PHOTOGRAPHY: MAXIME BROUILLET
Let there be light. That was a goal behind the renovation of this funky Villeray duplex, bought by a Montreal couple with two young children with the goal of creating a home that would be bright, contemporary and have a “family ambiance.”
When the couple bought the house near the bustling Jean-Talon Market, the interior was a warren of small, dark rooms, while the exterior had been poorly renovated and stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the brick duplexes in the neighbourhood.
La SHED, the Plateau-based architecture firm hired by the couple to transform the space, wanted to give the family the home they wanted while also restoring the look of the structure to suit its surroundings, says architect Renée Mailhot, one of the founding architects of the hip, new firm. La SHED’s philosophy is to provide interior design along with architecture to create a cohesive project.
“You need to have sensitivity to a home’s context,” says Mailhot. “The front facade was not traditional, but the back was. We transformed the back to bring more light into the house and to create a better connection to the outdoors. We also wanted a front facade that would integrate the home into the neighbourhood.”
To achieve that goal, Mailhot used textured red brick, creating a pattern at the top tier of the building that reflected others in the neighbourhood.
At the rear of the house, however, is where La SHED’s funky approach is on full display with what Mailhot describes as a “Montreal alley kind of look.” That’s where a courtyard with a solitary, striking tree dominates the view from the main level, and where an upstairs niched roof terrace provides a cool outdoor space, and where the old garage doors were restored and painted orange to provide a dazzling entrance to a storage shed.
Inside, to get the airiness the couple wanted, La SHED had to gut much of what was there. In its place, the team of architects created an open-concept design with a sleek kitchen at the heart of the homeand everything connected to that important epicentre. Floor-to-ceiling windows and doors bring in the desired light (as well as a skylight in the one upstairs bathroom that has no windows).
The brightness is enhanced by the natural ash floors and wood trim. White walls and white cabinetry also contribute to the airy feel of the home. All of that lightness has a powerful counterpoint, which is the use of bright orange splashes of colour, most impressively on a two-storey-high wall and on the home’s main staircase.
In Mailhot’s opinion, those orange stairs are the pièce de résistance of the house. “Everyone talks about the orange staircase,” she says. “It’s a masterpiece of composition – it was placed so it’s seen from everywhere in house. It’s very unusual.” The architect wisely ensured that all the orange accents could be repainted one day should the family tire of the colour.
There’s a lot going on around those stairs. Vertical slats of wood create a guardrail for the staircase, and bookshelves are integrated into that unique wood structure. All of that forms a kind of interior courtyard that echoes the exterior one, with the soaring orange wall accentuating the space, which opens to a catwalk on the second level for even more dramatic effect.
The kitchen was important to the homeowners because they love to cook and they wanted it to be “a convivial, warm place” that connects all of the main- level rooms. Matte lacquered white panels, matching the walls, are accentuated with a small inlay of natural wood on the two islands. Mailhot loves the “restaurant vibe” of the kitchen, with its stainless steel countertops and integrated stainless sink. “The stainless is very durable so you can do anything on those counters,” she says.While the house is unquestionably streamlined, Mailhot says the team strived to create a “somewhat minimalistic look, but not intensely so.” The couple definitely wanted some warmth, she says, which was provided by the wood throughout the house and the orange accents.
“The warmth also comes from the layout,” she says. “The textures, the wood and the colour are important. But so is the fact that all the living areas are connected – that makes it comfy and warm for a family with children to live there.”