It has been more than a decade since Byron and Dexter Peart – identical twins and dapper darlings of the Canadian design scene – bought apartments in the Montreal housing complex Habitat 67. In that time, they have watched the brutalist building morph from a point of reference for architecture aficionados into something like a national treasure.
Designed by Moshe Safdie, who at the time was a 24-year-old architecture student at McGill University, Habitat 67 was built as a pavilion at the Expo 1967 World’s Fair. A residential prototype for the megalopolis of the future, it broke the traditional apartment building into floating cubes interspersed with shafts of open space or elevated patios filled with herb gardens and fruit trees.
The idea was to give city dwellers some of the airiness and greenery of a detached house. ‘For everyone a garden,’ as Safdie put it. While popular among students of architecture, the building failed to usher in a new style of urban dwelling. Now, though, its ethos seems to chime with a collective yearning for a new kind of city living brought on by pandemic-thwarting lockdowns.
For Dexter, its appeal is more than that, though. ‘When something is a half-century old and people are still taking pictures of it every morning while you’re having your coffee, it reminds you about the enduring potential of design done well,’ he says. ‘That challenges us so that everything we create has to meet that crazy standard.’
The brothers grew up in a Jamaican immigrant family in suburban Ottawa. They popped up on the fashion world’s radar in 2000, when they opened a tiny shop in Old Montreal, Want Stil, that became the first place in Canada to import many Swedish and Japanese designers. Next came their own line of luxury bags and accessories, Want Les Essentiels de La Vie. Yet even as Want achieved new heights, the duo felt a strong desire to give back.
‘We wanted to create ladders of opportunity,’ explains Dexter. ‘Maybe it’s because we’re twins and we’ve always been super-collaborative, but we felt that in the future the big trend would not be competition but cooperation.’ And as black entrepreneurs, they knew from experience that too few openings exist for people of colour.
In 2017, they sold Want and, two years later, launched Goodee, a tightly curated online marketplace for homewares handpicked by the brothers as much for their social and environmental value as for their beauty. The inventory runs the gamut from a straw bicycle basket handwoven at a cooperative in Ghana to stylish children’s furniture upcycled from discarded plastic toys by the Antwerp-based company ecoBirdy. Meanwhile, the brothers’ own apartments at Habitat 67 have, in some ways, become liveable laboratories for thoughtful, sustainable design.
Inside Byron’s apartment, which he shares with his fashion-executive husband, Stefan Weisgerber, and a Beaglier puppy named Hugo, Goodee pillows – a collaboration between the brand and the Ethical Fashion Initiative – share space with iconic pieces of furniture. Many of the Bauhaus-style items in the apartment were sourced from dealers in Stefan’s native Germany. Perfectionists and students of design history, he and Byron have gone out of their way to restore the original elements of Safdie’s interiors, from the kitchen cabinetry to the glass shelving and mirrored walls.
While Byron’s place feels more like a gallery, Dexter’s home – which he shares with his wife, Maria Varvarikos, the founder of publicity firm Zoï Agency – is casual by comparison, full of souvenirs from vacations to India and Zakynthos, the Greek island where Maria’s family is from. It is also enlivened by the presence of the couple’s two daughters – Kaya, 10, and Sierra, seven – who love everything about life at Habitat 67.
When they’re not playing in the apartment’s plant-filled solarium, which Dexter says doubles as an ‘arts and crafts-slash-slime playroom,’ Kaya enjoys strolling around the complex’s pyramid-shaped fountains. Meanwhile, her sister Sierra likes riding her scooter across the second-floor plaza or stargazing on the building’s rooftop.
Byron and Dexter have always had an affinity with Safdie’s vision for the future of city living, but the community of Habitat 67 – with its open-air corridors and private outdoor spaces – has seemed even more like a precious safe haven since the coronavirus outbreak. As the brothers gathered their families each week for a socially distanced glass of wine or quiet meal, they counted their blessings. ‘In this new reality, people are understanding what we’ve always known as twins: how important it is to be close to loved ones,’ says Byron.
In this respect, the mission of their new company – ‘good people doing good things’ – feels very of the moment. As Byron puts it: ‘I think Want was really about being out in the world. Goodee is about coming home.’ goodeeworld.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2020
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