A Transformative Duplex Renovation in Montreal

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By William Lamb / Published by Dwell
In the city's Villeray neighborhood, a cramped structure is recast as an open work-play space for a young family.

In 2013, La SHED Architecture of Montreal tackled an extensive renovation of a 2,700-square-foot duplex in the city’s Villeray neighborhood for a couple with two young children, ages seven and four. The couple, both of whom work in the movie industry, were looking for a bright, versatile space that would be suitable both as a home office and as a place to raise their children.

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The open-plan kitchen and living room in the de Gaspé House in Montreal's Villeray neighborhood borrows natural light from a double-height space over the seating area.

A series of previous renovations had stripped the building of its period charm, giving the architects a blank slate to recast it as a contemporary dwelling. They preserved the building’s overall shape and footprint, but removed a section of the second floor to create a patio—an intervention that not only carved out additional outdoor space, but also allowed more natural light to penetrate the building’s core.

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The rear of the house at it appeared from the alley before the renovation.

The heart of the home is the open-plan kitchen and living room. The kitchen was recast in white lacquer and ash veneer, with stainless-steel countertops. The double-height living room borrows light from an office and mezzanine hallway upstairs. An orange-lacquer staircase, partially hidden behind a set of ash slats that support steel bookshelves, lends an arresting color accent.

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The architects cut away a section of the second floor to make room for a patio. The exterior has been clad in corrugated galvanized steel and cedar planks.

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The architects arranged the "service areas" of the home—closets, a bathroom, storage space, and most of the kitchen appliances—in a block near the entrance, a move that allows for clear views across the open-plan kitchen and living areas.

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The kitchen as it appeared before the renovation.

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The twin kitchen islands are oriented parallel to the living room. The cabinet fronts are finished in white lacquer, with stainless-steel counters atop ash veneer.

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The stairs are partically hidden behind a slatted ash screen that supports steel bookshelves.

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The stairs are coated in orange lacquer.

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Upstairs, an open hallway connects offers access to the bedrooms, bathrooms, and an office.

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In the office, the ash floor gives way to slats that turn skyward at a 90-degree angle to form the balustrade.

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The master bathroom before the renovation.

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In the renovated bathroom, a freestanding bathtub sits beneath a skylight that runs the width of the room. A large mirror hangs above the vanity, which is outfitted with a butcher-block countertop. Black mosaic tiles were used on the floor.

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By the time the homeowners embarked on the renovation, the exterior had been stripped of much of its period charm.

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The architects chose dark-painted clay bricks for the facade, reasoning that it would complement the surrounding buildings. The windows were enlarged and oriented vertically.

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On the terrace, an eastern-cedar deck serves as a mid-city oasis.