Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen’s Low Countries home is perfectly balanced
A monolithic and modernist house clad in Grandina limestone near Ghent creates a tranquil atmosphere
A drive through the Flemish countryside makes a couple of things very clear. Firstly, the term ‘countryside’ is a bit of a stretch; rapid urbanisation in many formerly rural areas of Flanders has resulted in an increasing division of land into parcels. Secondly, despite the first-glance diversity in residential structures, a definite vernacular regularity soon becomes clear.
Colloquially called ‘fermette-style’, this is a traditional housing type that copies the features of farms past: there’s rusty brown brick, gable roofs laid with clay tiles, and stepped dormer windows. Within this distinctly Flemish context, Vincent Van Duysen’s most recently completed residential project manages both to surprise and feel oddly at home.
During the half-hour drive from Ghent to the small village where the house is located, the landscape morphs from bustling city to ribbon development, and finally into stretches of fields, farms and detached houses interspersed among cobblestone streets. In these picturesque environs, Van Duysen’s tectonic composition of natural white stone appears confidently, yet unobtrusively by the roadside, peeking over a relatively low sliding gate. Made up of various structural volumes, the residence is modernist in its monolithic nature. There’s no visual distinction between the outer walls and the roofs, and there’s no unnecessary ornamentation, either inside or out. In all its simplicity, the residence complements and enhances the flatness of the landscape around it.
‘It’s not a bombastic design; it’s not overly vertical,’ explains Van Duysen. ‘The clients spend a lot of time abroad and travel widely. They came to us asking for a home that’s not typically Belgian, but rather closer in feel to the far-flung destinations they frequent.’ In consultation with the client, Van Duysen settled on a white tone of natural stone for the cladding, and decided to use the roofs’ subtle pitch as a playful reference to the Flemish countryside’s traditional gabled versions.
‘With life’s natural rhythms in mind, we’ve positioned large parts toward the west and placed apertures to face the expansive rural garden,’ he says. Van Duysen’s design also had to accommodate local building regulations that prescribe pitch. ‘In Belgium, a single roof with a 45-degree angle is very typical. We chose to interpret this loosely; the volumes are not symmetrical, which leads to the views outside and the inside axes becoming more interesting.’
As a result, the residence feels airy – a perfect place for rest. When it comes to the interior, that tranquil feel is maintained through the architect’s signature minimal aesthetic. ‘The owners don’t have the need to fill their walls with art,’ says Van Duysen. ‘They prefer a harmonious blank canvas inside as well as out.’
Interestingly, the residence does not have a traditional circulation plan; there’s a lack of hallways. Each spacious room flows straight into the next. Upon entering on the ground level, the kitchen and the office space are immediately to the right, the living room to the left. Apart from a low-slung, sand-coloured Living Divani sofa and a mossy green Martin Eisler chair, the home largely features sparsely placed custom-made furniture by Van Duysen and his team.
Made of solid black walnut, these sculptural pieces are a tribute to George Nakashima, the innovative 20th-century Japanese-American furniture maker. ‘The craftsmanship of those pieces is of huge importance – they have a pristine finish,’ says Van Duysen.
On the upper level, the master bedroom with replace and a magnificent window can be reached through a sizeable anteroom, which functions as a walk-in closet and leads to the master bathroom. Like the rest of the project, a minimalist terrace – sheltered from the wind and also clad in natural stone – provides a calming effect. A water feature next to the living space leads towards a swimming pool and a natural stone-clad poolhouse, which has a kitchenette and shower. A garden pavilion a few steps away houses a large dining table and a collection of ne wines.
From this vantage point, the residence seems like a cubist apparition within the green grass around it, at once rational and real, and refreshingly novel. ‘Through the use of a limited range of natural materials, the house has a seamless feel,’ says Van Duysen. ‘It’s become a gentle and disarming home.’ §