Liza Kaufman is a Founding Partner of Sotheby’s International Realty Québec LK, representing some of the most prestigious homes in Montreal, breaking records year after year in many real estate categories. This house, located in the heart of the Plateau, is among one of her most interesting properties, for sale at the moment for $2,895,000.

From factory, to artist studio, to award winning home.

Now if you’re scratching your head because you have a vague impression of déjà-vu, it’s most likely because images of this very particular house have been shared on various blogs and design pages, mainly because of the strong unique look of the central open area. Images are often shared without context in the social media era, so naturally, I was even more attracted to this property. I wanted to learn more about its history and thought a house this big in an area where everything feels crowded – by Canadian standards – must have a very unique story to tell.

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A Letter From the Current Owner

The present owner was kind enough to write a detailed description of her home and send it to me via the Kaufman’s. All I can tell about her identity is that she’s a French-speaking actress and singer living in London at the moment, and that the house was her pied-à-terre until recently.

In her letter, she explained that the building, which is on Coloniale Ave., was originally built in 1943 and it was part of a bigger lot, which included another building on Rue Saint-Dominique. In 1966, a soft drink manufacturer used the Coloniale building for its sales operations, while the one on Saint-Dominique hosted the administrative offices; there are still visible structures connecting the two buildings. The commercial configuration explains why the house has an unusual layout when compared to other residential properties in the area.

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Old clippings from Elle Québec (April 1991) showing Betty Goodwin in her studio. You can see the original skylight and the original wood ceiling.

 

The separation between the two buildings came in 1986, when Betty Goodwin, a well-known and highly respected Canadian multidisciplinary artist, bought the Coloniale building to make it her home and her “atelier d’artiste”. Her decision to make the central area her artist studio is the reason why the great room is so spectacular today. She needed a secluded space to focus on her creations.

Her work area was wrapped all-around by plain white walls, without any visual contact to the exterior. Her only source of natural light came from three impressively large skylights. I didn’t have a measuring tape with me, but it’s safe to say the longer side of each skylight is at least 12 feet. This outstanding feature got updated and modernized by the present owner between 2009 and 2012, with the help of her design team.

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The library’s structure is metal, custom built by Jean Proulx, who was also in charge of all interior metal work. The doors aren’t just decorative. They give access to well hidden utility areas.

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Yann Brichler was the chief designer responsible for the general concept, the layout and the choice of materials from 2009 to 2011. He decided to make the central room completely open, by taking down the walls that separated the artist studio from the living area. He also insisted that the metal structures stay visible, contrasting with the original wood ceiling to highlight the building’s industrial past. The same attention to detail can be found in the every room, especially in three other main spaces : the cinema room, the indoor pool and the master bedroom.

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The cinema room is soundproofed and equipped with a surround sound system and interactive shaking sofas.

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The pool and sauna room also has a large skylight.

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Warmth and relaxation can be felt in the master bedroom with a heated leather floor, a handmade headboard imported from Asia, oscillating wood panels and access to the back terrasse.

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The original staircase was moved from the cinema room to the living area. It gives access to the roof, where a luminous family room, a garden, a lounging area, a dining area, a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen and even an outdoor shower can be found.

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Martine Brisson was the other interior designer working on the project. She’s also the person responsible for the spectacular green roof that covers the entire surface of the home. As we all know, garden space on the Plateau is pure luxury. To be able to create a secret garden with a rural feel, on a very large roof, at the heart of the city is a feat in itself.

“The clients wished to create a terrasse which would mimic the country side. We took advantage of all the large trees surrounding the building to create that environment,” explained Mrs. Brisson.

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Design by Martine Brisson. Photo by Marc Cramer.

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Roof top living by Martine Brisson.

 

About the Kaufman’s

Liza Kaufman hasn’t always been a top real estate broker; she started selling homes almost by accident… Her professional background is in corporate finance and for 5 years, two months per year, she was a PR coordinator for the Academy Awards. When she had her two children, Alfee and Jesse, she stopped professional activities altogether to be a stay-at-home mom and that’s when she decided to go back to school, “just for fun”, to study and experiment in photography, in film, in fashion and even political science. As Alfee observes wittily, “My mother was never able to be just a housewife!”

