To the max in Montreal

Canadian winters provide striking contrasts. Dark, even sombre hues poke through pristine white expanses, while long hours of pale twilight are offset by short bursts of striking, ozone-saturated northern light. Despite this environmental character, our default setting for design seems so often colourless. We haul out winter clothing ranging from dreary browns, greys and blacks to, at best, muddy reds or blues. It is the haberdashery equivalent of the thousand shades of beige that passes as interior design in so many Canadian homes.       

In other Nordic countries, colour plays a life-affirming role in interiors. While white and pale yellows or blues are frequently used as a means of diffusing precious light, “there’s actually a world of beautiful color at work in these cold climates…ways to delight the eye and make their interiors…come to life,” says the internet blog Living In Colour. 

It is a sentiment supported by architect Jean Verville. For a Montreal artist and avid collector of contemporary art and design objects, he has reinvented a 1,400-square-foot loft in a historic industrial building using uncompromising splashes of brilliant colour. These are counterpointed by glossy surfaces of pure white and given further punch with the deft use of a mirrored wall. “The client wanted a space that generates creativity,” Verville tells me as we tour the largely open, voluminous space that is flooded with natural light from two walls of oversized industrial windows. After connecting at a party and spending most of the night talking art and architecture, the Laval University–trained architect (and not incidentally ex-professional dancer) and client spent months working through what kind of functional, livable space could also actively stimulate new avenues in the latter’s own work. 

 “The answer,” Verville says, “lay in minimal interventions, simple materials and bursting colours that would awaken the senses and blur the perception of conventional domestic space.” He started by grasping in one hand five pens of the client’s favourite colours and drawing a series of multi-coloured lines across stark white paper. The unit’s entry is indeed a shock of royal purple that gives onto a brilliant red hallway. In turn, a large open bedroom “nook” on the left is bereft of cluttering detail and soaked in a palette of mixed colours but dominated by canary yellow. A high, built-in sleeping platform, more a yellow padded stage than a traditional bed, sits atop deep storage drawers for storing art and beside purple clothes closets. 

A monolithic wall of glossy white cabinets by master cabinetmaker Pierre Daigle highlights the importance of storage space. Reaching up 11 feet to concrete beams supporting the equally raw, unpainted concrete ceiling, the cabinets’ highly light-reflecting surface stretches along the unit’s inner wall and out across the main living space. “The owner,” Verville says, “wanted his art stored in the unit to be rotated frequently, thus allowing constant renewal of the space.”  

Additional storage is also created in a thick second inner wall running out from the very simple kitchen corner. This wall of acrylic mirrors by Judith Lamour, in addition to playing with one’s spatial perceptions, is also penetrated by the doorway to the condo’s single bathroom, a large, all-black spa highlighted by six very distinctive light fixtures. As this most private of spaces opens abruptly into the loft’s most public area, the depth of the cabinets offers a modest sense of separation, Verville explains. Several deep alcoves populated with a menagerie of art objects are also punched into this wall, their interiors painted in bright colours.  

But what really stamps a sense of applied artistry on the design is the treatment of the floor, where the significance of the bold streaks with the handful of coloured pens becomes tangible. Verville resurfaced the already-in-place bamboo flooring with a super-hard, high-gloss epoxy coating into which are inserted strips of vinyl, a sort of mix of bar–cum–QR codes in colour, using unique blends prepared by an artist collaborator. The mirror surface extends these strips of colour, creating “multiplied space modifying the usual domestic proportions.” 

Yet despite the loft’s capaciousness and its vivid colours, dazzling whites, gritty concrete, open mechanical ductwork, minimal architectural detail and teasing perspectives, the overall effect is surprisingly homey, even comfy. This is helped by an elegant grand piano but also by the owner’s delightfully whimsical approach to furnishings. For example, pieces include Finnish designer Eero Aarnio’s 1971 Tomato chair in green and his playful 1973 Pony in orange peeking around a corner; and the colourfully striped, child-like bench Mr TTT by Friends With You. Around the sliver-thin Less table by Jean Nouvel are Sue Richard’s bright-yellow molded chairs (immodestly named La Sue) and Philippe Starck’s throne-like high back chair Out-In, in white. These, and virtually every other piece in the loft, constitute a furniture collection in which each piece has been carefully selected for its unique presence as an art object, albeit with a careful eye for both function and comfort.       

Verville eschews the notion that the Prismatic Colours loft represents a signature of his work, except in the sense that it is about experimentation in sculpturing space that projects the user into the sketch. “I believe in collaboration,” he says, “in which the client is the defining muse.”  cI