These days, the most internationally famous condo in Toronto is one located in the city’s west-side Roncesvalles neighbourhood.
It’s famous because a shot of it recently made the cover of Dwell, the widely noticed – and very cool – residential design magazine published in San Francisco, and because the two-storey suite and its owner, Kenneth Montague, got star treatment inside the magazine by Toronto architectural journalist (and Globe Real Estate contributor) Alex Bozikovic. “A Vespa-riding dentist and curator, Dr. Kenneth Montague is one of a kind – and his home is equally unique,” Mr. Bozikovic writes.
Into his two-storey flat on Ritchie Street, we learned, Dr. Montague had gathered many paintings, photographs, prints and recordings by black artists and about the experience of people living in the African diaspora. “When I have parties,” the collector told the writer, “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.”
The morning I visited the apartment, in the company of project architect David Anand Peterson, the owner was away, and there was no one else about. It was possible, that is, to see the bones of the home Mr. Peterson had crafted for a man with several talents and interests and a delight in hospitality, and with a notable collection of artworks the client loves to share with others.
Dr. Montague did not want a “dry, white-box gallery,” the architect told me. But in its general outline, the skeleton of the suite harmonizes with the framework of the modernist mid-rise building it’s in, which Mr. Peterson also designed. The wrapper is a tough, plain, well-tailored structure arrayed on three sides of a courtyard. Its formal inspiration comes from European cities, where the architect learned well how to create liveable multiunit dwellings in tight urban places. Like the container, Dr. Montague’s roughly 2,000-square-foot apartment is composed of rectangular volumes that are in no way formally unusual or eccentric.
The distribution of roles within the space, however, is perhaps less common. The visitor enters at the lower level, and finds himself at the bottom of a large light-well sliced through the floor of the upper storey. A flight of wooden steps floats upward toward the sunshine, past a wall clad in the same attractive yellow-green colour that Mr. Peterson has used on the exterior surfaces of his building. Mr. Montague’s large bedroom and his library, crammed floor to ceiling with books, records and art, lies off the bottom of the light-well. One comes into the penthouse, in other words, through intimate territory, and goes from there up the steps to the more public area at the top.
The sense of this upper storey is public and welcoming indeed. In form, it is a pavilion-and-terrace arrangement that has been shaped to make casual entertaining pleasant and practical. To one side of the light-well through which the steps ascend is the bright, open-plan zone containing the Bulthaup kitchen island, a dining table, a conversation area and a small washroom. A set of forceful abstract prints by Alexander Calder brightens one wall, but the overall atmosphere – generated in part by the client’s taste for modern Scandinavian furnishings – is one of mellow, relaxed informality.
On the other side of the staircase, beyond a wall of glass, the spacious walk-out terrace, with its patches of tall grass and fine views over nearby rooftops toward the downtown towers, lies open to the sky. Before Mr. Peterson took charge, this was one of those homely, high-atop places often designated as “amenities,” but that, too frequently, become windswept, bare, orphaned dead-ends in the sky. Turning utility into art, however, Mr. Peterson has transformed this deck by planting it generously, pulling it around the pavilion, and camouflaging a homely elevator housing, which punches up through the roof at that point, with a handsome sauna and an outdoor kitchen.
The result of Mr. Peterson’s mostly quiet architectural moves is exactly what his client wanted. “[T]he space is very homespun, even though it is also very contemporary,” the owner said to Mr. Bozikovic. “And that’s by design. It’s supposed to be a home first.”