The Montréal firm Architem Wolff Shapiro Kuskowski Architectes was faced with a challenging but exciting assignment when the owners of this house approached them. Designed in the 1970s by a pair of local architects, Dobro and Milena Miljevic, for themselves, the home had been something of a radical experiment, built with prefab concrete panels, a common technique in commercial construction but basically unheard of in residential.
The owners loved the home and its location, in the leafy downtown neighbourhood of Outremont, with its generous lot and views of Mount Royal. The dictum was specific: add space, ideally including a new third floor, and maximize views and light, while maintaining the original architects’ expression.
Architem’s Eduardo Carrera and Andrea Wolff and their team focused the addition on the back half of the house, leaving its striking front façade virtually unaltered. But the original construction technique, which essentially involves hanging the prefab panels together like a house of cards, made an expansion tricky. An additional challenge was the owners’ request for a roof garden, adding considerably to the load. The solution was to reinforce the entire skeleton of the house with a steel frame, hidden within the walls. This also allowed them to open up the interior to the sunlight, which pours in from glass walls that form almost the entirety of the rear elevation.
For interior finishes, says Carrera, the use of wood, glass, white drywall and steel (including a continuous steel ribbon railing for the central stair) allowed them to introduce a modern aesthetic that’s also eminently practical for a family with toddlers. The most striking example is the kitchen, where cold-rolled steel panels line the back cabinetry, warmed by walnut counters and underlit recesses. The kitchen divides into two zones: nearer to the glass dining area, it has a more sophisticated aesthetic suitable for entertaining, while further back, the food prep area is centred next to a children’s area, surrounded by white back-painted glass walls and blackboard panels.
A soaring two-storey glass atrium in the dining area features glass garden doors that open vertically, to accommodate the room’s rather narrow dimensions. By raising the ceiling to double height, they were able to get around zoning laws that prohibit a full third storey on new construction. Directly above, a home office has a ringside view on the beautiful new roof garden, with its year-round perennial plantings, and Mount Royal rising majestically in the distance.