When the lavish Intercontinental Montréal changed hands in 2009, the new owners ordered a complete redesign. In came California-based firm Zebrowsky Design Group, who had a mandate to do everything from redecorate the furnishings to completely transform the lobby’s layout. Montreal and its European heritage was a big part of Tim Zebrowky’s inspiration for all those decisions, from minute to mighty; we caught up with him to discuss his ideas…
What was you role on the project? The role of our firm was to develop the concept and reconfigure the spaces so that the hotel could be updated and brought back into fashion. It was originally built in the 1980s, and Montreal has moved on, as has its design aesthetics. We wanted to develop a design that would unique for this property and appropriate for the Montreal of today.
What was your overall vision for Intercontinental Montréal? Montreal’s got such a rich design heritage: it’s got a very strong French influence, but it’s a uniquely North American city as well. That’s why we elected to use materials that helped us convey that heartiness and expanse of North America and combine it with elements that were a little more decorative French. In certain respects these are very competing aspects, which gives us an opportunity for some nice drama.
How did that drama play out in the guestrooms? Through the coloration, between light and dark and the rich, warm colours like rusts and reds on the accent walls. Dark woods that give the feeling of something that’s got some age to it, contrasted with the sparkle of crystal and glass and more contemporary light fixtures. Balancing those colours with the white leather material we use for the bench, and the white bed skirts – we wanted to play against that as well.
How did the themes work in the common spaces? We used combination materials like birch bark panels covered with glass – that’s a good example of taking a very naturalistic material that’s common to Montreal, and applying it in a more contemporary manner. You see the texture and the beauty of the wood, but you see it in a sleek new way.
We also made the vestibule much more intimate, and then addressed the escalators leading up to the lobby by using light panels with a honeycomb pattern on one side and a combination of fur-like material and birch bark panels on the other side. We removed all the lobby seating that had created a flow problem, and that allowed us to tie the reception desk into the arrival experience by using the same backlit honeycomb material for it. It stands out in stark contrast with the dark wood around it.
We opened up a number of different throughways from the reception to the elevators; we moved the bar from one side of the hotel to the other to connect it to the restaurant, and we opened up the lobby onto the bar and the passage from the elevator to the restaurant. So not only did we bring light into the lobby, we created a more direct connection between the lobby and the bar and the elevators and the restaurant.
The restaurant itself was completely reconfigured too – Sarah B. is an absinthe bar, but we thought rather than look at turn-of-the-19th-century images, we thought we’d look to the turn of the 21st century. We were able to blend some Art Nouveau elements with psychedelic patterns. We enriched the space with the lounge in the back, with fur upholstery, antique walnut wood floor throughout and a couple of fireplaces; it was all part of making this a much more intimate bar experience.
What’s your favourite spot in the hotel? The way we developed the buffet is that you can be served directly from the kitchen, so I had the pleasure of having a private dining experience there that was amazing. The other place would be in the lounge, by the fireplace on those fur-covered banquettes – that’s a very nice little intimate place to be. You could be six or eight people and still feel like you’re in your own private salon.
What’s the first thing you’d recommend that visitors to Montreal do? The dining experiences you have are renowned. The Portuguese cuisine is spectacular: Portovino was my favourite. I think I had a three-hour dinner there after the project was completed! I’ve recommended it often. Come ready with your appetite.
Intercontinental Montréal, 360 Antoine Street West, (514) 987-9900
Montréal Sweet Deal Package available at http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Offers/Fall