Jean Verville Adds Unorthodox Finishes and Spatial Surprises to 3 Montreal Projects
Where is the line between design and art? Many have explored the border between those disciplines, and Jean Verville takes the debate very seriously. It’s the subject of his PhD thesis, now in progress, and a consideration integral to the work of Jean Verville Architecte. The firm’s own studio in Montreal is the first in a series of three radical experiments that question the design/art divide and challenge the limits of habitable space. “I am, primarily, an architect, but I am an artist, too. I don’t think art should be an add-on at the end of a project. I explore how the two can evolve at the same time,” the 46-year-old Verville says.
He has managed to do so throughout his career. After working for larger Montreal firms, including ARCOP and LemayMichaud, he did a stint at a smaller studio in Aix-en-Provence, France. He has also pursued academic work and his own goal of “mixing functional space and art,” which animates the trio of interiors.
A minimalist sculpture made from lumberyard material, the studio is an OSB box-within-a-box that fills the 155-square-foot shed behind his 19th-century house. The OSB surfaces, with their irregular wood-chip pattern, replace the imperfections of the existing building. Tucked under one half of the ceiling, a blank-seeming OSB volume is a mysterious monolith, creating an odd spatial condition while, more functionally, it contains a work space and storage. (Look closely—there’s a hidden door.) He outfitted the rooms with all-black furniture.
A house remodel, which he considers the second project in his conceptual series, demonstrates the same combination of unorthodox finishes and spatial surprises. The owners are his friends, fellow members of Montreal’s cultural scene. “Their goal was to live in a piece of art,” he says. So, instead of gutting the 1,100-square-foot interior of the 1950’s bungalow, which they had inhabited for more than a decade, he simply instituted a radically duotone visual scheme. Each room is dominated either by black, which extends across the floor plan at a diagonal, or by white. In the kitchen, the sink fittings, the cabinets, and the paint on the exposed ceiling joists are all black. Only the floor is white, a concession made after the wife complained of vertigo.“I was happy to change that,” he recalls. “We are on a journey together, toward abstraction. The question is how far you can come with me.”
Calculations were a bit different for the third and final project, a loft apartment in a converted textile factory in the city’s historic quarter. The owner, a musician, asked for “a chic hotel ambience” that would allow him to compose and to escape the outside world, Verville explains. That request brought about a slightly less rigorous, more luxurious approach than for the previous projects. Running through the center of the 1,700 square feet is a golden ribbon, actually a corridor flanked by the brushed-brass doors of closets holding the musician’s extensive wardrobe. The remainder of the envelope is neutral, with an exposed concrete ceiling and gray-stained maple floor planks. Along the two window walls, gray linen drapery and a blackout layer hang from rails. These curtains not only allow the musician to sleep during the day, as his schedule sometimes demands, but also provide “a contrast in textures,” Verville says. What remains, when everything is closed, is the living area’s black Steinway & Sons baby-grand piano. Here, as always in his work, art is at the center.
Project Teams: Armand Verville; Jean François Caron; Pierre Daigle; François Bodlet; Stéphane Gimbert: Jean Verville Architecte. Luminergie: Lighting Consultant. Ébénisterie CST: Woodwork. Atelier Couture D: Drapery Workshop. Construction OOK: General Contractor.