For Samuel Lambert, founder and creative director of acclaimed Montréal-based lighting studio Lambert & Fils, putting down roots in the heart of downtown Manhattan was a life-long aspiration. By March 2020, his dream was on the brink of manifestation. But the same day the Canadian designer signed his lease on the couldn’t-be-better spot, an airy 1,500-square-foot space in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, the entire city went into its first coronavirus-related lockdown. Overcoming the ongoing hurdles presented by a global pandemic, from restricted travel to weakness in supply chains, Lambert and his team would reveal their highly-anticipated stateside debut nine months later—on the heels of the company’s 10th anniversary—along with a bold new lighting collection to illuminate an even brighter future for the illustrious brand.
The Lambert & Fils showroom sits on the ground floor of the 19th-century Schepp Building, a historic Neo-Grec and Romanesque Revival landmark building on the corner of Hudson and Duane in Tribeca’s Design District. Lambert tapped Brooklyn studio re-a.d to assist in the restoration of the newfound creative hub, whitewashing nearly all of its surfaces—walls, floors, and ceilings—to transform it into a “luminous white box”. As such, the focus on the smattering of curated objects scattered within would be acute. Currently, it’s Lambert & Fils’ striking Atelier line, an uninhibited reimagining of the the firm’s most beloved creations spanning collections past, that has been installed to inaugurate the minimalist space.
Forbes spoke with Samuel Lambert to learn more about the showroom’s evolution, and the trials and tribulations of pursuing a project of this scale in the midst of a pandemic.
Why choose New York City as the location for Lambert & Fils’ sophomore showroom?
New York City was always a dream for us and the decision was kind of inevitable. I’ve been coming to NYC since I was a teenager, first on long overnight bus rides from Montréal! For many Montréalers, there’s a mythical, ritualistic aspect to driving down I-87 from Canada to recharge, get inspired, and dream big in NYC. The city has a huge design and architecture community, and has been a gateway to internationalization for us since the very beginning. NYC remains host to our biggest client base.
How long had you been searching for the right space, before finding “the one” at the corner of Hudson and Duane?
We looked at hundreds of spaces all over town, but had a hard time finding the perfect one. One night, we were waiting for a taxi at the corner of Hudson and Duane to head to the airport, and noticed this beautiful space [in the Schepp building]. It was a semi-derelict former architect’s office, but represented everything we loved about NYC: high ceilings, huge pillars, Neo-Gothic architecture. We knocked on the neighboring storefront window, and the clerk showed us the space right then. Within two weeks we’d negotiated a lease.
You signed the lease the day that New York City officially went into an unprecedented lockdown due to the pandemic. Why were you still determined to proceed with your plans?
The day we signed was March 10th, 2020: the official day of the lockdown due to COVID-19. It was absolutely crippling and frightening, but we decided to go ahead with it. We’d made a big investment, emotionally and financially, in New York—killing other ideas in the process—so we just put everything on hold and went all in. What’s nice about the western edge of Tribeca is that it’s more of a dynamic residential neighborhood, and in essence, everything we do is to create a dialogue and try to understand where we sell. While setting up the showroom mid-pandemic, I would walk around at night and observe people’s lives. At night, Tribeca is like a lighting showroom unto itself.
How does your showroom’s design reflect the ethos of Lambert & Fils when it comes to sharing your work with the world?
Philosophically, the idea was to recreate the way we conduct shows around the world. We absolutely love to host and be generous with our time. Having real interactions feeds us creatively. After the success of Caffè Populaire, our 2019 pop-up cafe in Milan, we realized we could have a permanent space for these kinds of shows. That’s why the space is quite minimal—we wanted to have a blank canvas that could be reinvented throughout the year.
Can you elaborate on your partnership with Brooklyn-based re-a.d studio, who helped revive the historic workspace?
re-a.d (architects) helped re-imagine the space and bring it back to its original essence. They were critical eyes on the ground as we couldn’t really travel back and forth much once the pandemic hit. We focused on restoring architectural elements, like the pillars and enormous arched windows that look out onto Duane Park. We also painted the original wood floors to pay homage to the artistic legacy of this neighborhood.
How did you involve your son in the design process?
My 18-year-old son and I took on the task of interior design and layout since he was learning 3-D rendering as a way to lessen his lockdown blues. It was a great process that brought us closer, and was also a good way to pass COVID! Today, he does all the renders for L&F. All of the décor comes from friends we’ve made along the way, including rugs from Milan-based cc-tapis, and mirrors and wallpaper from local designers Bower Studios and Calico Wallpaper.
Tell us about the Atelier line you’ve debuted in the showroom, which is a brand new category of products that envisions sculptural, large-scale iterations of fixtures from your most beloved collections.
Atelier is all about showing the possibilities of our team: our talents, our craft and the way these manifest in an object. We’ve always wanted to design without any limitations, but when you work in a commercial context you naturally have to deal with certain limitations. With the new showroom in NYC we felt this was the perfect opportunity to experiment.
For us, it’s an opportunity to bring in the Montréal ‘handmade’ feeling, but in a more flexible environment and market thanks to the high ceilings of the showroom, the ambience, and a high-end clientele. A lot of people don’t know this, but we do a lot of huge custom hospitality high-end projects all over the world. So customization and experimentation have always been in our DNA.
Our Montréal headquarters is a 20,000-square-foot workshop that hosts design, manufacturing, and creative under one roof. The idea with this collection was to concretize these efforts and create a door to our workshop—a.k.a. the ‘atelier’. Like most things Lambert & Fils, we organically found our way there through experimentation and the desire to create beautiful things and connect with others. In a way, the showroom and Atelier collection are the perfect punctuation to a decade of finding our path.
What were some major obstacles you faced from the pandemic and what do you hope the future holds for the Tribeca showroom?
The pandemic was quite challenging and frightening, especially at first. We’d signed a lease dreaming of [in-person] social interaction, but had to adapt quickly to a completely virtual model. Luckily, we have overcome that challenge to a large extent by continuing to foster strong relationships amongst our team, suppliers, partners, and customers. We’re doing virtual tours on the daily, which people love because it’s nice break from the day-to-day Zoom grind to be ‘whisked away’ to Tribeca. Of course, we’re all holding our breath to get back to hosting, exchanging in person and doing what we love best.
Visit the Lambert & Fils showroom at 51 Hudson St, New York, NY 10013.
This interview has been edited and condensed for Forbes.