A Disastrous Duplex Was Transformed into a Warm and Artsy Montreal Home
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Ara and David are both native Brooklynites who moved to Montreal from New York in 2009 when Ara was hired as a film professor at McGill University. When they arrived in Montreal, David founded a custom design company called Atelier Assembly; he has since left that company (although it’s still doing great) to teach Sculpture and New Media at Dawson College. Ara is a painter, writer, and film scholar. Both artists, both creative, they love to make everything themselves—and they renovated the house entirely. The result is stunning.
When David and Ara bought their house in the Mile End back in 2015, it was a duplex, and, more importantly, a complete disaster. The entire back of the house was boarded up, and the rooms had been divided up into dark, claustrophobic spaces. David then spent eight, long months completely renovating it—on his own. Their goal was to turn it into a light-filled, joyful space, where they could both have room to do their art and raise a human/dog family. They also knocked down the old rotted garage to make way for a garden, since they desperately wanted an outdoor space to enjoy the beautiful but all-too-brief summer months in Montreal. Since moving in in the winter of 2016, they have filled it with art and love and a lot of crazy critters (they have an adorable 2-year-old girl named Oona and two naughty little dachshunds, Olivia and Picolo).
As David is an exceptionally talented artist, furniture designer, and carpenter, he not only gutted and redesigned the space, but built a lot of their furniture, and also made nearly all of their pottery. The rest of the furniture has mostly been salvaged from off the street and junk shops, and lovingly refurbished. Although they both love working with their hands and making everything, David and Ara have very different styles: he’s a classic minimalist (favorite color: gray; favorite shape: the cube…) and she is a natural colorist. They’ve compromised by keeping the furniture simple, elegant, and somewhat sparse, to offset the vibrant paintings, quilts, and textiles. Most of the paintings on the walls are Ara’s, although some good friends have also contributed pieces to their collection.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Style: Our style is a compromise between my husband’s love of minimalism and natural materials and my own obsession with color, pattern, and texture; our house is an extension of the art-making at the center of our lives. We both love making everything ourselves, so most of what surrounds us is handmade by one of us, or our artist friends. This includes a lot of the paintings, ceramics, and furniture that you see—as well as the house itself. By choosing simple, elegant furniture, we ended up being able to incorporate a lot of my own large abstract paintings, and the rugs and quilts I adore collecting at yard sales, without our space feeling too cluttered. Nearly everything else has been picked out of the trash and refurbished. That’s a blessing, since with a baby, two mischievous dogs, and a constant need to improvise spatial arrangements to accommodate our art practices, nothing can be too precious.
Inspiration: As artists and teachers, we are obsessed with the history of art and design. We are most inspired by the modernist styles that flourished from the 1920s to the ’60s: the Bauhaus, Josef and Anni Albers, and the creative ferment at Black Mountain College, on through the minimalism and lyrical abstraction of the 1960s. Even though we live in an urban neighborhood in the frigid Northeast, we like to bring inspiration from other favorite places, like the American Southwest, into our home. Most of all, however, it is the creative live-work spaces of other artist friends that model how to raise a family (of humans and/or animals) while still finding a way to make art. I’m thinking of the old farmhouse with three (!) studio barns that Scott Sherk and Pat Badt renovated in Pennsylvania, the late Carolee Schneemann’s magical eighteenth-century stone house in New York’s Hudson Valley, the ever-shifting architectural oasis that Iwonka Piotrowska and David Resnick improvise to house their three amazing children and countless animals in suburban Long Island, and the old Tribeca studio of my friend and mentor, the painter Ronnie Landfield.
Favorite element: When I asked my husband this question, he surprised me by saying it was my paintings. (I always thought they were too colorful for him!) When he asked me, I said it was the fact that he built almost everything in sight. (Perhaps this surprised him since I’m always trying to convince him that we need to build yet another project.) I guess the things we love most are the things the other person made.
Biggest challenge: Far and away, our biggest challenge is the nearly impossible task of keeping the house safe for our two beloved dachshunds, who are not supposed to jump on any furniture but love to be as high up as possible and don’t listen to a word that we say. Compared to that, cleaning up after the tsunami-like force of our two-year-old feels like a breeze.
What friends say: When our best friend first saw our house in its original, disastrous condition, he warned us that buying it was going to be the worst decision we ever made, and that the nightmare of renovating it was going to end in divorce. Little did he know we’d love each other even more after the adventure. Now he admits that buying it might have been the best decision thing we ever made.
