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SME Universe | An American design award for an Italian product designed in Quebec



Three Quebec companies (and perhaps more) have just won Good Design awards from the Chicago Athenaeum, a private architecture and design museum that awards what is perhaps the oldest recognition in the field.

One of the winners is the firm Topo Design, in the person of industrial designer Charles Godbout, for the Airwave airport seating system he designed for the Italian manufacturer Altek Italia.

“My customers are super happy”, rejoiced the designer, on December 15th.

The Airwave system creates privacy zones or small lounges with hexagonal seat armchairs with low backs. Each seat can be surrounded by an enclosure which forms both a high backrest and a screen.

When the armchairs are juxtaposed facing each other, these speakers connect to form a continuous wall that separates and isolates them, while forming a wave that inspired the name of the range.


Topo Design Airwave Airport Seating System

The series includes poufs, armchairs, side tables and a USB power supply system – a range of softness and comfort, through the rigor of its clean lines.

Important meetings

But how does an industrial designer from Quebec manage to work with a manufacturer from northern Italy, the pinnacle of furniture designers?

This is not Charles Godbout’s first partnership with renowned European manufacturers.

After being the founder and president of an exhibition system design and manufacturing company, he founded Topo Design in 1992.

Since then, he has specialized in “furniture and products for the home”. He practices a form of design that is rare in Quebec: prospective design. He finds ideas, does the design and then offers the products to manufacturers, often European, but also Canadian or American. “It’s a formula that gives me a lot of freedom,” he says. This is what allowed me to travel and establish contacts. »

Meetings with foreign manufacturers are often impromptu, on the occasion of exhibitions or international events. It’s an opportunity to “work with people from another culture, to blend in, to learn Italian quietly”.

And the Italian way.

A few years ago, architect Luc Plante and he presented product concepts in the form of extremely detailed digital illustrations, believing that they would thus demonstrate the realism of the project.

“We had polite refusals, until an Italian manufacturer said to me: ‘I’m going to explain something to you. When you show me projects like that with beautiful finished images, as a manufacturer, I become a performer and I am not a stakeholder. I’d rather you show me sketches and we work on them together.” This is the Italian method. »

Combinations of circumstances

He met the owners of Altek Italia in 2018, during the Milan Furniture Fair.

“It’s a combination of circumstances. »

A contest he won, that one too.

“Someone introduced me to these people. Two brothers and sisters took over the family business. »

He showed them some airport seating projects he had done before. A few months later, they contacted the Quebec designer again to participate in an airport furniture competition in Saudi Arabia. Charles Godbout then sketched out the future Airwave system.

“They really tripped. We went far in the call for tenders, and in the end, we didn’t get it. But the project was finally developed. »

Launched in 2019

The range was launched in 2019. The recent addition of a divider panel that temporarily stores your suitcase and hangs your clothes and new trapezoidal side tables are new features that qualified it for entry into the Good Design competition 2022.

Quebec design firm Brio Innovation also won an award for the ambulance technician seat it designed for Demers Ambulances.

Manufacturer Lumca, from Quévec, did the same for its Lio, Citii and Cosmo street lights.

Other Quebec winners may have escaped us.

Prices have a price

The Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Awards were established in 1950 by influential designers, including the famous Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and the no less renowned American designers Charles and Ray Eames.

He is now competing for the market in several international competitions, such as iF Design Award or Red Dot Design Award.

Each awards hundreds of prizes and mentions. This plethora does not mean that the work of the winners is not meritorious or of high quality.

But these awards often come at a price.

“I’m not fooled, they are machines,” notes Charles Godbout. It has accelerated over the past ten years, both in architecture and design: prices are an industry. »

Because “once you have your candy, that you have won, you have to pay”.

He gives the example of a design competition organized in Europe.

“When you win the Best of the Best, you put your foot in gear. It costs you 10,000 euros: you have to buy the package, licensing, marketing. You have no choice, it’s contractual. »

A Good Design award from the Chicago Athenaeum doesn’t come cheap either. “To have the license to put the Good Design logo on your catalog, your product, your photos, it’s US$3,000 for two years. »

However, Charles Godbout refuses to sulk his pleasure.

“There are still benefits. There is recognition. For me, it’s not an end, it’s a tool. Yes, it allows you to have visibility, but it forges links with your client. My clients are super excited, they’re going to do press releases. It helps them with their customers, their distributors. »

“My reward is there. My travel and design adventure is above all a human adventure. »

A centenarian who is doing well


Antoine Brochu, director of JNB Agricultural distributor

Agricultural distributor JNB, whose roots go back to 1913, opened its new distribution center, which bodes well for its longevity. Located in Saint-Lambert-de-Lauzon, the new facilities were presented by Antoine Brochu, director of JNB Agricultural Distributor and also great-grandson of Joseph-Napoléon Brochu, founder of the company. Located in a former flour mill, the new 13,000 sq.⁠2 will distribute more than 4,500 agricultural products through retailers. JNB Agricultural distributor finds its origin in the farm of Joseph-Napoléon Brochu, soon followed by a general store. The company had expanded its activities with the acquisition of feed mills and livestock farms, now grouped together in the Agri-Marché division, owned by the Brochu Group. The general store itself is the origin of a group of four hardware stores where the company sells agricultural supplies and livestock equipment. It was this experience that prompted Agri-Marché to create JNB Agricole Distributor in July 2022. “For the growth of the business, we decided to take the volume we had in our four hardware stores and in our own farms rise as a distributor and develop other agricultural retailers in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes,” explained Antoine Brochu in a telephone interview. The new division took over the initials of the founder. “It started with a general store that looked strangely like the stores we are developing today, hence the name JNB Agricultural Distributor. »

New decor for Perez Furniture

Successful negotiations. The president of Bouty, ADI Art Design International and Modullis, Éric Morin, announced the creation of a partnership with Meubles Perez, designer and manufacturer of high-end residential and commercial furniture. The Montreal company joins the group formed by Bouty, specializing in the design and manufacture of chairs and armchairs for business environments, ADI Art Design International, which is dedicated to ergonomic office chairs, and from Modullis, which completes the decor with the design and manufacture of interior modular partition systems. For Meubles Perez, this agreement opens the door “to new resources that will allow it to better manage its strong growth and improve its service offer”. Meubles Perez was founded in 2002 by Daniel Perez and his wife Richele Shafer, who remain at the head of the company.

Renewal of the agreement between Agro-100 and Cimenterie Ash Grove


Éric Bouchard (general manager of the Ash Grove plant), Yannick Munger (director, recovery and circular economy of Ash Grove) and Stéphane Beaucage (president of Agro-100)

A partnership rising from the ashes. Fertilizer manufacturer Agro-100 and Cimenterie Ash Grove, both of Joliette, have renewed for another year the agreement that provides the former with a supply of cement dust from the latter. Expertly sifted, this dust is an essential component of Agro-100’s proKa fertilizer lime – a neutrichaulant, she says. The company develops, manufactures and markets fertilizer products by reusing residual materials of industrial origin. Several hundred thousand metric tons of cement dust have been recycled by Agro-100 over the years. proKa fertilizer is distributed in Canada, the United States and Mexico.


This is the age reached by La Forfaiterie, specialist in packages and gift vouchers of all kinds. Its first kiosk, which was to be temporary, was opened in November 1997 at the Laurier Québec center for the Holidays. The company now has nine stores in the Quebec and Montreal regions and employs 43 full-time people.

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