This classic townhouse in the center of Brussels had undergone a crude renovation in the seventies and therefore very little remained of the authentic character and atmosphere of this traditional dwelling.The house was bought by an art lover with a considerable collection of contemporary art. The brief was simple: to provide a home for both the client and the art collection and create a neutral and almost gallery-like setting.
The only two items that were completely retained and carefully restored were the original 19th century winding staircase and the street elevation. The generous staircase forms the focal point of the entrance hall and natural light filters down from a strip skylight, filtered by a translucent screen, which gives the light an ethereal quality whilst revealing nothing of the banal structure behind. Although the refurbishment is extensive and many of the walls have been lined out to provide a simple clean background, the original ‘bourgeois’ layout, whereby the servants’ quarters and kitchens were located in the basement, has been respected. The kitchen has simply been updated with an architectural cooking element in natural stone. This space is naturally and symmetrically lit via two ‘cours anglaises’ that sit below garden level.
The classical character of the dwelling has also been retained on the other levels, and this design decision provides the sense of calm that is required to effectively display contemporary art. The ground floor living room focuses on the garden and the ubiquitous open fire, the hearth. And again through a limited palette of materials, attentive but minimal detailing, and the floor to ceiling openings sustain the flow of the house.
The rear elevation has not been completely opened up and glazed, as is often the case with existing townhouses, but the width of the windows has been left untouched and the openings of both ground and first floor have been connected into very tall and deep slots. The resulting elevation has a strong monolithic and timeless presence only enhanced by the deep reveals of the windows and the effect on the elevation of light and shade. The verticality of this elevation is reflected internally by inserting tall dark stained doors wherever possible.
The floor area of the formal dining room on the upper level has been pulled back from the garden elevation and is connected with the living area below through a void that occupies the complete width of the house. The kitchen serves all levels via a service lift and staircase.