When interior designer Michael Godmer and his architect husband Mathieu Turgeon went looking for a new residence that would also serve as Michael’s studio, little did they expect that they would end up buying half a house – literally.
Located in the heart of Montreal’s hip Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, the three-storey building is an oddity in being only 12-feet wide, half the standard 24-foot span of the typical abode in the neighbourhood.
“It piqued our curiosity. There was something ultra-charming about it,” Mr. Godmer says.
They also saw the place had potential as the ideal staging ground for a three-tiered space in which one moves seamlessly from the public to the private: the ground floor as studio/meeting room, the main floor as living space/showroom and the top floor as private quarters.
The challenge was to make maximum use of the limited space while also retaining key elements and details of the original house, built in the late 19th century.
A pediment-topped dark-green door framed by stonework serves as a welcoming entrance to the Maison-Boutique Coloniale, as it is dubbed. Once inside, one is struck by the clean lines of the natural-light-filled collaborative workspace. There is a long desktop along one wall. Shelves mounted along the wall hold sample materials from different projects. Against the opposite wall is a floor-to-ceiling String shelving unit.
Occupying a prominent place is the original winding staircase that leads to the first floor. Beyond it is a newly built passageway giving access to a meeting room at the very back.
The room, which once housed the hot-water heater, has been transformed into a cozy conference area complete with velvet terracotta-coloured curtains, triple-globe hanging light fixture and exposed brick-and-stone walls. In stark contrast to the front room with its white surfaces and airy feel, the space is meant to have a touch of “speakeasy atmosphere” to it, Mr. Godmer said.
Cleverly integrated along both sides of the passageway, concealed behind white panelled doors with brass knobs are storage and service units as well as a striking minimalist powder room with whitewashed brick and black-and-white terrazzo.
The pine floors, both in the workspace and elsewhere in the house, were kept intact but bleached.
“The pine floors are original. We bleached them to get more of a Scandinavian look and create a light-reflective, open feel,” said Mr. Godmer, 29, whose husband works outside the home studio at an architectural firm. (There are two other members of the family: poodles Jacques and Barbara.)
The first floor boasts a highly functional kitchen that makes the best of limited space. A long marble-topped counter in the centre of the room includes deep pull-out drawers that store the dishes. The terracotta floor is a nod to the original terracotta that was in too poor a condition to salvage.
Custom-made oak cabinets are highlighted by recessed brass pulls. The black-framed sliding doors give onto the postage-stamp-size deck. At 11 feet, the high ceiling adds a welcome sense of openness.
Just off the kitchen, a delicate brass light fixture hangs over the 19th-century Shaker dining-room table.
In keeping with the brass motif, a long, thin shelf of brass tops the marble backsplash behind the kitchen’s range.
Off the dining area, facing a mid-20th century walnut sideboard, is the original staircase, with its unusual banister that sweeps upwards in dramatic vertical fashion.
In the living room, with its stark white-brick wall and floor-to-ceiling curtains, two reproductions of the iconic 1925 Wassily Chair by Bauhaus member Marcel Breuer add a classic modernist touch.
The living room serves to showcase different design concepts and furnishings. Mr. Godmer regularly rotates different pieces through the space. “We want to highlight local artists and artisans,” he says.
These days, a work in acid-etched and laser-cut steel by Montreal-based artist James Kennedy is featured on one wall.
Clients and would-be clients drop by for prearranged visits and consultations, but Mr. Godmer tries to keep visiting hours within reasonable limits, and is also careful to maintain a firewall between the public and the private spheres.
For the official launch of the space last October, Mr. Godmer stuck cards on the walls next to the various design elements, similar to the explanatory notes adjoining artworks in a gallery, with information on the materials used and the artisans and suppliers involved.
“I used to rent an office but I wanted my own space and not have to be working on the countertop in the kitchen. I also wanted to be able to receive my clients in an actual living space,” he said. He is keen on providing them with an authentic experience, something he feels is superior to visiting an artificial showroom.
The private space on the third floor consists of two bedrooms and a bathroom. The centrepieces of the sparsely furnished master bedroom are a Floyd platform bed and free-standing full-length mirror.
Much of Mr. Godmer’s attention these days is focused on clients’ primary and secondary residences. One recent project – Résidence Elmwood – involved a major revitalization of a Victorian two-storey home in the Montreal borough of Outremont. In similar fashion to the redo at Maison-Boutique Coloniale, which was completed last year, the mission was to strike a balance between the traditional and the contemporary.
The Maison-Boutique is also intended to be a meeting place for cross-disciplinary ventures involving designers, architects, artisans and suppliers. “I want to break down barriers between the different disciplines and get everyone around the table in a convivial frame of mind,” Mr. Godmer said.
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