The Gallery they call Home
By collecting art from young and emerging creatives, one couple have turned their Montreal home into an atelier.
It all began innocently enough. Architect Maxime Vandal was indulging his penchant for real-estate porn when he came across a listing for a circa-1890 Second French Empire–style home in the historic Westmount neighborhood of Montreal. A week later, he and his husband, designer Richard Ouellette, made an offer on the property. Never mind that the pair had sold their Craftsman house in the same tony suburban enclave not even a year earlier, and had spent the last nine months renovating a co-op apartment in downtown Montreal.
"We were pretty impulsive"
"We’re drawn to things that have history and character and soul, but we’re also builders, we love the renovating process."
As partners and co-owners of the design-and-construction firm Les Ensembliers, the pair is always up for a new project. But with the Westmount house, they took their time, living in it for a whole year before changing a thing (and then setting up a tent in the living room to sleep in during the renovation).Here, that meant stripping back a 1980s refurbishment to restore the structure to its former glory.
"Some women buy shoes. We buy houses"
One of those stories is the couple’s relationship with art. In both their personal and professional lives, Ouellette and Vandal have championed little-known and emerging creatives, acting as ambassadors for young talent, and then utilizing those works to elevate their own. Ouellette installed Paul Villinski’s butterflies in a project for a client, but he loved the lifelike
little sculptures (made from recycled aluminum cans) so much, he had the prototypes flutter up their entry stairwell. A wiry blue piece by Canadian artist Shayne Dark, which has traveled with Ouellette and Vandal throughout their real-estate adventures, juts out from the wall in the service staircase, surprising guests—and also the homeowners.
"Originally I said, ‘Over my dead body, but it grew on me."
Cultivation of the unexpected is a big part of the home’s appeal. The house has become a place for artistic experimentation, where architect and designer can test the limits of a contemporary aesthetic through a traditional framework: Furniture is placed slightly askew in the living room, resulting in a dynamic
space that feels more like a salon than a suburban gathering place, and the kitchen’s open shelving continues right across the windows. In fact, much of the house’s design was driven by the duo’s existing range of fabrics for Brunschwig & Fils (their collection of wallpapers is soon to launch), creating a sort of living showroom.
"I’ve always loved the idea of living in an atelier, I feel like our creative process is expressed in these walls. This is really the sum of us."