Striking black house renovation hints at modern interior

The all-black painted exterior of this renovated house, designed by Architecture Open Form, creates a touch of drama, setting the scene for what follows on the inside.

It’s the architectural equivalent of the little black dress – an all-black exterior that highlights the form of a house.

This project shows just how a plain, simple, small building can be transformed into an eye-catching property while preserving key design elements.

The house, in Montreal, Canada, was built in 1890 and the local authority required that the original architectural components be reconstructed and preserved. At the same time, however, the owners wanted a highly contemporary interior.

Architecture Open Form, which was commissioned to undertake the renovation, came up with a creative solution to keep both sides happy.

The company says the couple are established professionals with a keen interest in photography, art and architecture, and plenty of experience in modernising homes. For this project they wanted a design that would respond to their minimalist lifestyle, which is embodied by their simple, yet elegant taste.

They wanted a single-family residence with open living spaces, flexibility in the use of rooms, and an interior that opened to a garden.

The duplex, which originally housed the grooms who cared for the horses and carriages of citizens who lived on the nearby prestigious Saint Joseph Boulevard, had deteriorated significantly over the course of a century.

But despite the fragility of the existing building and its structure, the owners envisioned a bold architectural statement.


In the mid 20th-century the original facade had been covered with metal to protect the wood cladding beneath. This was removed as required by the local authority, and the timber cornice and solid pine windows were restored.

Architect Maxime Moreau proposed that the exterior be stained black, in a style reminiscent of avant-garde art and architecture. This satisfied the authorities and the owners’ adventurous tastes. It was also a way to highlight a new beginning, both for the building and its owners.

Moreau describes his treatment of the facade as an “experiment that would respect and rejuvenate existing features with bold new interventions.”


The interior, in collaboration with Christian Belanger Design, was designed to maximise a small space – the building is only 77 square metres.

Because the owners want to live outside during the warm seasons, the living area was extended onto a terrace that was designed with the same attention to detail as the interior. The distinction between inside and out is subtle, since the space was considered as a whole.

The rear exterior wall was opened up along the entire width of the living room, with a 3.9m-wide sliding door. And during the summer, the living room furniture is moved outside to the terrace.

On the inside, spaces and furniture have non-traditional functions. For example, instead of a typical dining room, there is an open area between the kitchen, living room and terrace. While the owners usually eat at the kitchen island, they can also serve meals on a low coffee table that folds and rises to form a more traditional dining table.

Other key aspects of the interior include a two-storey-high entry vestibule, a black library, and a variety of fixed and movable lighting fixtures on the ceiling an walls. The lighting can range from full illumination for work purposes, to soft, ambient lighting for relaxation.