When developer Dorothy Karkoukly called on architect Fadi Coussa to renovate a neglected Montreal property, it was the kind of project that doesn't come along often.
For the developer, the major attraction was the house's location on Chemin Saint-Sulpice, a leafy street in the wealthy neighbourhood of Westmount. Despite being just minutes from busy Sherbrooke Street, the setting is very peaceful, Ms. Karkoukly says, and the house faces a wooded area.
But while the location was a "10 on 10," the house was something of an "ugly duckling," she says – like two rectangular wooden sheds fastened crudely together. The interior was no better, carved up into a warren of small rooms. There was a laundry room hogging prime real estate on the main floor, and the entire home was cluttered with relics from the former owner's travels overseas.
Alternatively describing the place as "boxy, busy, bleak" or just plain "ugly", she says, "everything was old and tired and we didn't want that feeling at all." The objective was to transform the house into something "clean, simple and natural."
For Mr. Coussa, an architect who usually works on commercial projects, renovating a residential property was a welcome change of pace.
"You don't often have the chance to do work on the mountain," he explained, referring to the house's exclusive location on the slopes of Mount Royal.
The 1950s split-level bungalow needed a gut renovation – "la démolition totale," in Ms. Karkoukly's words – giving Mr. Coussa a chance to flex his creative muscles. It also helped that Ms. Karkoukly already had a solid working relationship with the architect – having worked with him on her own home in Outremont – and that she had the budget to back it up.
"When you're in, you're in," she said.
From the street, the house now stands out as a modern venture in an otherwise traditional neighbourhood.
Though the architect worked with the home's existing footprint, he re-imagined the basic two-box design by adding a top floor and a light well to bridge the two sides of the home. Indiana stone was chosen to replace the original wooden siding.
Along a flagstone pathway, past a manicured front lawn and garden, up a few steps and through a mahogany front door, visitors arrive at an entrance hall that leads to an open concept living and dining space.
There are understated white-oak floors, stainless steel banisters, an oversized drum-shaped light fixture, and a floating fireplace in the seating area.
The back wall is aligned to take advantage of the house's position on Mount Royal; three floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of downtown Montreal and the St. Lawrence River in the distance.
"You can't duplicate this view," Ms. Karkoukly said, noting that the back exposure had previously been neglected.
The architect added doors leading off the dining room to a large balcony. Because the house is constructed on a steeply pitched slope, the balcony lies far above the garden below – a "cantilevered" effect, Mr. Coussa said.
The kitchen is sleek and contemporary, with glossy Poggenpohl cabinets and white quartz countertops. Large windows face the street, and there are two islands with two sinks for avid cooks. A backsplash of white-and-grey Calacatta marble adds a bit of pattern to the otherwise unadorned space.
Also in the kitchen, the architect retained one of the only distinguishing features from the original home: an S-shaped curve in the wall, which the developer subsequently fitted with a custom banquette.
One of Mr. Coussa's major additions was an airy stairwell running from the basement to the top floor, with a series of vertical windows uniting the different floors and bringing light into the heart of the home.
Immediately upstairs from the entrance hall lies a den with windows on two sides, and further upstairs, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The windows of the master bedroom and adjoining bathroom look onto mature deciduous trees, creating the feeling of being perched in a very modern tree house. The master bath features more grey-and-white marble, heated floors, contemporary fixtures, and a freestanding tub and sinks by Quebec-based company Wetstyle.
On the very bottom floor, there are two bedrooms and a bathroom, making the house ideal for a blended family or parents with teenagers, Ms. Karkoukly noted, since the downstairs has its own entrance and private lounge.
Although the renovation ran over budget – 50 per cent more than expected, she said – the result is a far cry from its dark and dreary predecessor.
"I love creating beautiful out of ugly."
Special to The Globe and Mail