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In Conversation with Atelier Zebulon Perron: Design Studio


BROUILLON, The photography is courtesy of Alex Lesage.

We talked to Zébulon Perron, founder of Atelier Zébulon Perron, a design studio renowned for its bar and restaurant designs woven into the fabric of Montreal's vibrant scene.


What core principles shape the design philosophy of the studio and how do these values align with your vision?


Our studio specializes in public space, mainly hospitality, but we also work on public projects for the city of Montreal. Our design practice is oriented towards human beings in a social setting. For us, it's essential how people come together in space, socialize, and interact.This is at the core of what we do. We're very interested in social ergonomics, a technical term for something very human in a space where you're comfortable and feel like the space is conducive for conversations and exchanges with other people.


We're very focused on the hospitality industry, we do a lot of restaurants and hotels. We're, at the moment, working on an extensive community center with a library and some studio spaces. We are always cautious about designing valuable spaces for people with the intention of relevance through time. We hope to transport people and make sure we create not just functional but aesthetic environments.


Can you provide insight into the studio's approach to material selection and concept?


We have to be attentive and understand each project as a microcosm with its parameters and needs. With architecture; let's say Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry, you always recognize their work and signature. At our scale it is different because every project is about their specific context, who is involved, and what kind of proposition we want to put forward. Every time we have to adapt and adjust to cater to different intentions and needs. It is very much a collaboration with our clients and they come from every walks of life.


When we talk about materials, there's a specific niche we are in because those are public and busy spaces; many people come through them so we need to anticipate a lot of wear and tear. This specific context and what is demanded from materials excites us to find well suited solutions for all those activities and people meeting and bumping into each other. 



CAFE CONSTANCE, The photography is courtesy of Alex Lesage.

 

“We need to choose suitable materials for the right places. The idea is to make the wear and tear our ally, so chosen materials will beautify with use and enhance their patina,

becoming more engaging and prosperous with time.”


 

A good example is, let's say, a bar top. We have to anticipate scratches; dents, people dropping wine, so the right material used on a bar top becomes essential. We like using solid wood or brass because we know how well they age with people’s uses. This is how we design; always thinking about people circulating, touching, and interacting. This informs opportunities where we can intervene.


Sometimes, the needs come from the functions and uses of space, and then we see this opportunity to design something that contributes to the concept and is very suited for day-to-day use. 


It's essential to have some longevity or staying power in something we build. There is a lot of money involved when people build a restaurant, so we must be mindful it is a long-term investment for our clients. We think about durability in many ways; durability of materials, quality of construction to withstand wear and tear and durability of ideas and design concepts. This makes us cautious of trends. Sometimes, they're pretty seductive, but we also go further and think: is this something that's just happening now? If we step back in 10 years will it still make sense? 


I've been in this industry for about 25 years, and some of our first projects are still going strong. That said, we will always be influenced by what's happening in the here and now in culture and design, and that's okay. Although, it's important for me to take a step back once in a while to make sense of what we are working on.



HAV & MAR, The photography is courtesy of Alex Lesage.


How do you make sure your designs stay timeless? Do you focus more on current trends or enduring styles?


You can't go forward if you don't look backward. I like to think of cooking when thinking about making sense in developing something new. In order to innovate and develop new cuisine, you have to know pretty well your basics; in this case classic French cooking techniques. For me the past is really relevant to what we are doing now. We are living in a fast paced world with many new needs and desires and it can be overwhelming sometimes to cater for that new reality. Looking at the history of design and iconic places allows more coherence in continuity, I think. If we look at what still makes sense and solutions used in the past, we can build from there to adapt to our life today.


In the design process, it is essential for me to stay open and question myself. I always ask people in the office about their feelings and views when we're working on something. It is a good opportunity to stop and think; does this feel right? If I step back and sit in the space, does it feel good? Is the experience interesting? I like the scale of interior design. I initially wanted to do architecture in school but went into design instead because of the difference in scale. We have the privilege in interior design to be the discipline that is closest to people. People touch what we do; they enter the place and get immerse in what we did. It is a good way to suggest and spark an entire experience. For me, a measure of good success is when you enter a space and immediately are transported; you feel instantly different emotionally. I think it is a great privilege as interior designers to be able to impact people in this way.


BIVOUAC, The photography is courtesy of Jean-Sébastien Senécal.


We have the chance of working with some of the best chefs and restaurant people in the city of Montreal and the United States, and a lot of inspiration comes from them. We worked with the chef Marcus Samuelson and did a project in New York City. He's such an interesting guy because he's half Ethiopian and half Swedish. So, from the get go, his cultural background was very rich to us and informed the concept a lot. We like to dig into what people are doing and how we can showcase it even more.


Can you share a project that has been particularly exhilarating for you, both in terms of the design process and the final outcome?


It's very difficult for me to pick one. What comes to mind first as we just spoke about Marcus, is the first project we worked on in Montreal; his restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal. As the space is very wide it allowed many subspaces, like a series of different experiences that complement each other. Walking through; there are many different moments in the project, we pushed the detailing very far in this one.


MARCUS, The photography is courtesy of Oliver Blown.


We put forward a lot of custom work for the project and had some fun moments! Especially pushing the bathrooms to become complete entities in themselves, especially the women's. They have become probably one of the most popular bathrooms in the city. (laugh)


Are there any innovative or unique design techniques or technologies you often incorporate into your projects?


I'm wary of trends, in fact I'm wary of technology. When we incorporate technology, there is always the risk of becoming obsolete pretty quickly. Technology changes so fast and so quickly so if our concept is partly based on technology, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant pretty quickly. The nature of what we do is serving a very, very basic human need which is to exist in a public sphere with other people. We see human beings as social beings; we are interested in spaces outside of our houses where people can go and be with others. We see hospitality as a theatre for social life. 

Of course we use technology and work with 3D software and renderings or even 3D printing, which is very helpful to visualize projects. Still, clients are most excited when we show them materials samples. There is something profoundly non-technological about what we're doing; constructing with wood, marble, and stones.


Are you excited about the future? What are your plans?


Yeah, we are. We're working on furniture pieces and a book within the studio. It's fun to do all the projects with clients, but also very interesting to work on objects and furniture on our own because the constraints are not the same, we work differently, it is a purest expression of form and design for us.



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