Shelter: A Home, For Now

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Shelter is a weekly Montreal Gazette series that peeks into the lives of ordinary apartment-dwelling Montrealers.

Well, my first impression is that it’s small but very bright.

Marcus Benigno: It’s very airy, very bright. Bright makes things look bigger.

What appealed to you when you first saw this apartment?

Benigno: The most important part was the location. It’s really close to McGill but it’s not in the ghetto. It’s sort of in the Plateau, and Carré St. Louis is right there. We can hear the fountain at night. Oh, and it’s old. It used to be the maids’ chambers to the house that’s on the square. That’s why this apartment building only has four or five units and it’s connected to the house. So we’re actually living in two maid chambers. There are two doors (to the apartment.) I would prefer that it didn’t open to the kitchen but, you know, the kitchen is the hearth of the home.

That’s a nice table in the living room.

Benigno: That’s Kevin’s grandmother’s table.

Kevin Garneau: Great-grandmother.

So it’s a family heirloom?

Benigno: A lot of the furniture is his great-grandmother’s. But you know, this table shows you that I can’t really have space for a real living room. But I guess it works because the centre of the house is food.

Do you eat most of your meals at home?

Benigno: Oh yes, definitely. We cook a lot. A lot. Trust me. I’ve spent the whole day washing dishes.

The kitchen is small, but is it functional?

Benigno: We have the tiniest kitchen in Montreal! But we do with what we have.

You told me earlier that you both spent the summer away on trips, Marcus in the Middle East and Kevin in Africa. Did you collect anything?

Garneau: This is a box with all my stuff from Africa. I have all of these art objects and posters that I have yet to put on the wall. Otherwise, it’s Marcus that normally takes care of the decoration. The decor isn’t really ready. We put something on the wall, not because it’s beautiful, but because it touches us, because we have a connection with it. It’s a relation d’appartenance.

(We move into the bedroom.)

Benigno: This poster (above the bed) is from Jordan. It’s a poster from the 1950s and it’s for a film called Malikat al-hobb, which is The Queen of Love. I was going through Amman and there was this cinema that I passed by and I saw this on their wall. I asked if I could have it and he sold it to me for about 75 cents.

(We head back into the living room to a small closet-like space.)

Benigno: This is the petite bibliothèque. This room is, I dunno, kind of odd. We just fill it up with books. It’s tiny so you can’t fit a couch in it. It has good light but since you can’t fit a couch, we just put two pillows on the floor.

Is this the first time you’ve lived together?

Garneau: Yes. It’s better than living by yourself, I think. You can share your daily life with someone. It’s a type of routine that makes things softer and more comfortable. Life is sweeter than last year, isn’t it?

Benigno: I agree.

Has it taken some adjustment getting used to each other’s habits?

Benigno: Yes, yes, yes! There’s no doubt about that.

Garneau: It’s more of a problem for Marc than for me.

Benigno: It’s like daily habits. He gets up at 5 in the morning, wakes me up, has breakfast and leaves at 6. He’s also very messy.

Garneau: I’m not that messy.

Benigno: He’s very organized in life, but in terms of living…

Garneau: No, I’m not that messy. Marcus is messier.

Are your schedules pretty different?

Benigno: Pretty different. He’s a med student so he’s got more hours at school than I’ve got. Kevin gets up every morning at 5, goes to the gym, then comes back and makes breakfast. I’m just doing my thesis and odd jobs, like catering and stuff. Basically, my schedule is pretty sporadic.

You both were gone for a long time and you both went to some places that are, culturally, pretty different from North America. Did it change your perception of living space or how you perceive home?

Garneau: Yes. In Africa, there was no decoration, almost no furniture. We ate on the floor, slept on the floor. When it’s like that, furniture becomes a bit useless. Here, I eat breakfast on the ground, in the bedroom, every day.

Benigno: For me, the trip made me think long term. Being two people from two different countries and having such different backgrounds, thinking what am I going to do in the future and how am I going to work it out, being in a relationship with different aspirations, and wanting both to travel, what do we do? What is home then? Home is like a collection of our travels, the places we’ve been, a sort of storage and comfort zone.

– – –

Occupants: Kevin Garneau, 21, a medical student at McGill University, and Marcus Benigno, 21, a McGill international development student, graphic designer, freelance writer and caterer

Size: Small 41/2 on a corner, with windows facing a laneway on one side and a street lined with Victorian rowhouses on the other

Location: A small five-unit apartment building attached to the rear of an old Victorian mansion facing St. Louis Square

Rent: $900 per month, including utilities

Been there: Since May

This article originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette on October 13, 2007.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday October 14 2007at 11:10 pm , filed under Canada, Interior Space and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Shelter: A Home, For Now”

  • montreal media critic says:

    WOW! Way to go Montreal Gazette for publishing a weekly column on how to stalk various Montrealers! Location, daily schedule, lifestyle, description of possibly antique, valuable furniture….

    Or was this to point out the horror of how much an apparently teeny tiny apartment on the Plateau costs?

  • […] during university. Christopher DeWolf covered our cozy abode in a Saturday piece on shelter for the Montréal Gazette in 2007. Frankly, much of our books in that petite bibliothèque were as good as tchotchkes. Like […]