Biggest embarrassment: How many times we have to have our carpets cleaned because our dogs pee on them with impunity.
Proudest DIY: Ummm… The whole shebang. David gutted and rebuilt the whole place in an eight-month blur of sweat and improvisation with the help of our friend Steve Kircoff. I painted and did all of the finishing. We also made so many of the objects inside.
Biggest indulgence: The two Chrysler Building-inspired Art Deco lights that hang in our entrance hall. There was never enough light in the old, one-bedroom apartment that we used to rent, so we put in fixtures everywhere. Then we were faced with the overwhelming project of finding 18 beautiful chandeliers on a small budget. My dad bought these two for us as a housewarming present, and every time I turn them on, I feel like I just stepped into a Hollywood movie from the 1930s.
Best advice: Make friends with artists and buy their art. Alternately, make friends with artists, and help them out however else you can. There’s not a single artist I know who doesn’t have a storage problem, and if you are generous with what you share, you might find yourself the lucky recipient of one of their works.
Dream Sources: Live-edge furniture from George Nakashima’s studio, carpets from ABC Carpet and Home, a painting from Ronnie Landfield, ceramics from Teco and PawenaStudio, hand-dyed quilts from Salt + Still, light fixtures from Lambert et fils, antique textiles from Henry and Minna, both in Hudson, New York.,
- Painting by my dad, Allan Osterweil
- Teak utilitile coat hanger by Patrick Turner, of Thout
- 2 large vintage Chrysler-inspired Art Deco lights, discovered at Grand Central Inc. in Saint Henri, Montreal
- Vintage Art Deco fixture, discovered at L’allumeur Antiquities, in Saint Henri, Montreal
- Cedar bench by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Vintage Milo Baughman gray velvet and chrome chair, discovered at Colours, a no-longer extant mid-century vintage shop on rue St. Denis in Montreal
- Antique lithographs from a shop in Lisbon, Portugal where we spent hours poring through their treasures.
- IKEA Kramfors Espresso Leather sofa-via Craigslist in Long Island, New York
- Off-white, mid-century modern Scandinavian couch—Colours, no-longer extant vintage furniture shop on rue St. Denis in Montreal.
- Drawing by Patricia Yossen, Los Angeles-based artist, born and raised in Argentina
- Spalted Maple blanket ladder by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Wool blanket — Pendleton
- Painting over brown, leather couch: “High Road” (2015) by Ara Osterweil
- Painting over white couch: “Dream of an Opium Eater” (2007) by Ara Osterweil
- Repurposed stack wall shelf (cut out of the wall from the great window upstairs) by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Ceramic sculptures by David Baumflek
- Marble table by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Mid-century teak chair: found on street in Long Beach, NY, cushions and restoration by David Baumflek
- Kilim pillows by TOLA, no longer extant shop on Laurier, Montreal and Taos Trading Post
- Round, two-tier, wooden table: found on street in Westchester, New York, restored by David Baumflek
- Navajo Chief Blanket Rug (replica) by Taos Trading Post
- White Chinese plant stand: One of the few objects I was able to take from my Grandma Bertha’s house when she died.
- Louis Poulson Panthella floor light: White Italian standing light — Montreal Moderne
PARLOR/ SECOND LIVING ROOM
- Large painting: Meridien (2013-4) by Ara Osterweil
- Isaac Synthetic Kilim rug, made from recycled materials, by Pottery Barn
- Painting: “Oona, Olivia, and Picolo,” family portrait by Claire Drummond
- Matrix persimmon orange chair by Article
- Cragin poof by George Oliver, found on Wayfair
- Vintage Cobalt Blue Art Deco mirror table: found on the street in Long Island, New York
- Geometric marble table by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Ceramics by David Baumflek and Patricia Yossen; books and toys provided by shopaholic grandparents.
- Vintage mid-century plastic dome pendant chandelier from Carousel Antique Center, Hudson, New York:
- Standing lamp by Target back in the day
- Child’s schoolhouse chair, discovered at Vintage Antique Lifestyle Marketplace, Burlington, Vermont
- Norden extendable birch wood dining table by IKEA — Refinished and given by friends Patrick Turner and Katharine Dempsey.
- Swedish mid-century bent plywood Swedish chairs, discovered at L’Antiquite Curiosite, 1769 rue Amherst, Montreal
- Black leather and walnut mid-century chair found in the trash in Rockville Centre, New York.
