It has been more than a decade since Byron and Dexter Peart—identical twins and dapper darlings of the Canadian design world—bought apartments in the Montreal housing complex Habitat 67. In that time, they have watched the Brutalist building they call home morph from a point of reference for architecture aficionados into something like a national treasure.
In 2017, the Canadian post office honored the building with a stamp. Shortly after, Moshe Safdie, who designed Habitat 67 when he was just a 24-year-old architecture student at McGill University, gut renovated the top-floor apartment he owns and opened it up to tour groups. Hardly a day goes by without the brothers noticing a curious visitor admiring the facade, which is composed of 354 interlocking concrete blocks and has been compared to everything from a Cubist painting to the adobe pueblos of the American Southwest. “When something is a half century old and people are taking pictures of it every morning while you’re having your coffee, it reminds you about the enduring potential of design done well,” Dexter says. “That challenges us so that everything we create has to meet that crazy standard.”
Habitat was built as a pavilion at the Expo 1967 World’s Fair, which attracted more than 50 million people to a city of around 2 million. A residential prototype for the megalopolis of the future, it broke the monolithic 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 preserve the economy of apartment living while giving 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. And although it has roots as a template for affordable housing, Habitat—which is now a condominium—has actually become one of the more exclusive addresses in Montreal. This is despite its relatively isolated location on a man-made peninsula in the St. Lawrence River across from the city’s main port. Many of Habitat’s residents have retrofitted Safdie’s original single-unit apartments by buying two or three “cubes” and linking them to create spacious, multilevel condos, which are flooded with natural light and boast sweeping views of downtown Montreal.
The Pearts 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 recherché Swedish and Japanese designers. Next came their own line of luxury bags and accessories, Want Les Essentiels de La Vie, which grew into a global force, sprouting shoe and apparel collections and boutiques in Tokyo, Vancouver, and New York. Fairly priced and built to last, Want’s chic totes targeted a new kind of jet-setter with more minimalist taste.
Yet even as Want achieved new heights, the Pearts felt a strong desire to give back. “We wanted to create ladders of opportunity,” Dexter says. “Maybe it’s where we are in our lives, getting older. Maybe because we’re twins and we’ve always been super collaborative. But we felt that in the future, the big trend was not competition but cooperation.” And as Black entrepreneurs, they knew from experience that too few openings exist for people of color to get financing and exposure. “Our parents enshrined in us from a very early age that we were going to have to work harder as Black Canadians. Byron and I were lucky enough to find these little cracks and crevices of opportunity early on, but it’s never been lost on us that those chances are either not seen or made available to so many others.”
In 2017 they sold Want, and two years later, they launched Goodee, a tightly curated online marketplace for housewares handpicked by the brothers as much for their beauty as for their social and environmental value. 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. The Peart brothers’ own apartments at Habitat have in some ways become laboratories for thoughtful, sustainable design. Inside Byron’s two-cube 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—and terra-cotta planters made by the eco-friendly Danish line Skagerak share space with museum-quality furniture. Many of the Bauhaus-style pieces in the apartment were sourced from dealers in Stefan’s native Germany.
Perfectionists and students of design history, Byron and Stefan 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. The apartment also showcases a serious art collection in the making, with an Andy Warhol silk-screen, a Richard Serra etching, and a landscape by the Québecois painter Marc Séguin.
While Byron’s place feels more like a gallery, Dexter’s home—which he shares with his wife, Maria Varvarikos, the founder of the publicity firm Zoï Agency—is casual by comparison. Composed of three cubes, the large space is warmed up by souvenirs from vacations to India or 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, 7, who love everything about life at Habitat. 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 temperate nights on the building’s rooftop.
The Pearts have always found Habitat exceedingly livable, but the community—with its open-air corridors, decentralized lobbies, and isolated outdoor spaces—has seemed even more like a safe haven since the coronavirus outbreak. As Dexter and Byron 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,” Byron says. In this respect, the mission of their new company—“good people doing good things”—feels of a piece with this moment. “I think Want was really about being out in the world. And Goodee is about coming home.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE
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