Montréal Design as Seen by Zébulon Perron
Montréal-born Zébulon Perron is a Mile End personality who has done architectural and interior design for 20 years. He founded Atelier Zébulon Perron in 2008. Today the studio is booming, having found a niche designing for hotels, bars and restaurants. Zébulon and his team listen attentively to their clients and design spaces that reflect the personalities of the owners or chefs behind these establishements. It's a brilliant approach, and very human at the same time. The studio will soon be releasing its own line of furniture and lights, created in partnership with local designers. And in 2018, Atelier Zébulon Perron will proudly unveil Montréal's new Four Seasons Hotel, for which it designed the bars and restaurants. The smiling and big-hearted Zébulon, who admits his first name is his most valuable marketing tool, met with us and served up a platter of his favourite spots. He also shared his unique and fascinating vision of restaurant design.
How would you define Montréal's vibe?
Laid back. Montréal is a small, low-pressure city, which I find great. You can relax and take the time to have a coffee. Being located in the Mile End certainly helps me connect with that vibe (laughs). Beyond that, it's a city where you get a feel for both the francophone and anglophone cultures. I think Montréal's bilingualism makes it a rich and dynamic place. Two cultures and two languages can only be a plus.
How would you define Montréal’s sense of design?
Like Montréal's vibe, I'd say its design is also laid back, with a slight penchant for craftsmanship. However, there are designers like Lambert et Fils who have succeeded in carving out a niche and achieving international recognition. I find that really encouraging. I respect it a lot. Personally, I find the restaurant industry to be very dynamic. In my view, successful restaurants are those that adopt a laid back, classic style. Specifically I'm thinking of Nora Gray and Joe Beef, which are unbeatable it terms of food and approach. These places are the opposite of pretentious. They're really sincere. We all have our personal style as designers, but I've always tried to avoid putting too much of myself in my designs. Instead, I incorporate my clients’ personalities in my work. My goal is to work in total collaboration with them, in fact. I like being able to offer something that's meaningful for people, to tell a story—their story—with the design.
What location, institution or building most embodies Montréal design for you?
There's Montréal before Expo 67, and there's Montréal after Expo 67. There's Habitat 67, which definitely evokes a pivotal era in the city's history. It's one of its most iconic elements. But the most important location for me is Mont Royal Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also did the landscape design for New York's Central Park. It links the entire city from east to west, and it's a privilege to have a forest in the middle of the city when you think about it. I often go jogging there. Parks in general are the most civilized places, since they're accessible to everyone.
What Montréal creation do you find truly inspiring?
That's a hard question. Obviously the music, and the amount of events Montréal has to offer. But if I had to choose, I'd say Montréal’s culinary scene. It qualifies as “creation,” and I'd even say it's similar to design. It's the same search for the right balance and amount. Montréal punches above its weight. It just keeps going. Over the past 15 years, the food, wine and design scenes have consistently improved. There's an excellent selection and more and more educated and passionate people.
Why is it important to you to support local design?
I believe there's no better business model than the small entrepreneur. Supporting local design means protecting these workers and valuing their work.
In what way would you say your style is typically Montréal?
I'm from Montréal, and I work with people from Montréal.
How does Montréal inform your work and creative expression?
The bilingualism and mixing of francophone and anglophone cultures inspires me a lot. It's a creative advantage and it inspires interaction. And Montréal is accessible in every sense of the word, which makes it the perfect city for creative expression.
Where do you go in Montréal for a coffee?
Joe Beef, Vin Papillon, Foxy or Montréal Plaza. Nice places, good food. I also love Le Filet, Le Serpent and Le Club Chasse et Pêche. Very sexy. When friends or clients come to town, I always send them there.
La Buvette chez Simone is my go-to. I played a part in designing it, and I tried out a lot of ideas there. It's kind of like the living room of the Mile End. There's also Bar Furco, Bar Loïc, Le Vin Papillon and Le Royal, among others.
For hanging out?
What’s your favourite neighbourhood?
Tell us about a hidden spot you’re going to regret sharing with us.
Montréal's back alleys are incredible. They're a great place to walk around. I also like those old dive bars, like Brasserie Beaubien, which I discovered at a POP Montréal concert.
You have a design-obsessed friend coming to Montréal. Where do you send them?
To the Canadian Centre for Architecture. It's a unique, world-class institution and the exhibits are very well done. The Phi Centre and the DHC/ART gallery are also worth a visit. They are small organizations but they are very proactive.
This post has been presented in collaboration with Souk@SAT, avid supporters of Montréal design.
Laure Juilliard, blogger
Laure is a writer, community manager and the founder of the blog Une Parisienne à Montréal. She’s also an epicurean globetrotter who’s always on the hunt for innovative concepts and must-try restaurants. In 2016, she co-founded Slow Journeys, a webzine that focuses on ecotourism and design.