfect and “somewhat messy” surfaces, fixtures and furnishings combined with a rigorous floorplan. It’s a style that responds to what people are seeking when they go out. One of his favorite devices is central bar that naturally draws crowds. “I’ll try to make sure no one is isolated, so people can observe each other and there’s an intrinsic circulation pattern to the space.”

At Bar Furco, his latest after-work destination at 425 rue Mayor, he designed a sinuous rail above the bar that supports 40 custom fixtures made out of powder-coated aluminum, smoked glass and walnut. “You have to punctuate your designs with different moments,” he says, “And provide tacit wayfinding. The fountain outside the washrooms is purposeful, a sort of reward for completing the journey.”  

As for his own day-to-day aesthetic he prefers to walk to his office at the city’s hippest crossroads, avenue Du Parc and rue St. Viateur. “Location is key,” he adds. “I go out at noon, sit and have a coffee run into people, have a chat and get a feel for what’s going on.”

Azure, June 2013

About mmcontentatlarge journalist | copywriter | producer/editor

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