Maxime Vandal & Richard Ouellette Share the Secrets to Their Timeless Signature Style

The duo behind Les Ensembliers share the secrets to their timeless signature style. 

Designer Richard Ouellette (above, right) and architect Maxime Vandal are the principals behind Quebec-based Les Ensembliers – a multidisciplinary firm with architectural, design and construction services. Their work around the world is characteristic of a contemporary style that incorporates timeless elements for homes that feel fresh and new. We caught up with them to find out more about their design philosophy and share tips on how to bring their lively, on-point style into our homes.

KL: What would you say are your biggest design influences?

RO: My background is fashion, so I take my influences from a texture, colour, fabric and pattern point of view.

MV: As an architect, I see things from a scale, proportion and style point of view. Once those are down and right, anything can work!

KL: What are signature decor elements we can add to our home to make it look like Les Ensembliers has helped us decorate?

RO: There are a few decorating applications that consistently show up in our clients’ homes. First is wallpaper. You can never go wrong using a grasscloth wallpaper in a bedroom for subtle warmth and texture. If more adventurous, choose a favourite wild printed paper and put it on all four walls – it will wrap you in pattern and make the room feel more intimate. If in a rental or you don’t want to commit to adhering wallpaper to your walls, hang large floor-to-ceiling panels of your favourite wallpaper. They can easily be removed when you get tired of the print, or you can take them with you if you move.




The Westmount home of Richard Ouellette and Maxime Vandal is an exquisite example of their exuberant, artful style. Note the unexpected mix of delicate patterned wallpaper and bold, modern drapery fabric. 

Another element is mixing old and new. We love to use something our client has (like an old dining table) and pair it with something new (like chairs) to add a sense of history to a client’s home. Very modern chairs are a great way to give an old table new design life. You can also replace an old chandelier with a modern Noguchi paper lantern or a clean-lined, modern light fixture. Use the older chandelier in a stairwell for unexpected impact.

Finally, large sisal rugs. Place a large sisal rug – a large one, never a small rug – in your room. You should see 12 to 15 inches of wood around the perimeter of the room. Rugs should be big to make an impact and anchor your room. If you have an antique rug that’s tucked away in the attic, take it out and place it on an angle in your living room over the sisal. Sisal rugs are always in style. They are summer home favourites in all our projects and are amazing to layer other rugs on all year round, too.




KL: If you had only one room to wallpaper, what would it be? And is wallpapering a ceiling a fast-fading trend?

RO: I love a wallpapered dining room. It can be bold or subtle, but a four-walls wallpapered dining room also makes a wonderful statement. Because dining rooms are used mostly in the evening, don’t be shy to go for a bold or deep-toned paper! As for wallpaper on the ceiling, I try to shy away from trends, but I think ceiling finishes have always been part of the conversation, like gold-leafed ceilings or plaster finishes. Treating the ceiling like a fifth wall is a good idea in the right setting, but it needs to be done right or it starts looking overdone and can enclose the room. 




KL: Is there a new paint colour you hope to use in your upcoming interior projects?

RO: I will always love a room, or a house for that matter, in Benjamin Moore Oxford White. It is the best first layer of a house…timeless and always beautiful. But I also find myself drawn to hues of red, from paprika to blush. It is the warmth and natural earthy tones of these colours that attracts me. One of the inspirations for our new wallpaper collection came from these colours. We created a series of warm tones in different patterns, from neutrals to bold graphics.  



Les Ensembliers WALLPAPER, La Pagode embroidered grasscloth (panels) in Taupe; fabric, Les Écores cut velvet (daybed upholstery) in Wine; Brunschwig & Fils. Custom daybed, Les Ensembliers.


KL: You mix and match modern and traditional very well. Is there an equation in that mix that helps balance a room?

RO: We love the whole spectrum of design styles, from multilayered traditional to minimalist modern purists. I can’t say that I am more traditional than modern. I would say I love the unexpected mix in a room, and I can’t imagine living in a room without a balance of those elements. A successful room requires a mix of clean-lined furniture, heirloom pieces, bold fabric, soft textures, unexpected pieces, and most definitely a contemporary piece of art! To make a room sing, it needs to look like it’s been decorated over time, it needs patina and soul, and that soul usually comes from meaningful elements like time-worn pieces and the odd antique. I would say you need at least 60 per cent modern, [which makes] the traditional elements come out stronger and louder.


KL: How can someone personalize a basic-builder home?

RO: Bring in some character and style by investing in custom curtains on the main floor and, if budget permits, invest in great rugs. The next steps will be to bring in wallpaper, paint colours and the right furniture, piece by piece over time. 

MV: I would suggest changing all the builder-basic fixtures, and if there is a fireplace, add a custom mantel. Light fixtures are an easy way to create a unique decorating detail in each room, while the fireplace will make an architectural statement that is all your own.

Les Ensembliers fabric, Les Vagues, Les Rizières, Brunschwig & Fils.  

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