Bauhaus in Brussels

By on February 15, 2013
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Laura Henderson tours the capital where top architects are reinterpreting residential design

The penthouse’s designer credentials have been compared with the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart made famous in the 1930’s by Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe. It’s a flattering association for property owner and developer Peter Bracke, but one he is quick to dismiss. “Living space for me is first and foremost about comfort,” he explains, “although I prescribe to ‘clutter free’ philosophy for ease of use.” A vision in minimalist white, Bracke’s home, hidden behind the unassuming walls of an apartment block in downtown Brussels, has taken time to evolve: “When I bought the place in 2003, I effectively had a blank canvas on which to decorate-making good the walls and laying down stone flooring. I wanted a clean look-superfluous features were strictly taboo.” As to what works: “Pure white as a backdrop and raw elemental materials such as steel, chrome, marble and glass are visually effective. I also chose flooring that could be easily cleaned-wood and stone, and softened the look with large geometric and plain rugs.” His taste in furniture with boxy timeless shapes and modular sofas also gives a streamlined look, as does the non-obstructive storage to hide everything away. “You can easily spend time and money on details that don’t add value,” he adds. “The trick is to invest in things that are really going to create impact-eye-catching kitchen units for one.”

A winning concept when it comes to cool styling, Bracke’s shiny home adaptation has caught the wave of demand in the capital for unapologetically modern real estate, with developers and architects customising both commercial and residential units for a growing sector of young design conscious investors. “Loft apartments have been around for years,” explains Javier Van Kerrebrouck of Metropole Properties, “and have particular appeal with the expat market. The minimalist look however, is now becoming more egalitarian, spreading to haute gamme districts like Avenue Louise, and up-and-coming areas such as Jette, St Gery and Molenbeek.” Modern, confirms Kerrebrouck, accounts for a good 10 per cent of the residential market, prices starting from around £2,000-3,000sqm but often exceeding the £3,500 mark. Local agent Celine Brachwitz has also been monitoring the rise in new investments and welcomes the trend: “Downtown has some of the funkiest districts with a constant stream of hip bars, clubs and boutiques opening up, so why should real estate be left out of the loop? The Belgians, especially the young are increasingly setting the tone, evolving. When they read about designers and architects, they want to own some of their work or at least to emulate the lifestyle in some way. Buying a chic apartment is one way of achieving that.”

Built in 1850 on the site of a former watermill in the Chaussee d’Anvers, Loft Boheme is one of the best examples of an industrial conversion refit. Crowned by a zinc roof and sporting 10-foot high ceilings and oversized windows, the six-floor €1m property’s central feature is a brick staircase and stairwell decorated in graffiti by local artists. Open-plan living spaces on the top three levels allow for ‘design and create’ entertaining, working and sleeping areas. “It’s an innovative project,” says local agent Abigail Cherrier, “but it’s also a renovation style that’s in tune with residents’ way of life-the whole idea being to allow owners to entertain, to conduct business and to relax at home, optimizing the popular live-work concept.”

Simple structural changes have also made a difference; replacing 4 by 4 posts with cast iron ones to retain a semi-industrial feel. Recessed display cases in the lounge area, (previously a small wall), have been seized by the developer as an opportunity for display. Polished wooden floors complete the minimalist look, with sliding doors, exposed brick, and wooden beams creating a functional, low-key atmosphere.

Renowned for his talking point residences in Ibiza, Switzerland and Gran Canaria, Brussels-based architect Marc Corbiau is also blazing a contemporary trail closer to home, with award winning projects such as Le Grey in Avenue Louise. One of his most recent ventures in collaboration with real estate company Beaufort House, is Residence Downtown, an eight-storey urban integration jewel comprising 40 deluxe two-bed apartments. The architecture inside as well as outside is a pleasure to look at, with its subtle blend of sunlight and straight lines. “Everything has been designed for personal comfort,” explains property agent Philippe Weidner, “without neglecting the private character of each apartment, from natural stone floors to large picture windows providing access to the terraces. Each apartment has fully fitted designer kitchen and bathrooms, with air conditioning throughout and a meticulous and adapted decoration to accommodate custom appliances.” A first also for downtown residential community projects in the area is a communal roof terrace with panoramic city views.

Five minutes from the Grande Place, developers Trevi Immobilier Neuf are bringing their own brand of turnkey simplicity to the district, transforming four original warehouse buildings into trendy, style conscious units. Their delicious Charles Rogier Building project comprises a limited edition collection of 28 apartments with high ceilings, studio apartments starting from £160,000 rising to £250,000 for a three-bed. Says Cherrier: “Contemporary designs are thought-provoking, and that’s a good thing. A formulaic approach can kill property values-something investors won’t have to concern themselves here.”