It takes a keen sense of space and light to create an open, modern living area within the walls of an old multi-room home. In Montreal’s St. Henri neighbourhood, local firm Atelier Général breathed new life into a dark 150-year-old duplex by removing walls, yes, but also by creating new elements to subtly divide (and connect) spaces. Using retractable walls, a large movable island, and strategic architectural features, Alexis Naylor and Stéphanie Plourde allowed for a sense of intimacy within the hollowed-out shell — a layout that can be altered according to the residents’ mood or needs.
With that sense of space comes a refined aesthetic where sightlines are maintained through the narrow house — as is the connection between the spaces with thoughtful attention to angles and alignments. Marked by a classic black and white and wood scheme, its aesthetic is warm as these working-class cottages were meant to be, yet it takes on life as it is lived today. The textures of marble and wood provide an organic foil to the sleek black-lacquered cabinets and right angles. Natural light flows through the house with the absence of solid interior walls, and a double-height cutout up to a second-storey mezzanine. A wood-burning stove doesn’t hurt either.
Though small, the house has many architectural elements at work such as the geometric framing and blocking that is repeated throughout (kitchen cabinets, chunky coffered ceiling, built-in shelves). On the second level, necessary structural elements are concealed with a partial wall replete with seating accessible from two sides. But, the best example is the perforated steel sheet extending up from the stair stringer, which in effect doubles as artwork. The high contrast between the white steel and black wall treatment is emblematic of the renovation as a whole: crisp and sharp with a cool, youthful edge.