Working within the rural vernacular, architect Vincent Van Duysen brings new life and a rigorous simplicity to a centuries-old farmhouse in the Belgian countryside
Architect Vincent Van Duysen knows the Belgian countryside well. He was brought up in a rustic area between Ghent and Antwerp, surrounded, he recalls, "by hills, cows, and farmers working the land. It's part of my culture."
In the living room of a house in Belgium designed by architect Vincent Van Duysen, the armchair and ottoman are by Huyghe Decoratie, the cocktail table and bench are by Christian Liaigre, the wood cabinetry is custom made, and the window blinds are by Brustor.
So it was almost a case of returning to his roots when he was approached by a couple who had acquired a 19th-century farmhouse close to the French border. The pair, whom Van Duysen describes as "very entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan," work in the textiles industry and decided to escape urban living, not only to give their two sons a more carefree upbringing, but also to indulge in their love of horseback riding.
The living room walls feature the same clay-plastered bricks as the exterior; the painting is by Pierre Alechinsky, and the floor is oak.
Although just a 15-minute drive from the city of Kortrijk, the setting is distinctly rural, with woodlands, gently rolling hills, and fields. The property comprises six structures, including three outbuildings and two barns that had been left largely intact. One of the barns now houses a swimming pool, the other a stable and a garage.
In the front entry, the bench and light fixtures are custom designs.
The main farmhouse, however, had been badly renovated by one of the previous farmers. "It was all messed up," Van Duysen says. "In terms of original features, there was hardly anything left."
The front door is painted in a color traditionally used in the region.
Planning restrictions obliged him to keep the existing terra-cotta-tile roof, but virtually everything beneath it was demolished and rebuilt. For Van Duysen, it was important to respect the local architectural vernacular. The exterior brick walls were covered with a traditional clay-plaster treatment, or lime wash, called kalei, and the doors were painted an oxblood color that is distinct to the region. Yet he also sought to provide a more modern twist.
The sofa in the family room is by Huyghe Decoratie, and a reed rug tops Belgian bluestone flooring.
"I wanted to reinterpret the classic Flemish country house," he says. To that end, he designed huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows that frame views of farm fields and the pristine countryside beyond. The kitchen's corner window, for instance, looks out onto a windmill on the horizon. He also brought the kalei-coated brickwork inside, using it for many of the partition walls.
A custom-made light fixture hangs above the kitchen island's bluestone countertop; the sink fittings are by Dornbracht, and the cooktop is by Gaggenau.
The interiors are a study in restraint. Van Duysen opted for an open plan, with spacious, clean-lined rooms linked by sliding or pivoting doors. He then counterbalanced that rigorous approach with the generous use of tactile natural materials: aged bluestone for floors, vertical oak planks for walls, and reed rugs underfoot.
The farmhouse, clad in bricks that have been coated with clay plaster, retains its original terra-cotta-tile roof.
As with many of Van Duysen's other projects, furnishings are kept to a minimum. "The spirit is monastic," he admits. "This is not a house that requires a lot."
The dining table and 1930s-inspired chairs are custom designs, and the reed rug is by Huyghe Decoratie.
He installed light fixtures with naked bulbs, reupholstered Christian Liaigre pieces already owned by the clients in sober, monochromatic fabrics, and created custom designs like the solid-oak dining table and its painted-wood chairs inspired by a vintage model from the 1930s. In several rooms, the furniture is deliberately placed off-center. Sometimes it's to compensate for the asymmetrical roof structure, and sometimes Van Duysen simply wanted to shake things up.
The furnishings in the master bedroom, which looks out onto farm fields, are by Huyghe Decoratie; the cabinetry is custom made, and the floor is oak.
"You need these imperfections to surprise people, to make things not too predictable," he says. "That's the essence of this project. Once you step inside, it's anything but a conventional farm house."
The poolhouse in a former barn features steel frames and original beams; the pool is sheathed with glass mosaic tiles, and the surround is Belgian bluestone.
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