When Montreal-based design studio La Firme was approached to create two apartments across the entire floor of a heritage building in Old Montreal, they sought to preserve the structure’s industrial character through a simple yet thoughtful material palette. "The two apartments are in a very old building with a lot of underlying history," says designer Louis Béliveau. "We wanted to keep that lofty, old warehouse feeling while balancing it out with a lot of refined details."
The building dates from 1895, and it was originally a candy factory. It was later converted into a shoe factory, before being transformed into condos. The client, François Vitale, owned two equally sized apartments that covered an entire floor of the building. He wanted to change the spatial divide from 50-50 to 70-30 so that he could live in the larger apartment (and add a guest room), while lending the smaller apartment to guests. "A change was necessary," says François. "The place didn’t get much love and was pretty run-down."
The apartment at the rear of the building was in better condition than the one that was eventually converted into the main apartment. "It was a brighter space and had nicer overall details," says Béliveau. "So, we preserved the original state as much as possible." The main apartment, at the front of the building, needed a lot more work, and the floor plan was organized to maximize natural light.
The private areas—one large space with a bed, walk-in closet, bathroom, and showers—are located in the rear of the apartment and lit by one huge window. The immense open bathroom and shower zone extends the lofty feel of the apartment and is one of the defining features of the interior. The communal social spaces are arranged at the front, with windows on two sides.
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François works at a large corporation and unwinds by cooking and entertaining. So, the focus of the living space is a large, open kitchen and dining area. While François was keen to install commercial-grade appliances, there were issues with insurance. Instead, a Wolf 36" gas cooktop and range hood—"the coolest and closest things to their commercial counterparts," says Béliveau—were installed, alongside a custom commercial under-counter fridge and freezer. "It took a lot of love and hard work to make it come together," says Béliveau.
Throughout the apartment, a monochromatic palette and simple materials—concrete, brick, stainless steel, white oak, and reclaimed timber—evoke the industrial heritage of the building. "We exposed as much of the brick as possible because it carries all this history," says Béliveau. "We painted it mostly white to reflect natural light into the interior and brighten the space, and black on the front wall to erase the wall/window contrast and help the eye pick up on the view."
White oak cabinetry adds color and warmth to the concrete floor and acts as a separating element between the private and public spaces. "All of the storage within both apartments is cabinetry," says Béliveau. "It’s there either to hide the cat’s litter, the washer and dryer, or to divide space."
The guest room features a Murphy bed that folds up into the joinery, and a clever cabinetry system with a huge moveable wall that allows the space to be closed off if needed. A pivoting door conceals the storage area beside the bed, and it can be used to completely enclose the room. When not in use as a bedroom, the space is simply a large open hall leading to the guest bathroom. "The luxury of having lots of space is you don't have to fill it all up," says François.
The original timber floor had been patched up over the years, and areas were burnt when the building was a factory, meaning that it was mostly unsalvageable. The design team painstakingly removed the floor board by board before laying a heated concrete polished slab.
"We used the reclaimed timber flooring in the master bedroom to add a random texture to the ceiling and painted it white," says Béliveau. "The other use of that wood was in the kitchen island that merges into the table. Nico, the woodworker, did a killer job laminating and assembling that old wood into some sort of mega cutting board."
"The underlying theme is industrial/institutional," says François. "This is evidenced by the H-beam structure, sprinkler system, remnants of old factory arches (which were closed off with bricks), the old freight elevator, and even the new concrete slab. The new designs are also along those lines, with a restaurant-like kitchen and a gym-like shower."
"This is one of my favorite residential projects in our portfolio," says Béliveau. "When it was finished, I came over as a guest. Hanging out at the kitchen island, watching François prepare great food and drinks with that warm halogen lighting illuminating the space was so rewarding."
Interior Design: La Firme
Architect of Record: Michel Lemieux
Builder: Pastel (Pierre Julien)
Structural Engineer: Strukturel
Lighting Design: La Firme
Sound Engineer: Moog Audio
Cabinetry Design: Atelier Niconova