This Luxury Apartment in an 1895 Candy Factory Is a Feast for the Eyes

This Luxury Apartment in an 1895 Candy Factory Is a Feast for the Eyes

By Mandi Keighran
La Firme turns an industrial flat in Montreal, Canada, into two sleek apartments perfectly suited for entertaining.

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 client leads an active lifestyle, and the design team had initially planned on putting a climbing wall in one corner of the apartment. While this feature didn’t make it into the final design, there is abundant storage for bikes and ski gear.

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 apartments are located in a building in Old Montreal that dates from 1895. The renovation was complicated on many levels, as the building code has a number of requirements that are hard to accomplish in a 125-year-old structure.

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 spaces in the main apartment—the bedroom, bathroom, shower, and walk-in wardrobe—are arranged in a single, open space. The custom bed was designed by La Firme.  

White oak joinery divides the space and provides ample storage. It also allows the original sprinkler system and structure to be revealed and celebrated. "We had to put up about 20 coats of special fire-retardant paint so that we could keep the steel structure visible," says Béliveau.

The open bathroom leads directly into the master bedroom. The white tiles give the space an industrial feeling, while the white oak timber joinery brings warmth.

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.

The apartment is accessed via an old freight elevator. The cabinetry around the elevator entrance—including a massive bookshelf and storage space—is black, contrasting with the white brick walls and the white oak joinery.

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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.

The elevator entrance opens to the kitchen and dining area, which is the social heart of the home. A line of statement halogen lights hang from the ceiling above the dining bench, which is clad in timber boards reclaimed from the original floor.

The stainless steel kitchen features a Wolf 36" gas cooktop and range hood. The client initially wanted to install a commercial-grade kitchen, but was unable to due to restrictions with the insurance and the condo association.

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."

The brick wall at the front of the apartment is painted black to dissolve the window frames and emphasize the view. The living space features Togo couches by Ligne Roset.

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."

Vast white oak joinery separates the public and private spaces and offers plenty of concealed storage.

One of the biggest challenges was reinforcing and leveling the floors—which had a four-inch difference between the highest and lowest points—before pouring the concrete slab. The concrete floor runs through the entire apartment except the open shower room, which is tiled.

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 guest bedroom in the main apartment can be either enclosed or opened up entirely thanks to an innovative joinery system.

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.

The reclaimed timber flooring was also used on the ceiling of the master bedroom, where it’s painted white to brighten the space. The single window in the bedroom provides natural light for the private spaces.

"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 apartment renovation takes raw, industrial materials and celebrates them in a refined way.

"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."

The open shower zone was designed to feel like the shower in a luxury gym or wellness center.

"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."

The kitchen is inspired by the commercial kitchens that the client worked at in his youth. 

Plan of McGill 120 by La Firme. The floor has been divided into two apartments—a main one for living and a second, smaller space for guests.

Related Reading:

A Design Duo Takes Over A Whole Factory

This Spectacular Live/Work Space is set in a Historic Dye Factory

An Old Factory in Copenhagen Is Now a Photographer's Dream Home 

Project Credits:

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


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