The Berri House, a small residential extension, challenged Thomas Balaban Architect to squeeze as much home as possible out of a 130m² centenary carriage house while taking maximum advantage of its unique urban situation.

A rich architectural heritage

The project is situated on a short and narrow street in Montreal’s sought-after Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. The irregularly shaped lot resulted from a subdivision of a large property spanning two streets. The cadastral transaction left the new lot with only a small side yard and a boxed-in exterior space at the back.

Interesting lots such as The Berri House, corner stores, car repair shops and small industrial buildings scattered among traditional brick duplexes and triplexes make up the area’s rich architectural heritage. It has earned the neighbourhood its protected status, preserving its architectural character. Herewith lies the challenge of how to expand the footprint of the building, while preserving its character and very limited outdoor space.

Floating volume

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

Clad in flat galvanised panels, the floating volume reflects natural light into the garden below. The reflective material endows the extension with the feeling of lightness. Its flat and modern geometry contrasts against the brick masonry of the old building. It also reduces the visual impact on adjacent houses situated in tight quarters. Strategically placed openings endow the living spaces with privacy, while huge full-height windows bring light into the house via open circulation spaces.

A house with history

Built in 1910, the carriage house had undergone several renovations. The exterior appearance of the existing structure is largely preserved, its brick facade repaired and windows replaced. Inside, layers of interventions were removed and stripped down to the original shell of the coach house.

The new interiors seek to celebrate the natural qualities of the utilitarian structure and the beauty of everyday construction. Raw materials, rich textures and minimal detailing, with softer modern furnishings, add to the house along with the family’s expansive collection of art. Plywood plays the role of wallpaper 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.

A neatly organised layout

At the entrance, in the northwest corner, a new opening made through the first floor connects three levels via an ultra-minimal and transparent stair. It combines an entry closet, circulation and sculptural effect. The transparency of the wireframe stair in combination with the sliding divisions give the small footprint of the ground floor much-needed space to breathe.

Upstairs, the kitchen, dining room, office and stairs are organised 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. Strategically placed windows and existing skylights punctuate the spaces, bringing in natural light and a connection to the exterior, ultimately providing a changing, natural counterpoint to the abstract artwork and photography on display in the house.

Technical sheet
Project team

Architects: TBA – Thomas Balaban (project lead), Maxime Lefebvre, Julia Manaças.
Structural engineer: Lateral.
Photos: Adrien Williams.

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