A Vespa-riding dentist and curator, Dr. Kenneth Montague is one of a kind—and his home is equally unique. His office treats top Canadian creatives, and after hours he heads Wedge Curatorial Projects, which produces exhibitions and discussions with artists who focus on black identity. Here, he tours us around his penthouse near downtown Toronto.
Montague: This place is a reflection of the duality in my life. I’m a dentist, and also I have this work with Wedge as a collector, curator, and collaborator. I started the gallery in another apartment, where I lived in the late ’90s, a really minimal loft. It was awesome, but it didn’t work for me. I’m a collector, and I’ve gotten to a certain age where I just accumulate things. Then I found David Anand Peterson, an architect who was designing this six-story courtyard building. I worked with him to customize my place, basically to design it from scratch. He came up with a layout based on how I live that makes the house a mixture of public and private and inserts living and gallery space throughout the two levels.
We made an early design decision to reverse the traditional order of the space, to guide people right upstairs, bypassing the private first-floor bedrooms. That was because the roof deck and garden, that very big public area for entertaining, was on the second level, so we put the open-plan living room, dining area, and kitchen up there. There are two kitchens, actually: one outdoors on the roof, and one indoors, with this really industrial-looking Bulthaup island where I’m able to have a dialogue with guests while I’m cooking. I’ve got art in there on the counter, too. I really want to say to people, “Don’t take art so seriously.”
The rooftop deck was originally going to be for the entire building, but I made a deal to have it all for myself. There’s a barbecue out there, and this sauna that David designed. When I have friends over, we might go outside, have a drink, and go into the sauna.
Being a dentist and a collector are both important parts of who I am. I’m also on several boards of local and international institutions like the Art Gallery of Ontario, Tate Modern in London, and the Toronto Photographers Workshop. Last year I had a fundraiser for TPW at the house and had 60 or 70 people up on the roof. With all the lights and that view of the Toronto skyline, it’s a special place for a presentation.
Like most collectors, I have a lot of stuff: photography, paintings, sculpture, design objects, my collection of salt and pepper shakers, my records. I’ve got valuable paintings and historic photos next to tear-outs from magazines. These things all together tell stories and reflect my passion about black culture and about modernism. It’s a very intimate experience that I hope will help people leap to the idea that they can do it themselves. It’s not about income; it’s about a certain openness and a certain creativity in your life.
Even though this is an apartment, I think of it as a house; it has those qualities, with two levels and all the outdoor space. At 1,950 square feet, it’s large, but it doesn’t have many divisions. It was David’s idea to make the office double as a guest bedroom. If I have guests staying with me for a week, I give them their own wing of the house. They can sleep there, enjoy the books in the library, get their food in the kitchen, smoke cigarettes out on the deck. It has worked well for family members, for friends, and for visiting artists.
I have two rooms devoted to books. The art library is by the front door, with books arranged by subject—African art, photography, and so on—plus a credenza by Castor Design and a collection of stools, a few of them from Africa. One is an Ashanti animal stool from Ghana and another is by a contemporary artist from Senegal, and it’s made out of an oil drum. Kids tend to hang out here on the stools. They’re comfortable, and they also say something about where contemporary art is at in Africa. The second bedroom, which also functions as a library, has Vitsoe shelving and houses my design book collection.
There’s a tour of the collection that I give that takes you from the front door, through the library, and ends in the living-dining area, where you see my Calder lithographs. Then I tell the story about my Uncle Charles and my Aunt Edith, who knew Calder and commissioned these pieces just before he died.
Along the way you pass my guitars, bass, and stereos. A lot of people— including my architect at first—don’t understand why I have the stereos out. He said, “Hey, why don’t you build them in?” But it’s a joy to me to have a place to put out these old tube amps. Music is an important part of my life. I have been in multiple rock bands and used to be in a reggae-rock group called One, playing guitar and trombone and doing some toasting.
When I have parties, there’s always something to get people talking. Just as often as it’s the art, it’s somebody looking at the album covers in my record collection. The house is a very naked expression of my self, and people relate it to their own lives. Gatherings here can be a very rich experience, a collective discussion around art history, music, food, and fashion. It takes on a sort of salon atmosphere. But the space is very homespun, even though it is also very contemporary. And that’s by design. It’s supposed to be a home first.
Alex Bozikovic is a Toronto based writer and editor for the Globe and Mail and frequent Dwell contributor. While interviewing Studio Junction's Christine Ho Ping Kong and Peter Tan, the architect-residents of the Courtyard House, he was impressed by the couple's remarkable DIY chutzpah and became inspired to try a major project himself. Someday. Maybe.