Old Montreal Coach House Gets Shiny New Addition

Discover how a great city enables a family to live in 1,300 square feet.

Berri street view

Adrien Williams

Montreal's Le Plateau-Mont-Royal district provides many examples of how to live well in smaller spaces. This new renovation of an old 1910 coach house and a small addition by Thomas Balaban Architect is no exception.

The building became a stand-alone property at some point when a large property was subdivided, leaving it with only a small side yard and a boxed-in exterior space. The area has a rich architectural heritage and is well-protected with bylaws "preserving its architectural character and limiting increases in height." This created a challenge: how to expand while preserving its character and its outdoor space. According to a news release from the architects:

Living room addition

Adrien Williams

"The new floating extension on the second floor protects this precious outdoor space, while adding the additional breathing room a young family needed. By setting back and elevating the new volume, the addition yields the front and rear of the lot to its two existing mature maples. The position preserves the tree’s important presence in the streetscape and prevents damage to their root systems, while creating a sheltered private garden below."
Addition detail with tree

Adrien Williams

The architects made no attempt to blend in with the same materials. Instead, they used flat galvanized panels that contrast the brick and reflect light.

stair and plywood

Adrien Williams

Inside, they stripped it back to the original shell to "celebrate the natural qualities of the utilitarian structure and the beauty of everyday construction."

upstairs view

Adrien Williams

The architects share: "Plywood plays the role of wallpaper (think William Morris meets Home Depot), and steel structure imitates wood joinery, giving the project an intemporal quality where mid-century modern meets construction site in a stripped-down Victorian shell."

Stair of the week

Adrien Williams

Going up the not very kids-safe steel stair without guards on the side and with very big spaces between the thin steel treads, the flying addition makes the whole space feel much bigger than 1,300 square feet. The news release states: "The kitchen, dining room, office, and stair are organized around a central structural column built out to enclose a powder-room, stationary closet, stereo equipment, and a coffee station. The compact arrangement confers both connection and visual privacy."

art on wall

Adrien Williams

This is not a cheap project and the family has an extensive art collection, yet in the Plateau, many wealthy people live in floor areas a third the size that you would expect. That's because it is part of a community: You can walk out the door and be surrounded by restaurants, art galleries, shops, and bagel bakeries.

The house is called Berri, so I cruised up and down Rue Berri on Google Street View until I found it and ran it through Walkscore where it gets a rating of 92, with restaurants, bars, groceries, schools, parks, and a subway station all within 200 yards. When you have all that, you don't need more than 1,300 square feet. You can live in a converted garage and if you can't have everything you want, you can get it with a short walk. That's the real wonder of this house.