Architecture: Where the living is easy

Originally published in the Montreal Gazette on May 10, 2014. Photo by Marc Cramer.

It isn’t always easy to build something new in the older parts of this city. Heritage laws, zoning restrictions and mindful citizens all work together to keep Montreal looking like Montreal, and that’s not a bad thing. So when a contemporary project manages to blend into its environment, it’s worth a closer look.

Box-shaped with a burgundy brick facade, the pictured Ahuntsic abode hardly clashes with its residential surroundings. If anything, it reflects the red-hued masonry that typifies so many of Montreal’s early-20th-century homes, partly because that’s exactly when this place was built.

It was initially used to house the Millen station master, who conducted the tramway line that transported hundreds of workers from Montreal North to the downtown core. By the 1970s, when the métro replaced most trams, the house became a regular home.

A family of five purchased it in 2001, and in 2009 they called upon architect Anik Péloquin to renovate and add an extension.

From the front, the only features suggesting newness are the vertical torrefied wood panels separating the windows and the perched entrance. It’s only when we get around to the rear that the house takes a more modern turn.

The expansive extension that juts out toward the yard has tall, nearly 13-foot windows wrapping its corner, meeting the patio and the original back of the house, which is now outfitted with sliding glass doors.

The owners host a lot, so they wanted a bigger kitchen and a large dining area. The extension gave them that, and it also connected their home to the neighbourhood park that outlines their entire backyard.

“I wanted to open up that space and create a very fluid kind of circulation,” Péloquin says, “and from every social space in the house, you have a view of the surrounding nature and greenery. It’s as if that wall doesn’t exist, and the space looks bigger because the windows almost reach the ceiling.”

The abundant natural light doesn’t just penetrate the social spaces; it also reaches the little office nook on the second floor that overlooks the dining area — which, like much of this part of the house, was previously smaller and a lot darker.

For a contemporary home, there’s more colour than we’re used to seeing. That was the owners’ wish, and Péloquin, who loves to play with colour, had no trouble pulling it off.

“Usually clients prefer neutral tones, but in this case, the owner had a passion for red,” she says. “If you use it everywhere, it can be too much, so you have to balance it out. To do that, I used many colours to control the doses and make the red an accent rather than redundant.”

In the kitchen, dining room and office, different shades of green recall the natural verdant scene on the other side of those huge windows. The woodworked furniture and kitchen add to the organic forest-like look of the place. It’s all a reminder and appreciation of the world outside.

Péloquin wanted the facade to be beautiful but sturdy. The borough’s bylaws required it to be redone in brick, but she didn’t mind. “I’m happy I found this particular brick because it’s textured, and it varies a lot with light,” she says. “It’s also a nice contrast to the contemporary lines.”

Besides the brick, she also wanted to mix it up with some wood. When it’s torrefied, the process cooks any harmful bugs or bacteria out so the wood can last up to 50 years.

“It lives a very long time and it doesn’t rot, like cedar,” says Péloquin. “Plus, with wood, if you get a mark or a stain, it doesn’t matter. But aluminum or vinyl siding ages badly, and you can’t really fix it if it gets damaged.”

The house was revamped around the habits of its inhabitants. It had to facilitate entertaining while also keeping in mind comfort, movement and the fact that three children call this place home.

When the renovations were completed in December 2010, the family reported back to Péloquin. “They told me the youngest one immediately went to the dining room and looked at the snow outside,” she recounts. “When windows are that tall, you can really appreciate a snowfall. That’s when I knew the family felt good in their home, and that they’d really enjoy it. It’s a pleasant place; it’s easy to live in.”

+++

Completed: 2010

Size: 2,225 square feet

Materials used for facade: Torrefied wood and brick, aluminum windows by Alumilex

Materials used for interiors: Gypsum, cherry hardwood floors, black slate tile flooring, bamboo kitchen cupboards, granite and quartz counters

Architect: Anik Péloquin Architecte, anikpeloquin.ca; woodworking: Claude Tourigny: 819-294-9840; contractor: Les entreprises G3F, 514-358-3585

Tips from the architect

  • It’s possible for a house to be both contemporary and warm.
  • A construction site is challenging even when everything is managed well, so it’s best to plan as much in advance as possible to make it comfortable for everyone involved.
  • Stay Zen. There will always be something that doesn’t quite work out as planned — in this case, the stone for the kitchen counter — so just work with it and move past it.
  • Find out about building and renovation restrictions at your borough office or city council before you even purchase the home.
  • For the whole thing to work, architects and homeowners have to completely trust one another. I’m proud to say that’s exactly how I’d describe this project.

About Anik Péloquin
Péloquin founded her eponymous architecture firm in 2000, after years of collaborating with Dupuis LeTourneux Architectes, Turcotte-Pilon and Cardinal Hardy. On top of many residential projects, Péloquin is behind the redesign of the Clinique Vétérinaire St-Denis, and her work on Les hauts et les bas boutique on Fabre St. earned her the top Commerce Design Montréal award.

 

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