Originally built in 1894 as Henry Birks’ jewellery store on Phillips Square by Montreal architect, Edward Maxwell, the building underwent major renovations. It has seen numerous modifications over the years which lead to poor conditions. However, Jean Salette purchased the building in 2016 to lead a team of professionals on the ambitious project - a dream of his for nearly 20 years.
One of the first businesses to be established around Phillips Square, Henry Birks & Sons drew in wealthy clientele to the square - which encouraged other businesses to also settle in this location. Though St-Catherine Street’s commercial side continues to evolve, a more inclusive audience is being embraced.
The intention was to restore the historic building into a luxurious boutique hotel with an elegant French brasserie, whilst still retaining its original prestige of the celebrated Birks jewellery store. Partner architect, Anh Le Quang, and Marion Thiébaux from NEUF Architects worked with the designer, Nicole Vekemans, to restore the historic building to its remarkable character whilst giving it new life, renewing the building’s function.
“Giving new life to this unique landmark that has been part of Montreal’s urban landscape for almost 125 years is an accomplishment we are very proud of.” - Marion Thiébaux.
Storefront windows that had become partially obstructed - or replaced - over time were restored by the team. Several of the park-facing windows were spoiled by an elevator shaft added to the interior of the building. The team moved the shaft, reviving the windows’ transparency and visual connection to the Square.
Previously the business’ office space, the upper floors were converted into 132 hotel rooms. A two-storey glass volume now crowns the building to contrast the ornamented façade that evokes the original diamond workshop. The old fashioned mechanical rooms and vaults in the lower levels were made into a relaxing spa for the new hotel.
Seeking to preserve the existing historical elements, the original plaster mouldings adorning the ceiling were kept by installing a specialised sprinkler system that accommodates the building’s new use.
Existing columns were carefully integrated into the plans for the layout of the rooms, making each room unique with a distinctive quality. The team paid great attention to detail to vital components, as well as the aesthetic elements, to ensure the building’s longevity.
By preserving and improving the past of a business that both leave a mark on Montreal’s history, NEUF have successfully brought Edward Maxwell’s iconic Phillips Square landmark back to life, helping the building to stand out in the city’s cultural landscape for generations to come.
NEUF Architects is a team of creative professionals with experience of nearly 50 years. The firm specialises in finding creative solutions to today’s most challenging design problems.
Nicole Vekemans is a graduate from the Brussel’s École supérieure d’architecture and has over 30 years of professional experience as an interior designer.