From the street, you’d never suspect that Résidence Alma conceals a unique interior designed by Atelier Barda. The brick and stone triplex, on the corner of a busy Montreal commercial strip in Little Italy, fits right in with its surroundings. Wrought-iron balconies, so typical of the neighbourhood, overlook the front windows of a gift shop that occupies the ground floor. It was in this building that a young entrepreneur from the fashion world, drawn as much by the vibrant neighbourhood as by the building itself, chose to make his home. To renovate his new residence, he turned to Cécile Combelle, Antonio Di Bacco and Kevin Botchar, part of the new guard of Canadian architecture. For this project, they didn’t hesitate to overturn the classic codes of North American home design, preferring to draw on an eclectic array of influences. While the second floor was designated for short-term rentals, the third, covering some 1,700-square-feet, was remodelled from top to bottom to bring the natural world into the very heart of the house. The open plan allowed the designers to create a 200-square-foot inner courtyard—a secret garden clad in burnt wood and replete with lush vegetation and a Japanese bath—which serves as the centrepiece for the living areas. The apartment, which now has two levels thanks to the addition of a 400-square-foot mezzanine for the kitchen, dining room and two terraces, has not only received a much-needed shot of natural light, but a dose of soul as well.

For this unique urban staging, Atelier Barda, as is its custom, relied heavily on its artistic touchstones. Particular attention was paid to the loggias and colonnades that are the most striking feature of the new penthouse. “The first image we had in mind that we drew inspiration from was the baldaquin, a feature that was extremely common in Italian architecture during the Renaissance, since in those days people spent a lot of time on their rooftops. It provides a view of the city, but also the opportunity for quiet contemplation,” says the atelier’s co-founder Antonio Di Bacco. The architects also relied on their instincts to craft some surprising ambient experiences for their client and his guests, particularly in relation to a carefully orchestrated interplay of shadow and light. “We work on our spaces as if we were carrying a camera on our shoulder,” says Di Bacco with regard to the contrast-laden interiors designed by the creative trio. Such contrasts are evident even in the layout of the two upper levels of the house. A bathroom in black terrazzo, plus dark-hued kitchen cabinets and sofas, stand out against cream-coloured walls and oiled-oak flooring. “This rather sober backdrop will allow our client, as the years go by, to add objects that tell a story about the period we are living in,” explains Di Bacco. The intentionally timeless feel of the decor was developed in close collaboration with Quebec artisans. Here and there, immediately recognizable creations from Montreal designers shine forth, such as a sculptural light by the firm Gabriel Scott, and organically shaped stone and steel tables by Foraine, the furniture line created by Atelier Barda. These details deepen the overall feel of unostentatious luxury.