The dramatic atrium of a Montreal townhouse that runs the full 32-foot height of the house became the central inspiration for an exquisitely simple, light-infused remodelling by RobitailleCurtis principal architect Andrew Curtis.
“The clients were a thirty-something couple who were expecting their first child,”explains Curtis. “They had wanted to live in it for a period before renovating so they could decide in an informed way what they wanted. In the end, they were clear about wanting a modern, low-maintenance home that could accommodate their many pets, and that would take advantage of the home’s unique feature: its atrium.”
The main floor was reoriented into three central axes; strategically located Douglas fir slatted walls provide safety and define spaces without sacrificing light and views. The succession of spaces starts with a pure-white “cube” in the front area, dividing living room from the central atrium area and kitchen, with a coat closet on the entry side and powder room on the other. Pocket doors allow the living room to be closed off when desired.
The kitchen was repositioned in the back third, to maximize views through a full window wall overlooking a small but beautifully landscaped garden. The window wall adds to the feeling of transparency and light that filters throughout the home, despite the narrowness typical of city townhouses.
The central third features a fireplace with an open bookcase that soars clear to the third floor. Here, it ends under a square opening directly beneath the atrium skylight, rigged with a trapeze net instead of railings. The net, says Curtis, was supplied and installed by the same company that supplies Cirque du Soleil.
“The net was conceived of while we considering options for guardrails. On the second floor, the wood slats replaced the existing drywall guardrails, and at the third floor (the kids’ floor), we removed them completely. Conceptually, the net became a play surface for the clients and their (future) children.”
With its careful balance of openness and enclosure, vertical and horizontal, and the warmth of Douglas fir against the purity of white walls and woodwork, the townhome is a lovely example of just how complex the simplest design can be.