Projections and avant-corps

Ah, those balconies and staircases in Montréal’s older neighbourhoods! Is there a more colourful and intricate sight elsewhere? They are postcard scenes but more fragile than they seem. These architectural elements, that provide a transition between the public and private spaces, are distinctive features to be protected.

Exterior staircases appeared in Montréal with the increase of the size of building lots; they had two benefits: more space inside for the dwellings and separate entrance doors for the residents. Thanks to this new construction feature, small front yards were often laid out for a garden and balconies were added, offering residents a semi-private space between their home and the sidewalk and, overall, giving a smart look to the buildings. “Balconville’’ was born.

Made of wood and metal, balconies and staircases need special attention to prevent decay and rust (see article on paint). You must also keep in mind that these elements can always be repaired, and not necessarily replaced. If replacement is in order, you should get your inspiration from the existing elements in the neighbourhood. Your house’s character is at stake because each element of a façade complements the others and vice versa.

Resist the urge of replacing everything with “maintenance-free’’ materials; this is a myth. Aluminium covering loses its finish with time, gets dented and even worst, conceals wood decay underneath it. It will likely be too late when you finally notice that something is wrong. As far as aluminium staircases and balustradesRailing, often with an openwork design, formed by pillars and topped with a ramp to prevent falls. are concerned, the size of their components is often inappropriate and the result upstages the rest of the façade. Finally, several poorly done installations will become less safe with time and usage. These materials were conceived for more circumspect uses such as on the façade at the back of a building or on more recent constructions where they will blend in more easily.

Coming back to the topic of paint, the traditional approach was “battleship grey’’ for the balcony floor and the stairs, while metal balustradesRailing, often with an openwork design, formed by pillars and topped with a ramp to prevent falls. were painted black. If you think this is too run-of-the-mill or that it cramps your artistic talents, then switch colours. Keep in mind however that balustradesRailing, often with an openwork design, formed by pillars and topped with a ramp to prevent falls. and guardrailsBarrier, for example, around a terrace, to prevent falls. should preferably be painted with a dark colour so they remain inconspicuous and do not compete with other elements of the façade. The grey colour for the balcony floor is often favoured because it makes dust and wear-and-tear marks less noticeable.