When I first arrived in Montreal, I went to live in a residence for young women run by nuns known as The Sisters of Service Residential Club. This is what it looked like when I lived there in 1965. My first home in the big city became, thanks to Phyllis Lambert, the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

I shared the Shaughnessy House Tea Room with another resident. We felt lucky to sleep in the most lavish bedroom in the building. Inside were two rather austere looking single beds. I hung a hairy orange and black toy tarantula from an overhead reading lamp to stake out my territory.  

An accidental "faux pas" led to my departure from this exotic, elegant space. I was studying at Sir George Williams School of Art, which at the time was located in the same building as Sir George Williams University (later known as Concordia). A group of us art students played cards with Armenian engineering undergrads at lunch time. These young men were involved in the planning of Engineering Week.  They asked me to make posters for the event and I said "Sure!".

Although I was careful, I inadvertently got some red gouache on the floor. I wasn't too worried because it was common knowledge that water based paint couldn't possibly stain anything. 


I knew the nuns would not be happy with a sudden burst of colour on the evenly stained surface so I rushed and got clean water to wash the paint off. Unfortunately the wood was strangely porous, absorbed the colour, and turned an area of the floor a soft shade of dusty pink. I was in big trouble.

Management was furious and hastily escorted me to the second floor where I was assigned a much plainer, smaller, nondescript room with an ugly linoleum floor. Bummer! I missed the warm wood walls and fancy stained glass. The nuns had the Tea Room floor re-sanded and varnished. I made sure to avoid the holy Sisters in their short gray habits for a while. 
In contrast to The Tea Room, the dining hall at Shaughnessy House was sterile and boring. The focal point of the decor (and I use that word loosely) was a reproduction of da Vinci's Last Supper hung high up on a wall. The image had a major impact on my appetite. I remember staring at it, then at my plate, and thinking maybe the nuns wanted to remind me that this could be my final meal. It certainly tasted deathly but I managed to survive another ten months before moving into my first apartment.

Years later I took my Interior Design students on a field trip to visit the revamped building and managed to spend a little time alone in the Tea Room. I sat there quietly, hoping that some of my memories had somehow permeated the wood, but it was not to be. I only felt awe at the beauty of the space. Someone told me that the walls and floor were taken apart piece by piece during the construction of the new building that surrounds Shaughnessy House. They were given a magical cleansing and wood treatment, and later reassembled
Architects, designers and renovators managed to wash away my 17-year-old soul and every drop of red gouache from those bits and pieces but I know that somewhere in that room, I live on!