How to appreciate a beautiful facade

Our old neighbourhoods conceal numerous architectural treasures: here, a false mansard over a slate roof; there, a finely worked guard rail; over there, a bow window; and, a little further, a cantilevered turret. Discover the architectural elements that compose a beautiful facade and that deserve the attention of a well-advised property owner.

Heritage houses make up a large part of Montréal’s beautiful architectural landscape. They can be found in all old neighbourhoods across the island of Montréal. What makes facades beautiful are the quality of the materials, the artisans’ work, their proportions and the richness of their woodwork.

Though many houses were built in a series, they were, in most cases, designed by architects. That explains why the fenestration’s proportions are so harmonious and offer a dignified yet well-balanced appearance. And this is the reason why repair work on windows should be in keeping with these original elements.

Brick masonry in that era was often set in place with raked mortar joints Device or product for sealing a surface composed of several elements (brickwork)., which creates most interesting effects in the sun. It is absolutely necessary to preserve this characteristic; otherwise, the overall quality of the facade will be diminished. Raked mortar joints Device or product for sealing a surface composed of several elements (brickwork). were always used with dark clay bricks with a comb motif and were combined with large windows with imposing woodwork Any joinery work or wooden lining, in particular on the walls.. To alter any one of these elements would have a great impact on the architecture as a whole.

Facade cover your entire homeThe decorative parapets Part of the wall which exceeds the line of a flat roof. that top this masonry also play an important role in this backdrop. They “hang” the facade and “complete” the brickwork. These elements should not be discarded when they become deteriorated just because they are costly to repair or replace; there are more and more artisans that specialize in this type of work.

The exterior woodworkAny joinery work or wooden lining, in particular on the walls. adds the finishing touches to the facade. It is the boundary between the inside and the outside of the house, a semi-private area that gives a particular character to the house, and provides it with the “words” to express itself architecturally. Take away these words and the “message” the house gives to passers-by and the neighbourhood loses its meaning.

It is important to preserve and enhance the architectural characteristics of your building, however modest it might be. Judicious interventions that take into account all of a building’s components will guarantee the preservation and the appreciation of your investment. Here is a quick overview of a facade’s components.

Facades reveal their secrets

CrownsDecorative element forming the top of a wall, a pillar, a column or a staircase post. are what complete and adorn the top of a building. They make an important contribution to a facade’s character. There are three types of crownsDecorative element forming the top of a wall, a pillar, a column or a staircase post. in Montréal: parapetsPart of the wall which exceeds the line of a flat roof., as seen on the photo, cornices A generally horizontal building element, with a sometime utilitarian role (to throw rainwater clear off a wall) but mostly decorative. and mansardsA room built in an attic, generally under a double-slope roof and which has walls at an angle and a low ceiling..

Facings

A facade’s masonry plays a technical role of course, but also an aesthetic one that is also very important. Our model building is faced with stones on the ground floor level and with masonry and brick bonding on the upper levels.

Limestone, also called grey stone, is easily found in the Montréal area and is widely used for construction. There are also different types of sandstone and granite.

Clay brick started to be used more widely in the 19th century with the beginning of its industrial production. Traditionally, clay brick is natural or glazed.

As of 1920, and with the arrival of industrialization, reinforced concrete replaced fieldstones for building foundations. Decorative elements made of concrete (sills, window and door heads, pilasters, medallions, etc.) were used more and more in stone and brick facades.

Projections and avant-corps

ProjectionsAny component which juts out from a building. that protrude from exterior walls in a variety of ornamental shapes provide each building with a distinctive character. They also contribute to the architectural quality.

Balconies, staircases and bay windows, towers and turretsSmall tower attached to a building, sometimes built overhanging. also contribute to the heritage wealth of a neighbourhood. Because of their unquestionable charm, these projectionsAny component which juts out from a building. deserve to stand the test of time by conserving their proud elegance and their integrity.

Wood trim and ornamental ironwork

Wood trim as well as ornamental ironwork in balconies, balustradesRailing, often with an openwork design, formed by pillars and topped with a ramp to prevent falls. and dormersOpening with a glass pane located on the slope of a roof to illuminate / ventilate a space. are an integral part of a neighbourhood’s character.

The Victorian influence, still predominant at the beginning of the 20th century, called for intricate woodworkAny joinery work or wooden lining, in particular on the walls. and ironwork in projectionsAny component which juts out from a building.. This fashion of ornamenting facades with mouldings, friezesA horizontal band below the cornice intended to receive a decoration, usually formed by the mere repetition of a pattern., columnsA structural pillar that usually consists of a shaft, a capital, and a base., corbelsA piece of stone, wood, or metal, projecting from the side of a wall and serving to support a cornice, a beam, a girder, etc., cornices A generally horizontal building element, with a sometime utilitarian role (to throw rainwater clear off a wall) but mostly decorative. , parapetsPart of the wall which exceeds the line of a flat roof. or balustradesRailing, often with an openwork design, formed by pillars and topped with a ramp to prevent falls. resulted in the development of a graceful architectural landscape.

Openings, doors and windows

Doors and windows are key elements in a facade’s character. Their shape and their proportions contribute to balancing the architectural composition of the building and blending it with the neighbourhood’s architectural flavour.

Casement windows found in Montréal were inspired from France and were used from the beginning of colonial times until the beginning of the 19th century. In the middle of the 19th century, during the Victorian period with its intricate ornamentation style, they were replaced with guillotine windows inspired from England.

There are two types of guillotine windows. The more common type has two sashes of equal size. On some facades, the guillotine window has an upper sash equal to a third of its overall height while the lower sash is equal to two thirds of this height. Often, this type of guillotine window has beautiful stained glass inserted in the upper sash.

Most of the doors of Montréal’s houses are wood doors with a large part made of glass, a transom, stained glass and wood trim. There is generally a double door at the ground level or a single door with lateral windows. The doors on the upper levels have a single leaf, though they are often quite ornate.