What a difference 24 months makes.
Two years ago, designer Philippe Malouin, the son of two notaries from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que., was living in his London workshop, barely making a living at his métier and sleeping, literally, on his own wood shavings. Fast forward to last month, when the budding star, 30 this year, sits in the light-filled converted loft below said workshop, nursing a hangover (but happily so) after having just returned from the Design Miami/Basel fair in Switzerland. There, Malouin had been feted by W Hotels in a decidedly decadent manner, receiving his own private townhouse and driver for the week.
The hotel chain had anointed him Designer of the Future for his new Daylight lamps, a series of tangram-shaped wall fixtures backed by LEDs that mimic sunlight, making the lamps seem like windows to the outdoors.
"I went from designing gas reservoirs for Bombardier to designing bags for Hermès," Malouin says of his unusual (and unusually circuitous) career trajectory. Today, he is surrounded in his English home by the vestiges of his early career – a stool that he launched during an internship with British designer Tom Dixon, his hand-cast waxed-concrete 1:4 bowl from 2011. Malouin's road to London began years earlier at the University of Montreal, which he left with a grant to study at l'École nationale supérieure de création industrielle in Paris. He then moved on to the Netherlands, where he pursued an internship with the Amsterdam design studio TJEP and a graduate degree from the Design Academy Eindhoven. At Eindhoven, Malouin was plucked by LiEdelkoort, a prominent trend forecaster, to produce a solo exhibition, his first, during the Milan Furniture Fair. It was covered by Todd Selby for the New York Times's T Magazine and subsequently sold out, as did his next show, which was curated by fashion designer and longtime friend Rad Hourani, at – full circle – the Montreal gallery Commissaires.
Over the years, Malouin, who has a thick chestnut beard and smouldering blue eyes, has developed a reputation for handcrafted, gallery-grade design. Earlier this year, he set bloggers' fingertips ablaze with his Gridlock series of concrete furnishings embellished with brass latticework. This summer, he will undertake a series of collaborations with such high-profile brands as Artek.
Needless to say, Malouin is starving no more. Although a commission by Volkswagen to design a chair did nearly bankrupt him ("they paid me for one, then asked for four"), the rollout of his Yachiyo rug, a hexagonal trompe l'oeil carpet handmade from 3,000 metres of galvanized steel wire, proved more successful.
Gridlock, meanwhile, has raised his profile further. Now, Malouin employs two full-time designers, while his spin-off interior-design practice, Post-Office, has outfitted pop-up shops, Notting Hill boutiques and the offices of Dezeen, the influential online design magazine.
"He hasn't settled into a style," Marcus Fairs, Dezeen's founder and editor-in-chief, says admiringly, "so he's able to jump around from project to project."
Asked about the Dezeen project, Malouin literally shudders. "We built everything from scratch. It took … a long time." But any space should, he quickly concedes. "I'm definitely not impulsive," the one-time Quebecker says. "You should want things a long time."
Special to The Globe and Mail