It only takes four decades for 1980s charm to devolve into 2020s cringe. After purchasing an appealingly spacious yet woefully outdated home on Montreal’s south shore, a growing family enlisted Ménard Dworkind (MRDK) to complete a renovation of architect Frank McGrath’s original 1981 design. The end result is a skillful ’80s revival, maintaining due respect for the past while also addressing key aspects that hadn’t quite kept with the times.
Chief among these obsolete elements was the front facade’s bulky, run-down greenhouse — a feature that made the building particularly unpopular with the street’s other residents. An unusable attic space off the main bedroom was another area in need of some serious attention.
In turn, MRDK’s efforts focused on stripping away both of these underperforming zones to bolster the home’s functionality and curb appeal. Interesting, its strategy began with a series of subterranean interventions. The concrete foundation of the original greenhouse now frames a large window-well that extends down to light the basement office, while the firm also excavated a portion of the backyard to create a sunken courtyard that walks out from the basement den.
Upstairs, meanwhile, MRDK lifted a portion of the roof to introduce a boxy new volume that houses the 4.27-metre-high principal bathroom.
Along with these major architectural moves, the studio also reconsidered the home’s other main interior living spaces, introducing more natural light, higher ceilings and plenty of storage space — not to mention a few impactful focal points. To wit, the grand new staircase’s lime plaster handrail curls into a curved volume that frames the double-height living room’s central hearth, adorned with triangular Mutina tiles in an earthy red.
The kitchen is anchored by its own sculptural standout: a travertine island that features an inverted demi-bullnose edge countertop, as well as inset “racing stripe” strips of Rosso Levanto — originally a clever way to disguise a groove that resulted from a fabrication error, but now an artistic element in its own right.
Despite the kitchen’s calm demeanour, the space is not oblivious to the realities of life with a young family, either — it just keeps all the chaos and clutter tucked cleverly out of sight. A roomy pantry built behind the travertine backsplash provides storage space for dry goods and bulky appliances that might otherwise crowd the countertop. And when it comes time for baking, a portion of the backsplash slides into a wall pocket to reveal a passthrough opening that makes it easy to move things between the two zones. What a perfect encapsulation of a project dedicated to thoughtful connections.
Sunken courtyards update a handsome but worn-out property for a new era.