Real estate love affair ends as it began – with Westmount mansion on the market

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She was there for an estate sale, but when Sharon Azrieli approached Braemar, a historic Westmount home, “I stayed there and literally fell in love.”

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As Sharon Azrieli recounts, she was walking with a friend one day in 2010 when she saw a sign in Westmount announcing an estate sale. She loves real estate sales. And so they climbed a slope from The Boulevard – and a large, graceful villa with wraparound balconies surrounded by wooden columns on two levels appeared.

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“This house doesn’t exist in Montreal,” the artistic philanthropist and singer says to herself incredulously (she has done opera for a long time and now turns to jazz and Broadway music).

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She was looking at Braemar, an 835 square meter Regency-style house built in 1847 on the side of a hill in what is now Westmount, but which was then in the countryside and had stunning views of the St. Lawrence River. and beyond. It was a page straight out of history.

Braemar was built as a twin of Clairevue, which was demolished long ago; a private school, The Study, now stands on site. The surviving villa serves as a “reminder of the elegance of life back then,” said Doreen Lindsay, former president of the Westmount Historical Association, at a conference on the property. It is a remarkable place.

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Braemar’s plans are credited to architect William Footner, who worked with architect George Browne on the design of the Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal, which also opened in 1847. The villa was named by a from the first owners, Eliza Jane Ross, who had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria; Near the Queen’s beloved Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands is a village called Braemar.

And as Azrieli learned that day in 2010, more than the contents of the house were for sale: Braemar was also on the market.

Braemar's plans are credited to architect William Footner, who worked with architect George Browne on the design of Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal.
Braemar’s plans are credited to architect William Footner, who worked with architect George Browne on the design of Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Azrieli entered the house and stood in front of the gracefully proportioned living room, or living room – a six by seven meter space with four meter high ceilings and three large floor-to-ceiling windows that function as doorways to that natural light enters and the room feels intimately connected to the outdoors.

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“I know you’re not supposed to fall in love with things, but I just stood there and literally fell in love,” she recalled in an interview. “I knew I was in big trouble.”

Big worries as the house needed a huge amount of work. “The basement was full of water, and the fourth floor was full of water because the roof was full of holes,” Azrieli said. It was “a haunted house of wreckage,” she recalled in a 2014 interview.

Azrieli could see beyond the wreckage “a tall lady. …I wanted her to be whole again.

Sharon Azrieli put her stamp on Braemar by introducing bold colors.
Sharon Azrieli put her stamp on Braemar by introducing bold colors. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

She bought Braemar in early 2011 for $1.5 million and spent the next few years restoring it in a process that required both deep pockets and near limitless patience. She worked with architects, an interior designer, restoration specialists, contractors and tradespeople while navigating a difficult permitting process, made more daunting because the house had been listed as a historic property in 1984 by the Quebec Ministry of Culture at the request of its former owner, Gérald. Benjamin. All work was subject to regulations imposed by the ministry and by Westmount.

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A photo of Braemar just after installing the new copper roof, taken from Belvedere Rd. in Westmount.
A photo of Braemar just after installing the new copper roof, taken from Belvedere Rd. in Westmount. Photo by Patrick Martin

Plumbing and electrical infrastructure were replaced, a new copper roof and geothermal heating system were installed, and a large garage was built into the hillside near the house, as Lindsay observed in an article of 2015 in the Westmount Historian. A tunnel was dug between the garage and the house, which was made wheelchair accessible with features such as an elevator, 36-inch-wide doors, and no raised threshold.

But the updates haven’t come at the expense of the home’s original charm. Azrieli has degrees in art history from Vassar College — “I love architectural history,” she said — and interior design from Parsons School of Design. She was intimately involved in planning and overseeing the process.

Sharon Azrieli bought Braemar in early 2011 for $1.5 million and spent the next few years restoring it in a process that required both deep pockets and near limitless patience.
Sharon Azrieli bought Braemar in early 2011 for $1.5 million and spent the next few years restoring it in a process that required both deep pockets and near limitless patience. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

The floors on the ground floor, mainly in red pine, have been restored, as have the large windows on the ground floor with original glass and folding shutters. Door and window hardware was retained and reused. The location of the main door, which had been moved by a previous owner, was relocated and the main staircase, which had also been moved, was repositioned to maximize usable space. A space on the ground floor that had been converted into a wardrobe was reopened to improve circulation.

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When the drywall was removed from the basement, Azrieli discovered the original cinderblock-covered windows and had them opened; she rediscovered the original basement kitchen and her hearth, where all the cooking once was done. It has been numbered, dismantled, cleaned and restored. The 76 exterior wooden columns surrounding the balconies around the house, which had rotted away, were rebuilt and the railings replaced.

Azrieli has put his stamp on Braemar, designing elaborate plaster moldings and having rosettes and panels restored and highlighted in the gold salon, and designing mosaic patterns for the floors in the entrance hall and guest rooms. baths. She introduced bold colors: deep turquoise in the library, orange in the dining room, deep blue for the lacquered lower cabinets in the kitchen – one of many pieces in her design. She designed the powder room around a stunning royal blue crystal vessel sink she found at a bathroom supply store in Montreal.

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Braemar's gracefully proportioned lounge has four-metre high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Braemar’s gracefully proportioned lounge has four-metre high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Now Azrieli has decided to bring Braemar to market because she wants to downsize – and she’s ready to take on another project. The asking price is $25 million.

Lindsay praised Azrieli for planning and overseeing Braemar’s restoration and preservation.

“She showed how it is possible, with love, patience and an understanding of the evolution of a historic building, to transform one of Westmount’s grand villas into the warm family home of today,” she writes. .

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The dining room of Braemar, a historic house on Le Boulevard in Westmount.
The dining room of Braemar, a historic house on Le Boulevard in Westmount. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette
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