By Shelley M. Black
One trained to be an architect, the other an industrial designer. They have a storefront in a cool Manhattan neighbourhood, but theyare based in Montreal. Homefront tracked down Scott Richler and Gabriel Kakon of Gabriel Scott to chat about their design philosophies, their expansion plans and how as “brothers-in-law” they can improbably work together.
Q Your partnership came from an early connection that’s a little unusual. Tell us how you got together.
Gabriel: Scott is married to my older sister. The two of them were high-school sweethearts and, because I’m six years younger, I was always hanging around.
I later studied industrial design and then architecture at the University of Montreal, while Scott studied architecture at McGill. Not only were we drawn to the same industry, but we also share an interest in the same products, feel comfortable working for a certain type of client and seem to be naturally inspired by the same things. It makes for an easy, well-balanced partnership.
Q Who stirs up what, and do you ever go in different directions?
Gabriel: Very naturally, Scott and I have different strengths. He’s a master in product development, and also has a background in jewellery design. My expertise is in brand exposure and marketing development. We work together a lot, but Scott will definitely be the one to stir up the initial ideas. He is forever creating and designing, but I often help with the finishing touches. I tend to be more focused on how to present and market the concept, and take the lead on managing our showroom team. What we do is very collaborative, which makes it fun.
Q Tell us your back story.
Gabriel: We were both working in architecture and we had parallel experiences working for architects in Montreal on high-end projects. And when you are starting off in architecture, you are involved in all the parts of design. We would spec a lot of high-end custom furniture for our clients. Then we realized we want to control every detail from the overall design down to the furniture and lighting. Organically, we started designing our own pieces.
Scott: Over time, we began designing our own pieces and opened a small studio in Montreal to showcase some of our bespoke pieces and cater to a local clientele. Without the opportunity to expose our designs to bigger markets and with the 2008 downturn, we decided to take a six-month hiatus to refocus.
Gabriel: It was after that break that we started on a larger collection that we showed at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York, the biggest show in North America. It was a risk but a crucial time to get feedback. Fortunately for us, people loved the products and price points so, after a lot of time and energy to pull things together, we began our namesake company, Gabriel Scott. A second and third show led to growth and another pivotal step for us—the opening of our showroom in New York, in 2014. Located in the beautifully restored Brewster Carriage House, at the corner of Broome and Mott in downtown Manhattan, we have become known as a permanent presence in the neighbourhood.
Scott: We love this formula…Living in Montreal and growing our team here in the city with regular day trips to NYC. So far, so great!
Q Most design houses have what I’ll call a “signature style.” How would you describe yours?
Scott: I’d say Gabriel and I ride on a fine balance between masculine and feminine. It’s a duality that people appreciate. Having worked in architecture, we both have a sense of a massive empowered scale, while my interest in jewellery design brings out the delicate side of our work. For example, we work in steel and marble. We have designed a prong side table that has sides of steel but holds a marble top.
Gabriel: A perfect example is our Harlow chandelier, with its sharp, severe shapes that sit in a starburst silhouette. At the same time, however, the Harlow is also light and incorporates fragile moulded blown glass that we’ve purposely protected with a steel frame. There is always a delicate but tough.
balance that only works when the designers know when to stop. Both Scott and I seem to know intuitively when it’s enough.
Q Do some projects engage you more passionately?
Scott: That’s hard to say, but right now we have kind of an open slate to be creative. Our collection consists of both lighting and furniture and it’s growing. With lighting we can really be as creative as we like. There are no ergonomics to consider and there’s a lot of flexibility and room for imagination. Lighting glows, which is unique. Also it’s usually quite alone, free of any other pieces or interruptions. Quite literally, it’s a sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Lighting is wonderful eye candy.
Gabriel: Designing furniture is fun too, but perhaps more of a challenge as we have to work in a standard scale. Just how do you make a dining-room table more interesting? There are clear parameters, so we have to find more ways to be creative.
Q What do you appreciate the most in your own homes?
Gabriel: I’m actually building a home right now so I’m asking myself this same question. Creating total fluidity among the spaces throughout the house is at the top of my list. Vignettes that add perspective are also wonderful elements. I have a Cartesian mind so I favour alignment, but I also love to create special groupings that have their own unique personality. One thing I love about our new house is that we’ve created an art studio for my wife (Clio Honig). It was the basement where we had a sunken court, so it entailed digging a massive hole to accommodate a big bay of floor-to-ceiling windows to let in the natural light. Clio is an amazing contemporary portrait artist and to create a cool architectural feature that gave her a great space was important.
Scott: I have one of those living spaces that incorporates both the inside and out. The back wall of my kitchen is all glass and steel and it expands into the back garden, so it’s open and very cozy at the same time—it feels indoors and outdoors.
Q Where do you look to for inspiration?
Scott: I’m inspired by change. Staying still isn’t as interesting. I also tend be passionate about the details. I have spent time in fashion and jewellery design, so a lot of my ideas and influence come from both of those areas. It could be the buckles on a shoe or the relationship between a stone and a ring, or a piece of art or sculpture might light up the creative side of my brain and challenge me to explore it in one of our collections.
Q What’s on the horizon for your team? Is there anything you really want to try your hand at?
Gabriel: We’ve always longed for and talked about doing larger pieces such as sofas, daybeds or a chaise longue. Scott and I aren’t sofa manufacturers yet. But this year we’ve built up the courage to create a series of really elegant, functional sofas and chairs with ottomans. Of course, they’ll all need to be in the spirit of our collection, consistent with our styles and identity.
Scott: We manufacture in Montreal so we can be flexible and we’re striving to make products that are more adaptable. As we speak, we’re prototyping and value-engineering our new “grow-able” modular sofa series, which is expected to launch this fall. Also, everyone wants something custom. In the future, a lot more of our fixtures, like the Welles lighting series for example, will be made to special sizes. Gabriel Scott’s Canadian production line is working to be as flexible as it can to keep up with custom changes that meet our international clients’ needs.
Q Is there a tip or “best piece of design advice” you can share?
Scott: Hire a good architect! Seriously, it’s a hard question but I would say to hire someone “good” to do the work. Also, start with a central big idea or direction that informs the rest of your ideas, instead of looking at things piecemeal. The best results I’ve ever had as an interior designer have been when clients are respectful of my talent and expertise, and open to exploring new ideas.
Q A quarter of a century from now, what would you like Gabriel Scott to be known and respected for?
Scott: Wow. I’ll have achieved my goal if Gabriel Scott grows to be a brand that is part of a movement of young North American designers who continue to stay relevant.
Gabriel: Like good jewellery, our designs should be lasting, striking and beautiful enough to pass down to future generations.
Gabriel Scott pieces are handmade in their Montreal studio, with their flagship showroom located in the Brewster Carriage House in downtown Manhattan.
Shelley Black’s career has spanned a unique range of editorial and corporate roles with Flare and Maclean’s. She enjoys writing about all forms of design.