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Rigor and Poetry

In Belgium, French interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch transformed a historic five-storey house into an art refuge with a contemporary twist.

In southeast Brussels, the municipality of Ixelles has an enchanting and romantic atmosphere thanks to its historic buildings with different architectural styles—from neoclassic to neo-renaissance to art nouveau—located on the shores of beautiful ponds.

Behind an art deco facade made of brick and stone dating back to the 1930s, an exceptional 1,200-square-metre mansion spreads over five floors. The owners—a Flemish couple with four children—are avid collectors of modern art and passionate about architecture and design. They trusted interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch to lead the remodelling of the historically classified monument that has become their primary residence. Having similar aesthetic tastes, the couple and Yovanovitch felt an immediate connection.

“The brief from the family was to have a warm and bright house”, says the French interior designer. “So my work consisted of bringing natural light inside the building.”

The facade is the only element that was preserved from the original structure. All the interior spaces were removed, leaving Yovanovitch with an “empty box” to completely rethink, both in terms of flow and style.

Several key design features shape the airy space, such as the glass roof, which is situated at the centre of the home. “I felt that we needed to add some poetry and colour to the white architecture, so we had the idea of creating a colourful skylight”, notes Yovanovitch. This surprising element balances with the rigor of the rest.

The interior designer also opened up the top the monumental, sculptural staircase in moulded plaster, which has become the backbone of the house. In the basement, which houses the utility rooms, Yovanovitch designed a 15-metre swimming pool, providing the highest level of comfort the family.

“I tried to keep the soul and architectural spirit of the house”, explains Yovanovitch, who describes the home with the same adjectives as its dwellers: sophisticated, generous and simple. “The eclecticism of the house is what makes it interesting.”

The ground floor hosts the entrance, where a piece of art by Jonathan Horowitz was placed on the wall above a two-piece, Yovanovitch-designed bench and a Paavo Tynell floor lamp. Also on the ground floor is the contemporary kitchen—with a ceiling light by Ru Editions, a Dornbracht island and stools by Mark Albrecht Studio—which sets adjacent to a terrace.

The first floor comprises the reception areas, living and family rooms, while the master suite and bathroom occupy the second storey. With three bedrooms, one bathroom, a sitting room and a terrace, the top floor is dedicated to the children.

“Every area of the house has its own spirit and, altogether, they contribute to create the cosy ambience”, says Yovanovitch. “For example, the powdery pink master bedroom adorned with a woman’s portrait by Magritte above the fireplace corresponds to the sophisticated and soft personality of the wife, while the bar (and cigar cellar) with walls covered in caramel-coloured leather and blackened larch wood reflects the festive and welcoming character of the husband.”

In chiselled oak and with custom-made hexagonal handles, the doors of the different rooms offer interplay of light and shadow. The Danish parquet floors in solid oak add another warm touch. Throughout the house, silk, linen, hemp, cotton and wool are introduced through textiles and hand-woven carpets. Shades of blue, Chinese red and gold evoke preciousness.

Purchased in auctions and international galleries, the furniture is a mix of European (mostly Scandinavian) and American design from the 1930s to the 50s. Philip Arctander and Viggo Boesen armchairs, a Hans Wegner table, a Poul Henningsen piano and wall lights by Franco Albini all contribute to the aesthetic. Contemporary pieces such as a Jorge Zalszupin desk, Nendo chairs and a custom made chandelier by Jeff Zimmerman complement the look. Giving priority to authentic materials (such as wood, stone, marble and metal), Yovanovitch designed the 8-metre-long asymmetric sofa in solid oak, a table with legs in patinated metal and occasional tables in ceramic, among other furnishings, which were all fabricated by craftsmen. “I love the materials for which you feel the hand of an artisan”, says Yovanovitch. “For me, it is what humanizes a place and gives it personality.”

With artworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and Magritte—to name just a few—the owners’ impressive collection plays an important part of the refined spaces. “I like when the furniture is in dialogue with the art”, Yovanovitch explains.

With its pure lines, noble materials and custom features, this mansion strikes the perfect balance between grandeur and warmth.

Photographer: José Manuel Alorda