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Architect Nicolas Schuybroek takes us inside his latest project, a 19th-century house in the historic district of Antwerp, Belgium, renewed through a modern scope.

The transformation of this historic building in Antwerp into a modern home emerged from a longstanding relationship between architect Nicolas Schuybroek and his client, a director in a fashion company: from selecting the building, to knocking through walls, to choosing furniture, each detail was discussed thoroughly. The resulting building stitches together elements from both their backgrounds—“monastic” simplicity as Schuybroek puts it, drawn from his upbringing in a Benedictine school, and the attention to detail that’s the hallmark of haute couture. Schuybroek told us how it came together.

What did your client require from his home?

He’s a director at a global fashion brand, so he travels a lot—people like that need a haven to return home to. We selected this property—a classical house from the early 1800s in the historic center of Antwerp—first, because he wanted to be centrally located and second, because he wanted a place that was filled with natural light. This house has a huge facade, which is unusual for old houses in Antwerp. Still, when he bought the place, it was dark and overdecorated, and the circulation didn’t make sense. We restructured the house, imagining new volumes and shaping the way light would flow. We connected smaller rooms and added spaces to create a continuous circulation next to the windows, which meant natural light could come into the whole space.

Why do you describe it as “monastic”?

In all our projects, we try to create environments where people feel quiet and serene. I spent my childhood in a Benedictine school, so I’ve lived that experience: To me, simple spaces with a few tactile materials have always felt good, while opulent, heavy interiors do nothing for me. In this project, there’s just the right amount of light, the right number of signature pieces of design, and we work with a restrained material palette. We often describe it using the German word Gesamtkunstwerk, which means a “complete work of art”—architecture, interiors and furniture coming together as one.

  • Words:
    Debika Ray
  • Photography:
    © Claessens & Deschamps

What materials and furniture did you choose?

We created a warm interior using a classical wooden structure of bleached oak beams in the living room. For continuity, we used distressed oak in chevron patterns on the floors across the house, except the bathrooms, and a matte, off-white colour on the walls. In the kitchen and bathrooms, we used natural Carrara marble. In terms of furniture, he already had a small collection of mid-century pieces from designers like Pierre Jeanneret. We tried to create a balance between very different pieces from the same period, so, you have American pieces like the curved sofa by Vladimir Kagan and George Nakashima’s lounger, mixed together with European mid-century pieces to create something original and elegant.

Did the client’s fashion background influence the design?

It influenced the way I saw the project, more than him. This house can be considered haute couture—custom-made, filled with details, with a balance of materials. I like that this aspect goes all the way from the architecture to the interiors to the furniture. You’d often associate fashion with showing off and being a little bling-bling, but it’s the opposite here.

Nicolas Schuybroek is a Belgian architect with his own practice in Brussels, Belgium. In 2016, he was included as one of the top 100 interior designers by Architectural Digest.

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