A Transformative Duplex Renovation in Montreal

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By William Lamb / Published by Dwell
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The kitchen as it appeared before the renovation.

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.

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

The stairs are coated in orange lacquer.

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

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

The master bathroom before the renovation.

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.

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

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.

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