It all started innocently enough. Architect Maxime Vandal was giving in to his penchant for real estate pornography when he stumbled across a listing for a French Second Empire-style house circa 1890 in Montreal’s historic Westmount district. A week later, he and his husband, designer Richard Ouellette, made an offer on the property. Never mind that the couple sold their Craftsman home in the same suburban Tony enclave not even a year earlier, and that they’ve spent the past nine months renovating a co-op apartment in downtown Montreal. “We were pretty impulsive,” admits Ouellette.
As partners and co-owners of the design-build company The Ensembliers, the pair are still up for a new project. “Some women buy shoes. We buy houses, ”jokes Vandal. But with the Westmount house, they took their time, lived there for a whole year before changing a thing (then putting up a tent in the living room to sleep in during the renovation). “We’re drawn to things that have a history, a character, and a soul, but we’re also builders,” Ouellette says. “We love the renovation process. Here that meant removing a 1980s renovation to restore the structure to its former glory.
The kitchen and bathrooms were completely demolished to make way for more modern amenities and crown moldings were added to match the originals; the walls have been moved and the floors have been painted to hide the inconsistencies. “It wasn’t one of those disaster renovations,” Ouellette says. “It was more about finding ways to show a collection of stories about our life together. ”
One of those stories is the couple’s relationship with art. In their personal and professional lives, Ouellette and Vandal have championed little-known and emerging creators, acting as ambassadors for young talent, then using these works to uplift theirs. Ouellette installed Paul Villinski’s butterflies in a project for a client, but he loved the small, realistic sculptures (made from recycled aluminum cans) so much that he floated the prototypes in their stairwell of Entrance. A skinny blue piece by Canadian artist Shayne Dark, who has traveled with Ouellette and Vandal throughout their real estate adventures, protrudes from the back staircase wall, surprising guests and owners alike. “I originally said, ‘On my corpse,’ Vandal recalls, ‘but it grew on me. “
A culture of the unexpected is a big part of the home’s appeal. The house has become a place of artistic experimentation, where the architect and designer can test the limits of a contemporary aesthetic through a traditional setting: the furniture is placed slightly askew in the living room, creating a dynamic space that resembles more like a living room than a suburban gathering place, and the open kitchen shelves continue right through the windows. In fact, much of the design of the house was inspired by the duo’s existing range of fabrics for Brunschwig & Fils (their wallpaper collection will be launching soon), creating a sort of living showroom. “I’ve always liked the idea of living in a studio,” says Ouellette. “I have the impression that our creative process is expressed within these walls. It really is our sum. The question then is: Will they stay?
“We get attached, but once the renovation is finished, we get a little bored, admits Ouellette. “However, we are now surrounded by a lot of elements that we love,” adds Vandal. “This is one of the first homes where we can truly say we’ll be here for the next 20 years.”
Producer: Doretta Sperduto
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