Before Francois Leclair could walk, he nursed an obsession with Habitat 67, the utopian brutalist apartment complex designed by Moshe Safdie for Expo 67 in Montreal. The building began as Safdie’s thesis project at McGill University in 1961, and it was supposed to revolutionize city dwellings, offering green space and plenty of units. As a toddler, Leclair was fascinated by the building’s design, which was built using 354 identical, prefabricated blocks stacked on each other, resembling the Legos he played with. When he got his driver’s licence, he frequently travelled 30 minutes from his home on Montreal’s West Island to Habitat 67, where he’d sit on the steps and take in the city skyline. Though he had never set foot inside the building, he told a friend that one day, he was going to live there.
In 2000, his then-partner asked about his dream home. Leclair knew his answer immediately. The couple toured available Habitat 67 units, and Leclair was stunned by the apartments’ innovative designs, replete with sweeping windows and terraces that offer views of the city and the nearby St. Lawrence River. “I find it very joyful—there’s something about the design that brings me back to childhood,” he says. “It’s playful; you look at this building and get curious.”
After the couple wed, they purchased a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in 2001. “We had our honeymoon in an empty apartment with no furniture,” says Leclair, now a vice-president at Groupe Leclair, his family’s automotive dealership business. Unit 1015, which is currently listed for $1.4 million, is a 2,072-square-foot three-block apartment, meaning it spans three concrete blocks. On the main level, there is the master bedroom, kitchen, dining room and an expansive living room that opens up into a bright solarium and balcony. The level below has two extra bedrooms, one of which functions as a home gym.
In 2006, Lecair separated from his partner and embarked on a renovation that he hoped would respect the creative and inviting “soul” of the building. He hired Montreal-based design firm Atelier Moderno, who had worked on other Habitat 67 residences, to create an open-concept space. In the kitchen, they added an island and replaced the old melamine cabinets with custom-built teak cabinetry for a mid-century feel. Leclair also wanted to open up the narrow hallway entrance, but Atelier Moderno’s team couldn’t remove one wall because it was structural. They compromised by stripping the plaster to expose the concrete underneath, which still has the original chalk numbering from 1967. “We have an almost archeological view when we get inside the apartment,” Leclair says.
Even after the renovations, he kept an eye on which Habitat 67 residences went on the market because he had always been interested in upgrading his living space. (At one point, he had a spreadsheet that rated available units based on qualities like terrace size, city view and parking.) In 2012, the two-block Unit 1004 became available, and he was impressed by its spectacular view of the Olympic stadium and Old Montreal. He purchased it and began the renovation process; for years, he toggled between Unit 1015 (for sale now) and his new apartment, finally moving into Unit 1004 full-time when construction finished in 2018.
That same year, the apartment directly under Unit 1004 became available, and Leclair bought it as a potential retirement dwelling for his mother. Three years later, he snagged the apartment two floors below Unit 1004 because he realized that if he combined all three units, it would give him a multi-floor layout like Unit 1015, but with a superior view.
In 2023, after years of living in Unit 1004, Leclair decided it was the right time to put his first apartment on the market. “It’s really nostalgia that made me keep it,” he says. He plans to shift his focus to his future three-unit renovation, which will function as an aging-in-place home with an elevator. “I don’t want to be stuck with the reality that I can’t live at Habitat 67 because my apartment has steps in it,” he says. “I really see myself living here for the rest of my life.”