Budget Breakdown: A 1950s Duplex Receives a Striking Makeover For $190K

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By Lucy Wang
Put off by Montreal’s rising rents, a young couple turn to first-time homeownership and dive into a design-led renovation.

Emilie Geoffrey and her partner Antoine were in the middle of hunting for rentals in Montreal when it dawned on them that it would be more cost-effective to buy and renovate a duplex in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and rent out the second floor.

Emboldened by their calculations and the opportunity to craft a space exactly to their liking, the couple purchased an old, two-story duplex that had been virtually left untouched since its construction in 1953.

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Budget Breakdown: A 1950s Duplex Receives a Striking Makeover For $190K - Photo 1 of 16 -
Seen from the back, the pre-renovation duplex—later dubbed the Bessborough Residence—also included a garage, backyard, and a basement that could be accessed from both floors.

Seen from the back, the pre-renovation duplex—later dubbed the Bessborough Residence—also included a garage, backyard, and a basement that could be accessed from both floors.

Before, the 900-square-foot ground floor had been divided into six rooms, which gave the interior a dark and cramped feel. 

Before, the 900-square-foot ground floor had been divided into six rooms, which gave the interior a dark and cramped feel. 

To breathe new life into their dated duplex, Emilie and Antoine reached out to Naturehumaine, a local architecture firm the couple loved for their distinctively modern and minimalist design approach.

A look at the original kitchen from the 1950s.

A look at the original kitchen from the 1950s.

The sleek, updated kitchen features glazed backsplashes, and the minimalist counters and cabinets are made of Fenix Laminate (Arpa).

The sleek, updated kitchen features glazed backsplashes, and the minimalist counters and cabinets are made of Fenix Laminate (Arpa).

"I’ve been looking at great architecture projects for years, and I was sure they were unattainable for me—I am 27 and not a millionaire," says Emilie, who had an initial budget of $200,000.

"However, when we bought our first property last year, an old duplex in Montreal that needed a lot of love to say the least, we still reached out to our favorite architecture firm in Montreal. We were very surprised to see that we were able to use their services to create the space of our dreams." 

The kitchen bookends an open-plan layout that also includes a dining area and living room. Full-height windows help create a sense of spaciousness and open the living areas to the backyard.

The kitchen bookends an open-plan layout that also includes a dining area and living room. Full-height windows help create a sense of spaciousness and open the living areas to the backyard.

The architects were tasked with transforming the basement and ground floor—formerly partitioned into six small and dark rooms—into a bright and airy apartment for the young couple. 

The renovation, which came under budget, also rerouted the stairs to the basement and garage, so that only the ground floor apartment would have access.

Lambert & Fils' Dot Line Suspension lamp hangs over an Allais Table by The Gaspé.

Lambert & Fils' Dot Line Suspension lamp hangs over an Allais Table by The Gaspé.

"Reinforcing the degree of abstraction of the project, the choice of the minimalist furniture and lamps echoes the palette of textures composed of concrete, wood, and steel," add the architects.

"Reinforcing the degree of abstraction of the project, the choice of the minimalist furniture and lamps echoes the palette of textures composed of concrete, wood, and steel," add the architects.

"The architectural concept is built around three ‘blocks,’" says Naturehumaine of the renovated, 900-square-foot ground floor. 

"These volumes articulate the space while playing on the notion of the wall. In the center, the black volumes define the circulation and act as a filter between the various functions."

Built of glass, steel rods, and MDF panels, the black volume contains the new stairway.

Built of glass, steel rods, and MDF panels, the black volume contains the new stairway.

"We love how the staircase not only plays the role of the focal point, but also separates and organizes the spaces," says Emilie.

"We love how the staircase not only plays the role of the focal point, but also separates and organizes the spaces," says Emilie.

The Bessborough Residence’s renovated ground floor now comprises an open-plan kitchen, dining area, and living room; storage; a master bedroom; a guest room; and a bathroom. The basement houses an additional bedroom and bathroom. 

The wooden volume comprises shelving on one side and on the other, a walk-in closet adjacent to the master bedroom. 

The wooden volume comprises shelving on one side and on the other, a walk-in closet adjacent to the master bedroom. 

The sleek gray volume next to the kitchen houses utilities and a bathroom.

The sleek gray volume next to the kitchen houses utilities and a bathroom.

White square ceramic tiles cover the bathroom walls. The counters are Fenix Laminate (Arpa).

White square ceramic tiles cover the bathroom walls. The counters are Fenix Laminate (Arpa).

"I never thought our first house would end up looking like this, and was even more surprised to see how architecture can be accessible to all, no matter your space or your budget!" Emilie enthuses. 

"It was crucial for us that we optimize our small house and create something that could evolve with us. It can seem very intimidating for young people and first time homeowners…but I think it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made, and would encourage young homeowners to do the same."

The living room couch is from Élément de base. Radiant heating is built into the polished concrete floors (Atelier B).

The living room couch is from Élément de base. Radiant heating is built into the polished concrete floors (Atelier B).

Former Ground Floor Plan

Former Ground Floor Plan

Bessborough House Ground Floor Plan

Bessborough House Ground Floor Plan

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: naturehumaine

Builder/General Contractor: Rockethammer

Structural Engineer: A. Ouimet

Cabinetry Installation: Ebenisterie CST