Skip to main content

Designer Montana Labelle.Montana Labelle

Remembering the last time she was featured in this newspaper sparks a visceral reaction for Montana Labelle. “Horrific,” she says, recoiling into the corner of a sofa in her Toronto studio in the Annex neighbourhood. “I look at that article sometimes, and I’m like, what is this?”

Her design style has come a long way since that feature on her first apartment, a loft brimming with DIY decor, was published in 2014. At that point, Labelle was just setting off on her own, recently back in Canada after a stint at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and fresh from an internship in the offices of industry veteran Brian Gluckstein. “I was trying to find a voice,” she says of that first space.

Since then, Labelle has built her own company, expanded her reach into online retail and opened a bricks-and-mortar lifestyle shop in her workspace. All of it has been helped along by her legion of online followers (almost 60,000 on Instagram and growing), who are eager to watch the lifestyle guru, typically sporting a pair of chunky sneakers in her feed, create minimal spaces accessorized with rustic knick-knacks and abstract art.

Labelle’s mother, Karen Kwinter, who served as style editor at Canadian Living, was the first to steer her daughter’s interests in fashion toward interior design – even going so far as to put a 16-year-old Labelle’s tips for DIY interiors into the magazine’s home section. One of Labelle’s first big projects while working with Gluckstein was her parents’ vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “I think I was one of his favourites,” she says with a smile about the man she calls the “OG” of Canadian interiors.

But Labelle came by her design aesthetic all on her own. She calls it, “lived-in modern,” and its best understood through a visit to her Toronto headquarters. Dubbed the “Lifestyle Studio,” it’s a hybrid office, retail and digital content creation space that would look like a little slice of Los Angeles if Casa Loma wasn’t looming behind it.

Montana Labelle

Her team of 10 is spread across two floors. Upstairs, the design team manages projects while the first floor is devoted to products, including a showroom and space for online orders to be packed up and shipped, mostly to clients in the United States. Nearly every surface is lime-washed and all of the decorative objects she sells – including vases, catch-all dishes, marble side tables and collectible pieces of vintage furniture – have one common feature. “I love a patina,” she says.

Labelle developed her look through revamping her own homes with her husband of eight years, developer Russell Gozlan, the son of stylish Toronto and Palm Beach social duo Alan and Renee Gozlan. Labelle and Russell collaborated on their first condo and, later, their first house, which became a launch pad for her lifestyle brand. Its rooms served not only as laboratories for new ideas, but also the backdrops for product development and online retailing. “When we started, product was all over my house, the garage was filled to the brim and there were only so many corners of my house that we could shoot things in,” she says.

The design firm takes on a small number of projects every year. Most are in Toronto, where Labelle often works alongside Gozlan (“he’ll FaceTime me or call me 30 times a day, which is annoying, but it gets the client what they want in a really efficient manner,” she says) as well as Muskoka and Florida.

Lauren Miller/Montana Labelle

While she is an interior designer, Labelle is of the mind that not every person requires the full services of one. She’s developed a styling program that’s meant to address projects that land in the grey area between a DIY job and a down-to-the-studs makeover. At least a portion of the fee, which starts at $2,500, can be redeemed toward products in her shop.

Labelle’s team will guide a shopper through picking a new vase, for example, or advise on updates for a single room. The more accessible approach has proven to be a savvy business move that often leads to deeper and more lucrative client relationships. “One of our very, very early lifestyle clients, who has been following the whole journey online from when we started, has just hired us to do her 16,000-square-foot house in Florida” Labelle says. “She told some of her friends about us, and now they’ve hired us, too.”