Habitat 67 is one of Montreal's most iconic landmarks. A project that originated as the subject of a master's thesis for renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who, back in the 1960s was a student at McGill University, the multilevel condo complex of concrete "cubes" is one of the most striking legacies of Expo 67.
As a housing project, Habitat 67, whose concept and appearance still seem revolutionary today, has been a resounding success. Repairing the exterior is an ongoing challenge (perhaps not surprising for buildings that are over 40 years old in Montreal's harsh climate), but there is a waiting list of people wanting to live there - not least because of the spectacular views of the Montreal skyline.
Would-be purchasers usually hear about a vacancy through the grapevine. That was the case with 38-year-old Byron Peart and his partner Stefan Weisgerber. Their jobs take them frequently to Northern Europe - Peart owns a luxury leather goods company along with his brother and Weisberger, a native of Germany, is a buyer for Little Burgundy, a division of Aldo Shoes - and they both have an eye for good, simple design.
In February, 2010, when the couple heard that a three-module apartment in Habitat 67 was coming onto the market - albeit unfinished and stripped back to its concrete walls - they jumped at the opportunity to buy it; $500,000 later they were the proud owners of what they now refer to as their "dream" residence, but not before another hefty infusion of cash ("at least $300,000"), the help of a couple interior designers and almost a year of renovation.
"This was a bare bones apartment because the previous owner had abandoned the idea of renovating it," explains Mr. Peart. "The modular, concrete units didn't look very appealing, but we could visualize what they could become."
Habitat sits on the west side of Cité du Havre, a manmade peninsula overlooking Montreal's harbour. It encompasses three blocks of 158 two-storey apartments housed inside 354 prefabricated modules set at different angles and perched, seemingly precariously, one on top of the other. Mr. Safdie left large spaces between the concrete blocks, making Habitat 67 look rather like a giant sculpture.
Mr. Safdie's concept was to design a cluster of high-density buildings that were very different from the unimaginative skyscrapers that were the fashion at the time. He wanted residents to feel as if they were part of a unique community. The condos all have private entrances but they are knitted together with multilevel external walkways, allowing neighbours to interact with one another.
Mr. Peart and Mr. Weisgerber's goal was to follow the philosophy of Habitat 67 by creating a harmonious flow between the three modules (each measures 670 square feet) without walling them off from one another. They wanted to retain a feeling of space, marrying the outside with the inside, while at the same time, creating defined areas for cooking, relaxing, working and sleeping. Black and white are the dominant colours, along with accents of wood, marble (in the master bathroom), Scandinavian style furniture and exposed concrete - a tribute to the innovative structure of Habitat 67.
The first step was to create a kitchen. To that end, they engaged Richard Keyes, a Toronto-based design consultant for Bulthaup, a German company known for its quality materials, craftsmanship and haute design. Maria Rosa Di Ioia, a Montreal interior designer, was also recruited to enable the couple to stay within their renovation budget. (Their ideas didn't always fit their pocket book, she notes ruefully.) Ms. Di Ioia also sourced materials and oversaw the work of the contractor.
"Byron and Stefan had designed a floor plan with many elegant features," recalls Richard Keyes. "They have excellent taste, but the layout was conventional. Bulthaup sees the kitchen as an important social space and my role was really to guide them with small, but important details, to create the look they were after."
The couple opted for Bulthaup b1, a sleek, modular system of white laminate kitchen units. Mr. Keyes, who had already determined that the couple do a lot of home entertaining, suggested that instead of putting a cooktop against a wall, it would be more practical to install it on a centre island, pointing out that when people prepare food, they often have their back to their guests, limiting their ability to join in the conversation.
(The central island has indeed proved popular. According to Stefan, guests inevitably end up chatting and drinking with the person who is cooking, rather than sitting down at the dining table.)
Another suggestion was to build a breakfast bar under the kitchen window, to make the most of the harbour view (echoed by a mirrored wall) and to line up the sink with the central island, creating a relationship between the two. The fridge and dishwasher were tucked discreetly behind cupboard doors - giving an overall effect of smooth, unbroken lines.
A parquet floor laid in a herringbone pattern (a style common in Northern Europe) creates a feeling of warmth, harmonizing with the open wooden staircase leading to the second storey - a living area dominated by a giant black sofa, with a black marble fireplace and picture windows at one end (again overlooking the harbour) and white cubes at the other end filled with books on art and design, reached by a slatted wooden platform ringed by a wall of glass, allowing clear views of the kitchen below.
The rest of the interior is equally light and airy. Beyond the kitchen is a reading nook and bar, fitted cupboards with overhead lights (an original Habitat feature), bathroom doors that slide into the wall, an office/laundry area (it doubles as a guest room) and the couple's bedroom. A glass door leads from the bedroom onto the large L-shaped patio (originally designed as a roof garden) - the outside and inside melding into one, just as Moshe Safdie envisaged.
Special to The Globe and Mail
This story has been changed from the print edition to correct the spelling of Mr. Weisgerber's last name and to clarify his place of work.Report Typo/Error
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