In a New Light
In their Montréal studio, Lambert & Fils embrace the long route to invention.
Text—Marie Charles Pelletier
Photos—Arseni Khamzin et Eliane Cadieux
In partnership with
Light fixtures do so much more than illuminate our spaces: they shape them. By spreading light directly or diffusely, they change the atmosphere of a room.
Through the high windows of a factory on Hutchison Street, you can watch the trains run along the railroad that separates Outremont from the Mile-Ex. Light filters naturally into the vast manufacturing space, which also includes a design studio where first sketches are drawn, ideas are pushed, and prototypes are made. At Lambert & Fils, the people who dream up projects are in constant dialogue with those who craft them into reality.
For years, the studio’s creations were easily recognized by their simple bulbs and brass tubes. Today, their collections have multiplied: their lighting now comes in a variety of shapes, hues, and textures. Lambert & Fils’ signature fixtures have found their places in the homes of London, Montréal, and Lisbon; in temporary installations in New York and Milan; and in hotels and restaurants all around the world.
The call of manual labour
At the beginning of his forties, Samuel Lambert was seized by an existential crisis in his cubicle at the National Film Board, where he specialized in post-production. As he sought to find his way again, the entrepreneur-to-be was sure of one thing: he wanted to work with his hands. Manual labour held a certain nostalgia for him: his father had been a ceramicist in North Hatley in the 1970s and 1980s.
He found a 400-square-foot space on Beaubien Street and started to restore and sell midcentury chairs. To illuminate the area where his chairs were displayed, he built lights, largely by intuition, and people quickly took an interest. After several sleepless nights, he decided to create a collection of lights that he could reproduce.
Ten years later, his organic adoption of light making has developed into his passion, his 400 square feet have become 25,000, and he runs a business with 50 employees, sending pallets of light fixtures overseas.
Lambert describes himself as an entrepreneur who tires quickly of doing the same thing and is constantly reinventing himself. Over the years, this ethos has become his guide: little by little, he has built a company that renews itself continually through its projects. Working with a multidisciplinary team striving to grow the company’s collections, materials, and influences, the founder of Lambert & Fils keeps the flame burning—and the lights on.
The birth of the object
Lambert & Fils’ collections always emerge from the material itself: its colour, the feeling it gives you, its shape. The team uses aluminum, copper, or steel to explore light in all its possibilities. A mere chunk of glass can inspire the creation of an immense light fixture that will overhang a hotel lobby. “I want the object to be alive. I like taking a little piece of something and bringing it somewhere else,” explains Lambert.
The studio grows its knowledge by developing lighting technologies and prototypes—either to give life to a team member’s idea or for a client’s needs. This process costs a lot of money, but they’ll always have the invaluable knowledge gained along the way. It generally takes two years from the initial spark of an idea to a light fixture’s release. “At the end of it all, we try to trace our path, but we’re rarely able to,” admits Lambert.
A patient focus on process rather than end product steers the company away from complacency or compromise. “You sometimes have to take a very complicated route to end up somewhere very simple,” he says, recalling the adage, less is more.
There was the time that Lambert insisted that the Hutchison light should be heavy. It seemingly wasn’t all that important, because only the electrician who lifted it would know. And its weight made it more expensive and complicated to produce. But the added weight also kept the cord from which the light hangs perfectly straight. Small moments like this underline the very particular nature of Lambert & Fils: a balance between aesthetics and detail, functionality and timelessness.
For Pascau Vandame-Martin, special projects manager, this exacting level of care guides every employee. “What defines Lambert & Fils is precisely the time we take to ensure that everything will be well made. We spend hours thinking about the best way to not take any shortcuts,” he explains.
Added to these daily reflections is one constant struggle: diffusing heat so that it doesn’t cook the light source, which would prevent the light from fulfilling its main function. For a light fixture to be durable, you have to reproduce the mechanics of a radiator—without compromising the aesthetics or uniqueness of the object.
The space at Lambert & Fils is con‑ stantly in motion. Desks face each other; all sorts of fixtures hang from the ceiling or are set between plants. A rite of passage for each new hire is to make their own desk lamp. The team continuously reflects on how to improve their work environment, but it’s a task that’s difficult to delegate. Everyone who works there is obsessed with how things are made—and tend to take care of it themselves.
Smiling, Lambert explains that to prevent the company from becoming a self-sufficient microsociety, they have set up an art gallery in the studio. This link with the outside world is a source of new inspiration and relationships. Prior to the pandemic, the space also boasted workshops where employees could learn about new materials and methods of production, stimulating their creativity.
Vandame-Martin’s desk is a few feet away from that of the head of assembly, with whom he spends most of the day talking. For him, there’s nothing more precious than this access to the expertise of the person making the object. “There’s no hierarchy between the person making decisions and the person putting things together. We optimize the design together, organically.”
The next chapter
In the 10 years since it was founded, the company has grown, the lights have travelled across the globe, and the name Lambert & Fils has left its mark.
“It’s always been important to us to tell our story, to stress that, at the beginning, three people were crammed into a tiny shop on Beaubien so that lights could be shipped to New York,” says Samuel Lambert.
Production, high-quality materials, transportation, and advertising are costly—as is hiring a local workforce, attention to detail, and a two-year process to produce a light fixture. “My managing director doesn’t like it when I say this, but I couldn’t afford one of my own lights—though I could make myself one,” admits Lambert.
In this high-windowed workshop, rough hands transform raw matter into sources of illumination: lights that you’ll purchase once, to last a lifetime; lights that will illuminate drawn-out dinners, sleep at our bedsides, and brighten the foggiest nights.
A well-designed object is one that endures, like a good story you tell over and over.
This article was featured in our latest issue Our TransformationsOrder now