By Kelsey Klassen – WE Vancouver Photo: Rob Newell

It’s a quiet fall morning in Gastown. That Vancouver light — so grey and all-revealing — travels leisurely down through ceiling-high warehouse windows to glisten off the polished concrete below.

Under its steely glare, the Montauk showroom shows no signs of the wild night it just had.

Having quickly become one of design week’s annual blow-outs, Montauk’s third annual “Crazy Little Party” on Sept. 21 saw silver foxes jumping on couches (Prosecco and mini Yorkshire puddings in hand), and friends air-kissing hello only to lose each other in a sea of Vancouver’s most stylish.

Danny Chartier at IDS West 2013 Photo by Andrew Chin

While the crowd would have looked effortlessly at home at Montauk’s Boul. St-Laurent location in Montreal, or Mercer St. in New York, the Vancouver showroom clearly speaks the Gastown vernacular.

But head designer Danny Chartier wasn’t always on speaking terms with the brick-and-beam heritage location.

Rewind five years: Chartier and Montauk owner Tim Zyto would spend their mornings standing near Aveda on Water Street, staring at the Abbott Street space and watching the walk-by traffic.

“We were not sure when we saw the outside if it looked like a church or a restaurant!” Chartier laughs. The cavernous and abandoned erstwhile Chinese restaurant had rats, pigeons, asbestos, an unauthorized “groundskeeper”…

“We wanted to be close to the big guys here in Vancouver, not to name anyone,” he winks good-naturedly, his french accent rolling gently past a dazzling a smile. “We love the essence of Gastown.
It feels for Vancouver that there is a soul here. And I like to modernize old things but keep the essence, so it was the right area.”

And thus the struggle began. First, the property was not for sale. Negotiations, which included Chartier flying out to personally work his magic, dragged out for two years.

Then, reality sunk in: everything had to be updated. And, painfully, construction was forced to halt for the 2010 Olympics.

Discovering, also, that the collapsing building was heritage protected (“I’m not sure I would have not run away when they told us that”), was almost the last straw, but it was their original budget that crumbled instead.

Chartier jumps up, gesturing past the yards of air above him, to the gorgeous exposed steel beams that draw the eye ever higher.

“There was a lot of structure involved that we were not aware of. We don’t build for earthquakes in Montreal, so there was a huge learning curve.