The Semi-Detached Duplex: Designed for Families

When we think of a duplex, we might picture two-storey row houses made of red brick, often with wrought iron outdoor stairways. This typical Montreal duplex has been characterizing the city’s central residential neighbourhoods since long before the 1930s.
Duplex jumelés avenue des Rapides à Lasalle

However, in several areas like LaSalle, Saint-Léonard, or near Fleury Street, another version of the duplex exists. These were mostly built between the ‘50s and ‘70s, and became distinct in their “semi-detached” design, in contrast to traditional row housing.

Made for families

The semi-detached duplexes built between the ‘50s and ‘70s are more spacious, usually with three bedrooms, which is especially ideal for families. All of them have a backyard, and most also have a garage down a ramp, which is great for parking the car, or even for storing toys, bikes, and seasonal clothing.

A Mediterranean flair

Many semi-detached duplexes flaunt a style that was appealing to the Italian community at the time, which is why you’ll see lots of white brick, balustrades, and terra cotta roofing. 

“The Italian community particularly appreciate this design,” explains David Hanna, a professor of urban and tourist studies at UQÀM. “This type of housing is perfectly suited to their family structure. It allows them to house the son, the cousin, or the grandmother under the same roof. It’s perfect for a large or extended family.”

With its Mediterranean accents, the semi-detached duplex gave Montreal’s Italian community the opportunity to state its claim in the city, and at a time when they were actively becoming home owners.

Tenants help pay the mortgage

Some semi-detached duplexes remain multi-generational, but often, tenants live on the second floor. Many semi-detached duplexes also have a bachelor pad in the basement. With one or two extra streams of revenue coming in, it’s much easier to pay the mortgage.

In fact, that’s the conclusion real estate agent Vincent Robillard came to when he bought his own semi-detached duplex. Having himself sold many of them in his career, he decided it was the perfect fit for his family – he has a wife and son – which grew in February 2016 with the birth of his second child. The family had previously owned and lived in a condo, but Robillard and his wife decided they needed a bigger place. Now, he and his family live in Saint-Léonard, on the first floor, while a tenant lives upstairs, which helps them cover the mortgage.

“For $150 more per month, I have three rooms and parking,” Robitaille beams.

Cozy in the city 

Located between city and suburb, semi-detached duplex neighbourhoods are densely populated and have several services nearby. They’re appealing to young buyers who want to live in the city while enjoying a quiet home life. 

“In all the central neighbourhoods, we’re seeing young families buy duplexes,” Hanna explains. 

In fact, he predicts that, just as the row housing did, semi-detached duplexes of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s will become increasingly popular with young families.