Montréal Design as Seen by Dyan Solomon
If you don’t know her name, you’ll for sure know her flavours. The chef and restaurant owner of Old Montreal’s most famous café-restaurant, Olive et Gourmando, Dyan Solomon came to Montreal from Kingston, Ontario to go to McGill at the age of 18 and pretty much never left. The style maven knows design through and through – just look at the moody interior of her latest bijou, the two-year old grill restaurant in Griffintown, Foxy. We sat down to get her inside scoop on Montréal’s design scene and some of the hot spots not to be missed.
How would you define Montréal’s sense of design?
Very unique. Montréal has a very creative population. It’s an affordable place to live, which draws a lot of interesting people here, and that enables us to be arm-in-arm with all these interesting people that have so much to give. I don’t really think of Montréal as the most beautiful city in terms of architecture; we do have beautiful pieces, but it doesn’t blow your mind in that sense. It’s more all the elements of design that I find amazing together, from artists to fashion to interior design, anything you can think of.
Why is it important to you to support local design?
Because if you really love your city, you want to give your money to people who are trying things locally. As an entrepreneur I have a lot of empathy for someone that takes a chance and tries to do something. It’s not easy, and I think we have an obligation to recognize and support that, especially in this day and age of big box stores.
In what way would you say your style is typically Montréal?
I think that what makes me typical is that Montréal isn’t fixated on labels, like if you earn a certain amount of money so you must look a certain way. People here are more into creativity and flair – there’s a lot of pizzazz about how people dress, which I think is really fun. You’ll hear people in Toronto say, “Oh I couldn’t get away with wearing that at work.” That rarely comes out of the mouth of a Montrealer. Montrealers wear pretty much what they please; they take risks and are very fashion-forward people.
How does Montréal inform your work and creative expression?
In so many ways. I’ve always said that people who stay in Montréal are a tougher brand of folk – there’s a lot of things that work against you if you’re an Anglophone coming from somewhere else. In a way, it’s a bit like frontier people – the people who stay in Montréal choose to stay and have the fortitude to create interesting things. You can make an analogy with wine: the vines that make the best wine are those that struggle. We struggle a little bit and it makes us better, stronger, smarter, more empathetic.
What’s your favourite neighbourhood?
I have two: Mile End – though it’s a little cliché at this point it’s still a magic neighbourhood. The diversity there just blows my mind, all kinds of people living together: rich, poor, Portuguese, Hassidic Jews, McGill students, French, English – it’s a very mixed neighbourhood and it represents very nicely what Montreal is at its best. And there’s lots of cool little places, young entrepreneurs, people trying stuff and I like that too. My other favourite neighbourhood is Old Montréal. I came here 20 years ago to open Olive, and it was Deadsville – we were the only people on our block. People told us we were nuts for opening a business there, but for me it’s always been about the architecture. How is it possible that we’re not all dying to live down here? I mean now we are, but it took a loooong time. I have a deep love for this neighbourhood.
Where do you go in Montréal for a coffee?
One of my favourites is definitely Nora Gray. They’re old friends, the food is good and homey and the space is very intimate. I love the lighting. I feel good in there.
Two places I always come back to are Pullman and Buvette Chez Simone. They’re both great institutions. But then Dominion Square Tavern for a cocktail is just “wow” too, in terms of feeling like you’re somewhere else in the world – there are all sorts of fun places like that in Montréal that just have an amazing atmosphere.
When you feel like shopping?
These days Old Montréal is really great; expensive because you have a lot of high-end clothing, but very beautifully curated. If I’m feeling very wealthy it’s Cahier d’Exercises –they have an incredible eye. Also À Table Tout le Monde, for very beautiful pottery. Otherwise I find myself a lot in Mile End – Les Étoffes, and all the fun boutiques on Saint-Laurent. I tend to go all over the city, like I go to TNT for one thing, hit the sales at Holt Renfrew at the end of the summer – they’re amazing!
Tell us about a hidden spot you’re going to regret sharing with us.
There’s a bar called Loïc – it’s not that hidden but it’s still a little hidden, like at the very end of Saint-Henri. It’s in an old bank, a really cool, beautiful building. The food is the best part for me – they make a beautiful drink and have a good little wine list, but the food is incredible.
You have a design-obsessed friend coming to Montréal. Where do you send them?
To the Phi Centre. It’s pretty amazing, and to think that it’s one of the first true green buildings of that scope – it’s LEED, and it’s a pretty interesting space. There are pop up food events, concerts, mini film festivals, invited artists… there’s a lot going on in there.
This post has been presented in collaboration with Souk@SAT, avid supporters of Montréal design.
Isa Tousignant, blogger
Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s ecclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.