Lambert & the light

Mid-century Modern nostalgia emanates from Lambert & Fils, a storefront on rapidly gentrifying rue Beaubien, once a no man’s land between Montreal’s Mile End and Little Italy neighbourhoods. Inside the decorative lighting store, the twitching filaments of Edison bulbs, the patina of brass, the enamelled-iron and cast-glass lamp shades – even the stamped tin ceiling tiles, the large windows of the backroom atelier and the shop’s name – harken back to a family business of a long-forgotten yesteryear.

“The boutique works as a showroom: we display samples first and produce them after,” says Samuel Lambert, lighting designer and the eponymous patriarch. “I can generally make about 10 or more of each design. Otherwise I’d lose too much time sourcing materials for one-offs or have to sell them for more.” Despite 70 per cent of his business being custom lighting fixtures for residential and commercial settings, the throwback retail operation has served as a showcase for his work and struck a chord with recalcitrant Montrealers, making him the city’s most acclaimed lampiste.

Lambert, a former video editor, learned the ropes by restoring vintage lamps, when he first opened his showroom-workshop formula at a previous location. The venture satisfied a deep desire to work with his hands. He considers the Singer Sewing Co.’s 1930s-era SLF-2, one of the first mass-produced work lights made of Bakelite, the “holy grail” of lamps. “They’re so well made and so simple,” Lambert says. “They’ll be around for another 100 years.” 

Soon after opening, he began assembling new lamps out of commercially available parts via catalogue, likening the work to toying with a Meccano set but stopping short of naming his New York City supplier: “When you create with these pieces, you’re conditioned somewhat by the parts to make certain types of lamps.”

For the latest additions to his growing collection of original designs, Lambert cites 20th-century, European industrial designers Christian Dell and Serge Mouille as touchstones. He points to Atomium, a squat but slender leaning floor lamp of square brass tubing and three round frosted-bulbs. “It’s one of the lamps I’m proudest of, not necessarily because of the result but because it’s built from scratch,” Lambert explains.

His business’s growing pains mean that Lambert is often saddled with being an administrator; he lives for creative moments, like designing La Grue, another iconic original, which rapidly took shape during a brainstorm with his apprentices. While there’s indeed a family lineage behind the shop’s tongue-in-cheek name, Lambert has since had second thoughts. “In retrospect, I would have wished for a different name,” he says, “something more workshop-inspired, because the contribution of my apprentices is so great. The boutique is really a collaborative space for creativity and exchange.”