Carol Belanger Is an Architect.
Specifically, he’s the City of Edmonton’s architect who’s overseen work on rec centres, libraries, transit stations and swimming pools all around town. But Belanger doesn’t stop being an architect when his workday ends. When he leaves the office with numbers, shapes and lines still on his mind, he doesn’t worry about taking his work home with him — especially when his work is his home.
Growing up the son of a military father in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario (with a stint in Germany for good measure), Belanger knew his identity early. He made his first constructions out of Lego and logs, depending on the weather, and still fondly remembers when Mr. Brady designed a cosmetic factory like a powder puff for a difficult, Zsa Zsa Gabor-like client on The Brady Bunch. “I was good at math and art, and just loved building and creating spaces,” he says.
With his new home, he’s created a beautiful modern space with his partner, Dustin Ostrowerka, where they live with Belanger’s son, Dashiell, their dog, Hugo, and cat, Khufu the Ragdoll. It’s the third home Belanger’s designed and lived in, and he’s as giddy recalling the process as he is happy to share the space. “It’s like being a child, when you build a fort and you imagine the shapes and the space,” he says.
It being Ostrowerka’s first house, he found the process “equal parts exciting and terrifying,” but couldn’t have picked a better building partner. “Carol knew when to get stressed and when not to get stressed,” he explains. “And he was completely fixated, like an addict. He could have come here every day when it was under construction, just to be in it. I’d say, ‘Nothing’s changed,’ and he’d say, ‘I know, I just want to imagine what the light is going to be like.’”
The light is like a fleet of sunbeam ships finding a safe, welcoming port through the home’s 14-foot, triple-glazed, fibreglass front room windows. That’s where Hugo watches passersby, stern and silent — unless he spots his best friend, Blu, on a walk.
The main, white oak floor feels like two separate seating areas leading to the back patio and kitchen, even though it’s all open. Fir door and loft slats, coated with black Sansin onyx stain to give them a bit of a silver sheen, add texture during the day, and style after dark. “The last thing we wanted was that gleaming, all-white design that makes it look like a drug-cartel house,” Belanger laughs.
There’s no white gleam in the kitchen, least of all on the matte black island counter made of FENIX, a paper- and resin-based material that doesn’t show finger (or cat paw) prints. The couple can’t rave enough about their steam oven (“It resurrects three-day old pizza!” Ostrowerka exclaims) and chose not to worry whether the kitchen backsplash will ever go out of style by simply not having one — instead, a 16-foot rectangular window runs along the north wall, naturally lighting where Belanger makes cocktails to load on the dumbwaiter for the trip to the third-floor rooftop deck.
Whatever your thoughts on infill homes, rooftop decks are a treat, especially when they’re 1,300-square feet — big enough for a big party or big dog like Hugo to roam. It’s mostly a tree-top view, except to the south, where another fort already stands, mid-construction, and another will start soon, because the house-building addict has apparently picked up a habit. “I could have sold the lots, but many infills are… not so good. And I want to know what I’m living next to, so we subdivided the 50-foot lot into two 25s,” he explains. “We might end up renting the middle one, or moving into the one close to the road.”
Back inside his existing abode, Belanger directs my attention to a specific spot on the giant bookshelf that takes up most of the front room’s south wall. On its bottom level near the TV sit tiny white models of three neighbouring homes. On first glance, they don’t even appear to be made of Lego, as if put together by a child with an expert’s eye for design. Belanger smiles. “That’s what this lot will look like when it’s all done,” he says, and something tells me he won’t stop there.
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This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Edify