She only started studying in real estate when one of her friends asked her to go to school with her because she didn’t want to go alone. She got hooked, sold her Westmount neighbour’s house a little more than a week after she got her certification and the rest is history, as people say. How did a stay-at-home mom become so successful in the insanely competitive market of luxury real estate? As can be seen in the following live interview, good balance between her managing background and her drive to stay creative play an important part in her success.

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François Simard was in charge of decorating and furnishing, creating drama, almost like an Opera set with its dark velvet drapes. From left to right: Alfee, Lindsay and Liza.

 

This house is packed with design and architectural features. What is your personal favourite? Which feature from this house would you want for yourself?

Liza: “Too bad it’s winter but… The roof top terrace here, with its outdoor kitchen, is spectacular.”

Alfee: “Especially in this area of Plateau-Mont-Royal, there’s very few outdoor spaces […]. For people to be able to enjoy the inside of the home as much as outside of the home, it’s a fantastic place for entertaining. And there’s a lot of thought put into the design of the roof terrasse – there’s a few different alcoves, areas to lounge, to dine, to cook, so it’s more than just one open space.”

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Design by Martine Brisson. Photo by Marc Cramer.

 

Can you tell us about the type of luxury properties in the Plateau?

Alfee: “People really live here more for a lifestyle. There are a few luxury properties but they tend to be hidden gems, much like this one. There is really nothing else that compares in the area to this. There are a few other high-end condos, but in general, people live here because of the lifestyle of the area, not necessarily for the grandeur of the homes, but there is a lot of history in the Plateau as well, much like Westmount, the townhouses have that old cachet, old-world charm.”

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Every broker in the Canadian luxury real estate market knows your name. Some brokers in Montreal would even call it legendary. How did you build such a strong identity?

Liza: “When I started in real estate, I decided that I was going to change the way that real estate was sold in Montreal. For decades, things hadn’t really evolved. And that’s when I became a founding partner. I decided to have a company that markets real estate, as opposed to just selling. And in order to be the best I felt I needed to differentiate. We were the first to use color in our ads, the first to use a two page spread in our ads, we were really the first to push the online factor. One of the reasons why I purchased the franchise was because even 10 to 12 years ago, they were visionaries about the web’s influence on selling homes.”

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“[At the beginning], less than 10% of our homes were sold on the web or were featured on the web. Now maybe 99% of our transactions come from the web. [In 2007], we were getting 100 000 hits a year on our cumulative web sites. Right now, we have over a billion impressions a year on the banner’s cumulative websites, and we forged alliances with newspapers and magazines all over the world that are synergistic. We have alliances with Architectural Digest, Wall Street Journal and New York Times – that are not in the advertising section, but are part of content.

We were trailblazers here if you see our history, and that’s what we are doing now again because we are moving away from print media. I have pulled back significantly in the past year and it has been a point of transition because people thought we were not around as much, but really we are penetrating and doing just as many sales because we are in the web. That’s the way the new generation is going to be operating and that’s why I have this team that is this age. Lindsay went to law school at McGill, Alfee went to business school, I was in corporate finance before I got into public relations and I think we’re very compatible with today’s marketplace.”

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Liza Kaufman, Founding Partner of Sotheby’s International Realty Québec LK since 2007.

New technology and social media are changing the way people market their business. Young professionals spend more time on their mobile devices than reading printed magazines. How are you adjusting to that reality?

Liza: “Absolutely! These two girls grew up on the web, on the computer, and the way real estate used to be sold is dying, if not dead already. That’s why we are talking to you because, really, this is the future. We’re going to be doing it on a multi-faceted basis. We have the macro, which we’ve already penetrated better than anybody else with Sotheby’s website and our website. And now, the girls are operating on the micro level, like having interviews with you or starting their own new way of doing Instagram. We’re developing new paths that I think are going to really make a difference for their future as well.”

What are your thoughts exactly on the use of Instagram? Some brokers have 20K+ followers on their account.

Liza: “There is a difference between doing it on a macro level like those brokers are trying to do it and to direct it to the right type of clientele. For our social media, we want to direct it so that they’re impressions that really make sense. We’re “lasering” in to the clients that are going to be effective for our vendors.”

Alfee: “We have beautiful homes, much like this one, and everyone loves to see beautiful homes, so we want to make sure that our Instagram is effective in making the transactions happen [rather than just collecting viewers].”

Liza: “Anyone can purchase… I can purchase 20K followers. It doesn’t cost a lot. We are more interested in developing the “following” that makes sense for us, using our existing client base or our existing network to grow that way.”

