Maison Atelier: A “Natural Evolution”

The office of yh2 Architects is the sort of space a person walks into and immediately thinks, “I want to hire this firm.” The reason? The Montreal-based firm’s design sensibilities are immediately evident throughout the airy, sparsely decorated rooms, wherein every detail serves a purpose; the placement of books, the contrasting wood grains, the angle of falling light. It’s the sort of space that makes a potential client think, “I want to hire this firm, because I want this.

yh2 was founded in 1994 by architects Marie-Claude Hamelin and Loukas Yiacouvakis. The firm views architecture as “the art of place-making,” a vital method of perceiving the world around us; “It is a creative and transformative tool, a way to reinvent reality.”

The creation of Maison Atelier is described via a recent press release as the “natural evolution” of this lot on Henri-Julien Avenue in Montreal’s Little Italy, a stone’s throw from the famous Jean Talon Market. The lot has been transformed twice by yh2 over the past twenty years. In 2000 it created Maison Tour, an amalgamated home/studio space organized around an inner courtyard, with a workshop located in a former garage in the back yard. This three-story home was later mirrored in the second transformation of the lot with the addition of another independent three-story structure: Maison Atelier. Completed in 2018, it offers a new model of urban housing by proposing two independent dwellings on the same plot of land, each with its own private exterior spaces and plenty of indoor space. And while current municipal by-laws prohibit the construction of two completely detached buildings on a single lot, yh2 cleverly connected them with an aerial, lightweight volume on the second level, providing each structure with an extra room above the garden.

Also located between the houses is a massive, one-hundred-year-old maple tree. As Quebec produces 72% of the world’s maple syrup, the tree is an especially iconic symbol of the Quebecois landscape and culture.

Like Maison Tour, Maison Atelier is a hybrid workspace and private dwelling. The ground floor, where the offices are located, is accessed directly from the street. It comprises two large minimalist spaces.

Also given its own street entrance, the private residence—which is completely separate from the office—occupies the top two floors of the structure. The bedrooms and family room are located on the second floor. (It’s interesting to note that yh2 strategically placed the living quarters on separate levels in the two structures to further ensure the privacy and autonomy of each.) On the top floor, living spaces with large windows provide expansive views of the cityscape beyond.

Raw concrete is used throughout the structure in the form of a large wall and stairway, which brings a material cohesion to the various levels. The press release refers to it as the “backbone” of the building, as well as a strategic way to bring light from the penthouse along a circuitous route to the floors below.

All of the built-in furnishings were custom designed for Maison Atelier. Materials found throughout the structure were carried through to the furniture; think patinated, raw, white, perforated, and stainless steel, as well as mahogany and white marble.

The real pièce de résistance is arguably the rooftop, where two patios are accessible from the penthouse. A unique, angular volume extends the ceiling of the top floor while also lending a striking profile to the luxurious outdoor space. It’s simultaneously private and open, the perfect spot for entertaining guests on warm evenings while enjoying spectacular views of the sunset-drenched city.

Montreal architecture on the brain? Check out our list of the city’s most iconic structures.