The listing: 7439 Henri-Julien, Villeray, Montreal
Asking Price: $1,895,000
Taxes: $6,709 (2019)
Lot Size: 1,896 square feet
Agents: Jeff Lee and Marie-Claude Bergeron, Engel & Völkers Montréal
The back story
Walking down the streets of neighbourhoods like Villeray, you’re treated to housing types unseen in much of the rest of the country. There are tall narrow buildings with exterior staircases that climb up to second-floor front doors, snugged up cheek-by-jowl with no laneways to the rear. There’s a wide variety of brick types and colours, though it’s not overflowing with sentimentality or ornamentation. Some houses look purpose-built for multifamily rental, some look like they were converted to apartments, others are clearly just for one family. It’s dense and urban without being a series of towers and mini-mansions. It’s the kind of “missing middle” that many Canadian communities are missing.
In other words, it’s an interesting neighbourhood to find a listing for close to $2-million. It’s what luxury can look like in Montreal’s booming real estate market.
The first impression that 7439 Henri-Julien makes is that it blends in with its neighbours. It’s a former triplex built in 1924 that was converted into a single-family house in 2017. Inside, there’s a sense that this is a showroom, a tastefully restrained space that you can project your own personality on. That’s usually the goal for realtors staging a house, but this house has permanent design choices that help create that impression. That’s probably not too surprising considering the current owner designed it, and her family construction company built it.
Marie-Pier Guilmain, a product designer and art director with her own design partnership (MPGMB) builds the model homes for her family construction company, specializing in townhouses and custom-homes outside Montreal.
“The house is a complete design of my own: I worked on the layout of the interior, I designed all the cabinets, selected all the finishes and I have also design[ed] the backyard layout as well as the shed and the gate,” Ms. Guilmain said. “I always take things from previous projects to improve the functionality and the material choices of the next one.”
The house today
The house has clean, open and contemporary spaces with mainly white walls so colour and drama find their way in through furnishings, use of space, decorative pieces (some of which are original creations, but, sorry, are going with Ms. Guilmain) and unique fixtures. Wood appears everywhere, but the same grain, stain or finish rarely appears twice. There’s a lot of light and angular metal, too, everything from bespoke steel stair railings to steel-framed windows to lighting fixtures with chains and hoops. The powder room sink on the main floor has a black faucet set into a wall – it almost looks like a shower fixture installed at torso level into the white subway tile back splash with black grout. The sum of these parts is a quietly confident space that commands respect.
Ms. Guilmain built this as her family home, and expected to live here for 25 years. Plans change, and while she is selling, she intends to stay in the area. She expects buyers might look a little like her.
“I certainly imagine a family that likes the vibe of a typical Montreal neighbourhood, but also really want to have a full house to themselves," she said. “People that love to have friends and family over for barbecue, that love to cook for them and appreciate to pick up all the ingredient[s] at the local market and meet the farmers. With seven bedrooms, you can also have family to visit from outside the city and stay for a night or two!”
Through the front door is an extra-wide hallway with hidden oversized closets, perfect for navigating strollers and bikes, according to listing agent Jeff Lee.
To the left is the main-floor powder room, then a short hallway opens out into the wide-open main living (on the right) and kitchen space (on the left) that ends with a wall of windows that slides open to offer indoor-outdoor space when the season allows.
The floor is all hardwood, with light grey cabinets and white subway tile back splash wall in the kitchen. A huge island with seating for four separates the living area from the food prep zone. And in the rear corner is a mudroom area that is sectioned off with a slatted wood half-wall.
“The backdoor mud room bench is one of the sections that I am the most proud of," Ms. Guilmain said. "I wanted this to be very functional; I didn’t want to see the usual back entry mess but also didn’t want it to close the open space. So when you’re in the living room, you only see a half-wall with architecture element and when you are in the entry, there is a hidden shelf for storage as well as a bench to sit and put your boots on.”
The outdoor space is open, like a courtyard; the brick back here has been redone and is fresh and modern with black-framed windows. There’s a massive, solid steel and wood sliding gate/fence that opens for the parking pad in the yard, or for playing in the alley (as local children do).
This level is the nerve centre of the house, and even an open “homework space” at the top of the second-floor stairs is connected to this family hub, just a raised voice away.
“When you have kids, you understand that every task has to be effective. So every movement has to be calculated to save time and effort,” Ms. Guilmain said. “The playroom is close to the kitchen so I can have an eye on my kids while preparing dinner, same thing with the backyard, it’s only two wide steps to get to the grass and with the wide glass patio door, I can see them play outside while in the kitchen.”
Upstairs are four bedrooms, large and bright, some have playful paint finishes, some are more serene.
The upstairs bathroom has white tiles with the same dark grout as other wet spaces in the house, but here they are square instead of rectangles, a throwback style for sure. Cool, grey oversized tiles rise up from the floor to make a vertical cladding for the lower part of the shower tub. The walk-in shower in the basement has a similar tile, but with more black in the cabinetry and fixtures.
The laundry room is on the second floor, a feature that every new house should have (why did we ever schlep heavy baskets up and down stairs to and from basements?).
The basement has radiant floor heating, a big media-room den and two more bedrooms for visitors. It doesn’t look like a lot of house from outside, but in reality it’s more than 3,330 square feet of living space in a fast-gentrifying area.
“Villeray is in high demand right now for the young families who desire to remain close to the centre of the action to raise their family,” Mr. Lee said. “This property is also located very close to the division line between Villeray and Rosemont. What the Plateau was in the nineties then moved up towards Mile End, then Rosemont and now it’s Villeray that gets lots of the traction and demand. Don’t get me wrong, Plateau and Rosemont are still super cool, but not that affordable for a family any more. Like, let’s say, Trinity Bellwoods in Toronto or Kitsilano in Vancouver.”
The house is very close to Rue Castelnau, the main commercial strip, and about a kilometre from the Rue Jean-Talon, home to the huge farmers’ market of the same name. Mr. Lee said it is close to tech, startups, cinema and advertising offices as well as good francophone public schools. “Jean-Talon Market is obviously a must and we go there almost every day to pick up some fresh vegetables and local produce,” Ms. Guilmain said. “One of our favourites is the bakery Le pain dans les voiles; you go in there to buy just a coffee and you get out with $20 of heavenly made breads and treats.”
And Ms. Guilmain’s house offers something the area is increasingly searching for: the luxury updates are already added to a once-affordable neighbourhood.
“The inventory for these types of family homes is unfortunately very low. That’s why you will see high prices for these properties,” Mr. Lee said. “Small developers are trying to get their hands on beaten-down duplex and triplex [properties] to convert them in these types of family cottages, but of course, the city and the regulators are very protective of the rental units and general affordability of the area. We of course, are all very appreciative of that tight regulation in place in these family neighbourhoods that we also happen to personally inhabit. Otherwise the panorama would be very divided and not pleasant.”
Montreal’s mix of low-rise density and neighbourhood amenities was once one of the best-kept secrets in the country, but the city is now into its fourth year of real estate price rises according to an Engel & Voelkers report from earlier this year. “The market is seeing investors from Toronto moving to Montreal, along with Ottawa, to invest in new builds and properties. This growth is expected to continue.”
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