Joël Desmarais’ fascination with electric pylons dates back to when the mechanic garage on his brother’s property served as his welding studio. The garage sat in an open field near Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, immediately below one of the electric pylon power lines iconic to the town’s landscape. Intrigued, Desmarais began to mimic the triangulation and bracing in the structure towering above him in his metalwork. “The pylon is very well made given its resistance, its height, and the minimal use of material,” Desmarais says of his interest in the structure. He admits he became a bit obsessed.
Desmarais is the founder of Machine, a Montreal-based multidisciplinary design firm launched in 2014. While he no longer works in a countryside garage, electric pylons still inform his practice. Alphabet is Machine’s furniture division, and the Pylône chair is one of Alphabet’s first creations. “I wanted to be sure to have a base that was as light as possible,” Desmarais explains. “I found the form very elegant.” Curved by hand, the bends of the seat and the backrest follow the organic forms of the body—a nod to Charles and Ray Eames’ classic chair design.
The Topique pieces, which launched in May, are as light as their pylon-inspired forebears, but with a more polished touch.
Machine’s team has grown from three to 10 people within the past year. Together, they carry out projects that integrate complementary practices such as industrial, urban, interior, event, exhibition, and graphic design. As I tour the studio, team members heave large colourful platforms past me. “We’re making a mini putt for this weekend’s Marché des Possibles,” Marie-France Paquette, a designer at Machine, tells me. “No two projects have an identical direction.” As they set the piece down, it becomes obvious that it is in fact a small putting green. There seems to be nothing the folks at Machine can’t do.
The studio is nestled in a sprawling brick warehouse, a former Cadbury chocolate factory, in Montreal’s artisanal Laurier-Est district. The office opens onto a mini-showroom, from which a window peers into the woodworking shop. The entire studio feels like a work in progress—a three-dimensional mood board.
For Alphabet’s new collection, Topique, the team made drawings, researched forms and materials, preformed tests, and made prototypes, custom-tailored under a single roof. The Topique pieces, which launched in May, are as light as their pylon-inspired forebears, but with a more polished touch. The best part: Topique is accessibly priced, a key consideration in the design process.
For now, Machine’s clientele is mostly in Montreal, but given the firm’s record, things may soon change. The team hopes to complete the Alphabet collection with a table and bring its pieces to audiences outside of Quebec.
Alphabet’s collection is currently stocked at YUL Design on Boulevard Saint-Laurent and is also being shown at Bref on 261 rue Bernard Ouest in Montreal.
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