Interview: studio botté transforms Montreal’s discarded objects into lighting

Lighting designer Philippe Charlebois Gomez

studio botté is a Montreal design studio founded by Philippe Charlebois Gomez, who specialises in upcycled lighting for commercial and residential interiors.

It started as a small collection of parts in a drawer beside Philippe’s work desk. After taking a leap of faith to quit his job and start his own business, studio botté has now grown to occupy a 1700-square-foot loft. It contains a massive stock room filled with urban treasures, all of which have a second chance at life as contemporary lighting.

After showcasing his pieces at a local design market in 2017, he felt Montreal was ready to embrace his creations. Here, he tells us about his passion for bringing new life to the city’s waste.

studio botte founder Philippe Charlebois Gomez

When did you first get into repurposing objects?

From a young age, I was taught to think outside the box and see objects for their formal qualities as opposed to their intended use only. My mother was in charge of toy-making workshops for kids, using only materials retrieved from recycling bins. I was lucky to be able to assist her and learn the art of upcycling.

What were you doing before launching studio botté?

After studying industrial design at Dawson College in Montreal I worked as a designer for a renowned Montreal-based lighting studio. Whilst witnessing the evolution of this company throughout the years, I felt the urge to make use of my overflow of creative energy, by diving into the upcycling of objects and materials that I would find biking to work every day.

What do you love most about working with used objects?

What motivates me is knowing that each material comes with a previous life and purpose, and brings a set of limitations. It demands a great deal of imagination and resourcefulness. The problem solving aspect of the upcycling process is where studio botté thrives.

As I bike around Montreal, skimming through trash on the sidewalks, I cannot help but to see what ‘could be’, instead of what ‘is’. The shapes and materials speak to me and inspire me to give them a second breath. It’s not only about diverting them from landfills but for the added challenge – not going down the easy route of using new, made-to-spec parts and pieces.

What can you tell us about the designing and making process?

Every studio botté creation requires a great deal of love and energy, starting from the collection process to cleaning, ideating, customising, cutting, bending, sanding, assembling, painting and delivery.

All of our donated objects are arranged in the stock room to be seen, kind of like a visual inventory. It is a constant delicate balancing act between availability, usability, aesthetic and functionality, with the end goal always being to create something that I can be proud of, and that makes my clients appreciate and promote the process as much as the end product itself.

I use 3D modelling software as prototyping is not an option when materials are rare and one of a kind. This can also be a very helpful part of the ideation and visualisation process for the client.

Everything is made by hand, using classic tooling and machinery that has been collected over the years and even donated by mentors and botté enthusiasts in some cases.

What found materials are you currently working with and where do you source them from?

studio botté started off with a collection of pendant lights made from old fan guards. The list of materials has now grown to include things such as Venetian blinds, ceramic pieces, vases, lamp bases, any type of lamp part, metallic grids, brooms and curtain poles. These are sourced mostly from the streets of Montreal, second-hand stores, online platforms, as well as eco-centres in some cases. studio botté is also proud to count on the active participation of past clients, friends, family and enthusiastic followers for donations and curb alerts.

What are some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on so far?

One of the most recent and most conceptual projects has been the creation of a lighting fixture for a local architecture firm using Anglepoise style lamp parts (also commonly referred to as architect lamps). The piece was inspired by a famous quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Architecture is frozen music”. Viewed from beneath, the piece resembles a sound wave and has an overall fluid form, in spite of the rigid square metal piping from which it is formed.

One of our recurring clients has been the Cirque du Soleil headquarters. We have supplied fixtures for several rooms made from multiple fan guards, cut and bent into feather-like shapes. They are assembled into a juxtaposition resembling the movement of an acrobat or aerial dancer.

Can you name any designers or figures that have influenced your work?

Some of the studio’s inspirations include Maximum for their ability to scale up the upcycling approach, Ingo Maurer for his playfulness and relentless breaking of design paradigms, also Louis Poulsen for their pure form composition and simplicity in assembly.

Influential books include Why Materials Matter*, Scaling Down to Cut Carbon and Upcyclist*. Hearing other fellow designers and artists talk about their craft and seeing how they have pushed the boundaries of the design process is inspiring. Discovering studio botté’s peers is always exciting!

Repurposed lighting by studio bottė

Describe a typical day for you at the moment

A typical day at studio botté during the winter pandemic lockdown would entail walking three blocks from home to the studio, knocking the snow off our boots, brewing a fresh pot of coffee, watering the plants – the studio showroom has A LOT of plants! Checking emails for new requests or advancements on current projects, dismantling finds and donations, triaging and stocking reusable parts.

This is a crucial moment, which allows me to know exactly what I have to work with and informs my design proposals to individual clients. Later in the day, I’ll glance at the order board and start prepping/machining parts for the next light fixture in line for fabrication. At any given moment, I will turn to my 3D modelling software to help me visualise and bring together my ideas.

As someone who is used to going on lengthy bike rides to source materials, these past few Canadian winter months have definitely been challenging. Lockdown has also limited studio visits and human interaction, which as an extravert, is another key source of energy! I now find my motivation from bringing light and aesthetic pleasure to people’s living and work spaces in these dark months of confinement.

Where are your favourite places to visit for creative inspiration? (both in and out of lockdown)

The Montreal streets and alleyways which are generous with their variety and quantity of available materials. Second-hand shops are also a great place to source inspiration, you find interesting shapes and unique pieces.

The studio’s stock room, through its abundance of readily available materials, has also come to be a great source of inspiration. I can spend hours inspecting, observing, feeling and pairing parts. This drives the creative energy needed to pull together a new collection or showpiece and makes my designs very instinctive.

What kind of interior style do you prefer for your own home?

I live with my girlfriend Véronique Grenier who handles communications and project management for studio botté. We are constantly balancing the urge to reclaim all of the wonderful things we find in the street with minimalism and the urge to purge, the moment there is excess.

Every object needs to be able to breathe and be appreciated with clutter-free space around it. This makes for a very eclectic and story-filled space, where every object can be associated with a walk, a bike ride, a trip, a creative project or some sort of memory.

In keeping with the spirit of studio botté, nothing new is the general rule of thumb for our space. Even the plants have been salvaged and revived. Consuming new is a last resort.

What are you working on next?

For a while now we have been establishing relationships with potential suppliers that can offer large quantities of certain materials, such as offcuts and recycled product components. 2021 may just be the year where the studio branches outside of the lighting world and explores new territory, upcycling other types of materials to produce household products. These projects are still in their early stages and involve collaborations with other local designers. Stay tuned! / @studio.botte

Photo credits: 3rd and 7th image by Marc-André Lapierre / 6th image by Charles-Olivier Bourque / 11th image by Raphael Paulin-Daigle

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Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).