- Danish mid-century teak credenza, discovered at L’Antiquite Curiosite, 1769 rue Amherst, Montreal
- Large painting over dining table — The Garden by Noah Landfield
- Large painting over credenza — Indian Summer (2014) by Ara Osterweil www.araosterweil.com
- Small painting by Ronnie Landfield
- Painting of my mother, Enid Osterweil — Mother’s Day by Ara Osterweil
- Side table by Bed, Bath, and Beyond — My mother bought me this when I moved to my first apartment in San Francisco twenty years ago to start a Ph.D. program at Berkeley. It opens into a dining table, and has four folding chairs that fit inside of it.
- Luna Brass Moona: brass and glass standing light by TripleSevenHome
- Ceramics by David Baumflek
- Ceramic vase — Gift from Peter Whitehead
- Vintage white enamel table, discovered at Russell Beverly Antiques, Montreal:
- Vintage farmhouse chairs, discovered at Russell Beverly Antiques
- Vintage Schoolhouse Light, discovered at Orleans Lamp in Freeport, NY
- Drawing (1987) by Janet Kigusiuq
- Drawing by David Baumflek
- Painting: “This is Not a Crusade” by David Baumflek
- Still life painting, found at estate sale, across the street from my childhood home in Oceanside, New York.
DOWNSTAIRS GUEST ROOM
- Bed — IKEA
- Stained glass lamp by Ara Osterweil
- Vintage Art deco Chrysler pendant lamp, discovered at Orleans Lamp in Freeport, NY
- Painting by Liz Leggett
- Painting by my dad, Allan Osterweil
- Quilt by Ara Osterweil and David Baumflek, inspired by Purl
- Oak dresser: vintage flea market in Jersey City, NJ
- White table: we inherited this from David’s grandmother Cypora.
- Antique wash stand, Antigo, Hudson, NY
- Pink kilim rug from outdoor flea market in Los Angeles, California
- Vintage rug from flea market in Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Seashells from Atlantic Ocean, washed up after storm in Fire Island, discovered on beach while visiting my friends Keith and Adam
- Esmerelda brass Table Lamps by Zone Maison, Montreal
- The Orbitor: mid-century modern wall sconce — SanctumLighting
UPSTAIRS LANDING AND HALLWAY
LIBRARY AND OFFICE
- Perchoir: Mid-century modern pendant lamp chandelier in unfinished brass — Gymnastes Lighting Studio, Montreal
- Rug: trashpicked in Fire Island, New York
- Hanging Bookcase by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Photograph of Grand Canyon by Iwonka Piotrowska
- Small vintage, mid-century teak dresser by HUS atelier, Montreal
- Desk — Hacked Gothic Cabinet pine desk + IKEA countertop + file cabinet found in garage sale in Philadelphia, PA
- Found wooden stool, woven and repurposed as plant stand by David Baumflek
- Collages — collaboration between Ara Osterweil and David Baumflek
- Buckminster Fuller-inspired collage by Leah Pires
- Large painting: House of the Rising Sun (2014) by Ara Osterweil
- Drawings by David Baumflek
- Dichroic glass sculpture by Sean Augustine March
- Family portraits by Paul Gargagliano
- Sputnik inspired brass mid-century chandelier — TripleSevenHome
- IKEA white fold-out couch — Via New York Craigslist
- Replica Eames Molded plastic rocker — Mustlovefurniture
- Paper and wood antern by David Baumflek
- Plywood bench by David Baumflek
- Satsumas plant stand by IKEA
- Two-tier pine side table — Trash-picked in Rockville Centre, New York
- White sheepskin rug — Trash-picked in Rockville Centre, New York (How can anyone throw this stuff out?!)
- Vintage mid-century modern teak dresser — HUS atelier, Montreal
- Painting over bed: The Ocean Inside (2015) by Ara Osterweil
- Photograph by Iwonka Piotrowska
- Painting over dresser: Volatile by Amelie Jerome
- Hanging mirror by David Baumflek, co-founder of Atelier Assembly
- Embroidered duvet cover by Pottery Barn
- Nightstand trashpicked in Long Island, New York and repainted
- SNIGLAR Crib by IKEA
- Patchwork Quilt by Ara Osterweil and David Baumflek
- Woolen crib quilt by Pendleton
- Dutailier Baby dresser, via Craigslist
- Paper standing lamp by IKEA
- Carpet trashpicked in Rockville Centre, New York
- Vintage Arts and Crafts oak rocker, outdoor flea market in Montreal
- Painting over crib — Blues Run the Game by Ara Osterweil
- Painting by dresser — Early Spring by Ara Osterweil
Thanks, Ara and David!