It’s a paradox of the Internet age that buying anything you could possibly imagine is easier than ever, but actually discovering the rare, little-known gems amid all the chaff is harder than ever. Fortunately for us, searching for under-the-radar art and design is the raison d’être for Bref, the ever-transforming concept shop in Montreal that is part boutique, part gallery and part event venue.

The shop was co-founded in 2016 by environmental designer Maude St-Louis and retail brand strategist Cynthia Moreau, who bonded over a shared love of design. Since then, Bref’s transient themes (they reinvent the whole space — layout and merchandise — every six weeks) have run the whimsical gamut. There’s been a palette (black and white), a mood (relaxed) and topics both practical (table art) and far out (astral). Coming this September is a zero-waste theme, followed by architecture.

While the idea behind Bref may be reminiscent of destinations like Story in NYC or the dearly departed Colette in Paris, it’s proudly homegrown. “Years ago, the local market didn’t have a place for new creators to help them grow and present their work,” explains Moreau.

Once a theme is chosen, the duo collaborate with creators to develop an exhibition. “We mix visual art, ceramics, clothing, even food sometimes,” says Moreau. “We think about everything to create an experience, a journey — something stronger than a common retail store.”

In conversation with Insight: The Art of Living, the designers reveal why home really is where the heart is — and what’s behind their newfound confidence.

Chloé and Parris, aged 30 and 28, respectively, grew up in the tony Rosedale neighbourhood of Toronto and attended exclusive private schools Branksome Hall and the Toronto French School. Their mother, Eve Gordon, is an artist who painted everything, from canvasses to wall murals. Like most sisters, they would fight over the contents of each other’s closets. “I would steal Parris’s clothes and say they were mine,” says Chloé, laughing, “then write my initials in Sharpie.”

One could surmise that Beaufille’s binary DNA comes from the siblings’ unique aesthetics, cultivated in high school. Chloé was a self-professed tomboy, whereas Parris leaned more toward pretty (with the exception of one short-lived punk phase). Today, the sisters describe their sartorial style as more of a “classic uniform dressing,” meaning comfortable, wearable and put together.

At university, Chloé immediately gravitated toward textiles, while Parris chose to pursue jewellery design. “I have more of a rough, hard hand that’s more related to metalwork, like hammering and filing,” Parris explains. “I just wasn’t as delicate with textiles.”

That didn’t stop the sisters from partnering on a fashion line. Now, Beaufille boasts two jewellery categories — fashion, which, this season, incorporates playful oversized pearls and sculptural cuffs; and demi-fine subtler pieces available in 10- and 14-carat gold. (The best-seller is the Ringlet earring, a tri-hoop design that climbs up the earlobe to fake a multi-piercing look.)

01 Bref

“We try to push the limit and work with different furniture, with geometry, with contrast,” says St-Louis, referring to each iteration of the store design. “If you’re looking for the playful, giftable or seriously limited edition, you’re in the right place. For the astral theme earlier this year, you could shop a quilt hand-stitched with a constellation of stars by Brooklyn’s Haptic Lab, or zodiac prints by local illustrator Amélie Dubois. For Bref’s recent “table art” theme, the lineup included offerings from two boutiques in Montreal — Atelier Make’s pretty pastel ceramics alongside ice- alternative whiskey stones from Lithologie, made from multimillion-year-old rocks. Keep an eye on Bref’s online calendar — each new theme is revealed with a special event. 261, rue Bernard ouest, Montreal; 438-290-5074;

02 Klin D’Oeil

A cross between gallery-like boutique and hands-on atelier, Klin d’oeil is devoted to the indie craft, incorporating décor, jewellery and fashion. It regularly hosts events, like the recent pop-ups for Les Pavés Sonores (shoes with exotic prints) and Kamomeya (Japanese vintage dresses). Catering to the creative class, the shop also runs Saturday workshops, bringing in artisans and designers to share their skills, such as weaving, screen printing and silk painting. 6, rue Deguerry, Paris; 01-77-15-22-30;

03 Cueropapel & Tijera 

“It was amazing to discover this kind
of place in Costa Rica,” Moreau says of Cueropapel, which creates traditionally crafted, handmade leather goods with a minimalist sensibility. Handbags, wallets and other accessories in a palette, from earth tones to pastels, invite browsing. “You can talk with the designer [Sofia Protti, also the shop owner]. The place is beautiful and the product is very good-quality and original.” Sabana Norte (100 metres north of Torre La Sabana), San José, Costa Rica; 506-2222-5516;

04 Poketo

“This concept inspired Bref a lot,” says Moreau. Founded by a husband-and-wife team, Poketo is all about “art for your everyday,” creating and also curating a wide range of accessibly priced lifestyle goods, including clothes, accessories,
home décor and even stationery. There’s emphasis on functionality-meets-elegance, as seen in the retro-glam lamps designed by Søren Rose and the geometric handbags that convert into the sleekest of backpacks, a collab with The Common Knowledge. 777 South Alameda Street, #174, Los Angeles; 213-372-5686;

05 Le Butterblume

Tucked in the same Mile End neighbourhood as Bref, Le Butterblume (German for “buttercup”) is a local go-to for coffee and artfully presented (yet unfussy) takes on brunch. Think asparagus toast topped with radishes and a bright yolky egg. “It’s a light space with a design touch — and an amazing squash cake,” notes Moreau. The 40-seat café also has a little boutique nook, where you can buy magazines, homewares or a custom bouquet of flowers to go with your espresso. 5836, boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal; 514-903-9115;

By Wing Sze Tang –  *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Fall 2018

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