By Mandi Keighran
When young couple Leïla and Xavier decided to buy a house in Montreal, they envisioned a multigenerational home that could house Leïla’s mother as well as their own planned family. They purchased a duplex in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie neighborhood with two identical apartments (one over the other), and engaged architect Catherine Milanese of MOA Architecture to bring their dream to life.
Faced with this challenge, Milanese drastically reconfigured the floor plan and inserted a Nordic-inspired, plywood-clad mezzanine into the roof space of the second-floor apartment.
Leïla’s mother wanted to live on the ground floor apartment because the exterior staircase to the second floor—a classic feature of Montreal homes—can be dangerous in winter when icy. So, the couple decided to extend the second-story apartment to make it comfortable to live in with children in the near future. The new mezzanine level, which has access to a rooftop garden, provides office space for the couple today, and it will become the master bedroom when their planned-for children move into the two downstairs bedrooms.
“The house had not been renovated for a long time, and it desperately needed work on both levels,” says Milanese. “We also had to completely rethink how the spaces were arranged, as the original layout blocked direct sunlight and access to the shared yard.”
MOA Architecture placed two bedrooms on the street side, which has a northern orientation, and created a central hub for the bathroom and laundry room. The living spaces are grouped together toward the rear of the apartment, where they benefit from the southern exposure and appealing views over the leafy backyard.
In order to comply with city bylaws, the 300-square-foot mezzanine had to be inserted into the existing roof space. “This led to the initial project concept: a built-in timber box within the existing dwelling,” says Milanese. “The roof was cut in its center, and a new box was inserted in the open space.”
The floors, walls, and ceiling of the mezzanine are all clad in clear-coated fir plywood panels. “Wood was used throughout the project for both structure and cladding,” says Milanese. “It is used as a graphic, poetic, and emblematic material, and it’s a natural reference to Quebec’s Nordic culture.”
The mezzanine boasts large windows, which frame a view over neighboring rooftops and trees, and a rooftop garden is accessed through large glazed doors. Natural light floods the interior through this south-facing glazing in summer months, and sunlight is reflected from snow into the interior during the winter. A dramatic steel awning frames the glazing to protect the interior from excessive heat in the summer.
The main floor of the apartment is an L-shaped space, and the kitchen at its center features statement black quartz countertops that contrast with the lightness of the timber. The upper cabinets are crafted from the same fir plywood as the mezzanine level is clad in, and the lower cabinets are finished with black lacquer to create visual separation between the oak flooring and the fir plywood ceiling.
A plywood-clad stair leads to the mezzanine, with an open black steel frame banister that allows a visual connection between the living space and the stairwell. “The banister had to be very open and light, so as not to visually reduce the living room space,” says Milanese. “The whimsical design is the result of code-complying elements, and the desire to make the staircase as safe as possible for children. The resulting diagonal black steel elements bring a strong graphic effect to a very light structure.”
The project, excluding taxes and fees, cost CA$320,000 to build—CA$ 100,000 for the ground floor renovation, and CA$220,000 for the second level and mezzanine. “The budget was met, which is a rare feat in renovation projects,” says Milanese. “The clients love their new home because it matches their personalities and lifestyle. I think that is a crucial quality in any residence.”