To every house, there is an outside and an inside; to every designer of a house, a gift for science and a passion for art. This dichotomy is fully expressed in the house that Louise Malhotra recently designed for her family.
From the sidewalk, the house of Louise and Shawn Malhotra in Rockcliffe presents itself as calmly geometric, a medley of glass and stone in a tranquil rectilinear arrangement. Walking through the large front door, however, is an experience closer to art than to science. The central high-ceilinged hall forms the light-filled core of the house. Layers of white and grey throughout create a space that is as airy as the feathered wing of a seagull. And, in a stroke of brilliance, the designer has pulled stone and wood inward from the outside to unite the coolly reasoned exterior with the living, breathing interior.
Louise was a scientist, a graduate of McGill University, before she recognized and yielded to the fascination of line, colour, and texture and became an interior design consultant. But in this case, it was her family — and especially her four small children — whose lives she wanted to serve. “I know them. I know who they are and what they like.” Beginning with that profound and loving knowledge, she has created a series of highly individual spaces. In the bedroom of one of her sons, for instance — “my nature boy” — the wallpaper is a delicate pattern of light and dark birch trees. There is nothing infantile about the designs Louise chose for her children; for each unique personality, she tried to find a colour and a motif that express something fundamental about who they are.
The great thing about designing your own house is that you are allowed to change your mind. In the beginning, Louise was determined to eliminate the traditional living room. “I didn’t want rooms that we wouldn’t use.” Midway through the design process, however, a corner by the entranceway demanded recognition as a formal space. Now separated from the hall by a glass-walled corner that echoes the facing window, the room feels larger than it is.
A third corner is papered with an enormous black-and-white photograph of the roofs of Paris. “Paris is very important to Shawn and me,” says Louise. “It’s where many of our important life decisions were made.” Staring at that image, you get a weird feeling that you are actually standing up very high and leaning out to look down over Paris. While it looks like a formal living room, Louise refuses to call it that. “Because of the piano — which we all play — I call it the Music Room.”
Louise began her architectural adventure by mapping out the flow of her family’s life. “Flow is everything in a house,” she insists. The result is a central space with rooms that radiate around it to accommodate every aspect of activity: a huge light-filled kitchen; a large family room with fireplace; a bar in the hall where guests naturally congregate during parties; a playroom in the basement where children have separate spaces to be creative or playful, rambunctious or reflective; a study where the whole family comes together to work.
Louise designed the study, in particular, as a social space, with a large worktable at the centre. She can work here, lay out her drawings and design plans, but the couple’s children can also gather around the table to do their homework, ask questions, work on their craft projects. “I wanted us all to be together as we work rather than having the children all alone in their rooms.” Another communal place is the glass-walled dining room, which almost leans out into the garden at the back of the house. “I see it as a little jewel box set right into the garden.”
The living spaces of the house are deeply satisfying, but so are the functional areas, beautified by all the careful thought that has gone into them. Just off the lavish kitchen — all gleaming grey stone and shiny surfaces where many can work together in harmony — there is a pantry, where the larger tools of cuisine stand waiting. Beyond that is a mudroom, meticulously organized.
In many ways, the Malhotra house resembles a work of abstract art, with the layering of a soft palette of repeated colours, the way light — both natural and artificial — creates patterns on walls and floors, and the use of gorgeous natural materials. And just like any piece of good art, the house generates both an emotional and an intellectual response, creates pleasure, and makes room for thought.
Rockcliffe boasts many fine old houses from the early 20th century, but the neighbourhood was never meant to be a museum. Young as it is, the Malhotra house is an aristocrat in its own right. It will age well, and a century from now, people will be calling it a heritage treasure.