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Lindsay Hart, Senior Associate and Real Estate Broker at Sotheby’s International Realty Québec LK since 2008.

 

What’s your take on the use of videos to sell homes?

Alfee: “We were doing videos years ago when we first launched with Sotheby’s International Realty Québec. All of our properties were photographed and filmed but we found that there was a real added value to doing the video on top of the photos. We much rather do videos that have a bit more of a lifestyle twist to it, rather than just a generic tour of a home. I feel it’s a bit out-dated and boring to watch video tours of homes these days.”

Liza: “It takes too much time for a client to do that and we find that they are not effective.”

Alfee: “The beauty of photos is that you can click at your own pace and everything these days is fast pace. With videos, we were seeing that people were cutting off after 15 seconds, people got bored.”

Liza: “[In terms of media content], we always try to push the enveloppe and innovate.”

 

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Alfee Kaufman got her broker license at the age of 19 and sold the dean of faculty’s home while attending McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management.

 

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Alfee joined the team in 2008. What’s the dynamic like to have a mother and daughter work relationship?

Alfee: “For us, it always worked; I can’t say it’s going to work for every mother and daughter, but we always had a very very close relationship, even throughout those teenage years, we were always best friends. I always looked up to my mother; she got into real estate when I was a teenager, during very formative years of my life and I would hear her on the phone, negotiating deals, so it was always something that peeked my interest, but it was important for me to make sure that that’s what I wanted to do and not just fit into her mould, which is why I went to McGill and got my business degree. But at the same time, as I was doing my studies, I went to work part-time with her and I fell in love with it. As soon as I graduated, I jumped into it full-time. It works well because we’re not sitting at an office, behind a desk, in each others faces all day. We independently work with our clients, but when we need support we’re there for each other. I find it’s a great dynamic.”

Liza: “It’s a lot of fun. She started working for me before she graduated. When she was at McGill, she sold 3 of her professors’ homes and she sold the dean’s home. She started her network there in her first year at McGill.”

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With Alfee and Lindsay, who are also working moms, you have an all-women team; do you believe that female brokers can bring a different touch to the real estate market?

Liza: “ I don’t know about any other team, but I know we’re all really hard-working and multi-tasking women. We like everything that we do: being a mother, being a wife… It works for us because in this type of business, you have to be able to multi-task, not just in your lifestyle, but when you have a client, you have to think on your feet. A client from out of town needs to find out about schools, and hospitals, and doctors, and designers, etc. and we’re able to accommodate all of that. That’s what’s fun about this job. And it’s a known fact – no offense to you (laughs) – but women are much better at multi-tasking than men, it’s just statistical fact!”

Alfee: “[Buying or selling a home] is the biggest financial decision for a lot of people, but it’s also an emotional transition. People buy and sell for major milestones in their life, whether they’re getting married, they’re getting divorced, they’re having a baby, someone died, it’s always a big transition, they’re relocating. Being a woman, you can relate to that and understand the emotional side of the transaction, not just the business side.”

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Lindsay is posing with an architectural bench called Pantera, created by artist Zak Ostrowski. The sculptural object is made out of fibreglass with custom automotive paint finishes.

 

Would you say that you are complementary to each other?

Alfee: “Absolutely; it was a real transition to try and find the right type of partner and bringing Lindsay in, it’s almost as if she’s another daughter to Liza (Alfee and Lindsay are childhood friends and went to the same school). There’s enough drama imposed by the nature of the business that we can’t afford to have drama within the team.”

What will the luxury real estate market look like in five years in Montreal?

Liza: “The core of Montreal probably is going to get busier because of the bridge situation. Compared to a lot of other urban areas in North America, our downtown core is still not super-developed, as you know, so I think that’s going to be an opportunity. It’s going to take some time because they’ve been building a lot.”

Alfee: “There’s still major pockets in prime real estate locations that are empty and haven’t been developed so there is so much room for Montreal to grow, but it can’t all happen at the same time because the market will be flooded with too much inventory.”

I would like to thank Liza, Alfee and Lindsay for taking some time in their busy schedules to give us the private tour and exclusive interview. To see more spectacular homes like this one, take a look at her listings here.

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Trung Nguyen
Montreal Correspondent
A teacher, a father, a photographer, Trung is driven by exploring and learning about art, culture, technology and design. His works in photography are fueled by his desire to document not only beautiful craft, but also about the people behind it.