Belgian Brutalism

A concrete castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and a moat-like pond in the Belgian countryside

Belgian fashion retailer Nathalie Vandemoortele acquired this Brutalist-stye house within a week of seeing it for the first time. By her own admission, Vandemoortele has always been susceptible to things she finds beautiful, and contacted the current owners (who were on vacation) to negotiate the home’s purchase.

Nathalie Vandemoortele's Belgian Brutalist Home with Hardoy Butterfly Chairs

Photograph by Frederik Vercruysse.

Designed by Johan Raman and Fritz Schaffrath in 1972, the home's interior was in desperate need of an overhaul. And yet, Vandemoortele was hesitant to renovate. "I think that renovation often goes too far," she explains, "I wanted to keep some of the house's history." Before getting started, she consulted with her architect, Renaud de Poorter, and together they identified features in need of preservation and restoration.

The rooms, garishly decorated by the previous owners, were sufficiently excised, although choice features were preserved or otherwise incorporated into the new design. For instance, the kitchen's original red sinks and black appliances were restored, while a handpainted built-in credenza was left untouched. Of the renovation process, de Poorter explains, "we tried to make our interventions look very natural. We did a lot for the house, and it needed it, but we wanted our touch to be invisible."

A world traveler and naturally gifted curator, Vandemoortele has always had a penchant for furniture foraged from vintage and antique stores. Much of her new home has been filled with pieces she’s accrued over the years. Particularly worthy of note is a pair of vintage Knoll Hardoy Chairs (also known as the "Butterfly Chair" or "BKF Chair") that occupy a permanent position overlooking the moat-like pond.

Nathalie Vandemoortele's Belgian Brutalist Home with Hardoy Butterfly Chairs

Photograph by Frederik Vercruysse.

While the Hardoy Chair is no longer manufactured by Knoll, it remains an iconic classic in Knoll's collection. Having obtained US manufacturing and distribution rights for the chair in 1947, Knoll discontinued production after unsuccessfully pursuing legal action against a flood of replica models introduced in the 1950s. The chair’s immediate popularity is attributable to its low cost and revolutionary impropriety (seeing as its form eshews good posture). Not suprisingly, it has since become a staple among beachgoers, tailgaters, and college students.

Designed and first produced in Buenos Aires, the Hardoy Chair hearkens back to earlier designs including Joseph B. Fenby’s Tripolina Chair, which became a battlefield favorite for its portability. Edgar Kaufmann, who worked at MoMA as a design curator, is responsible for bringing the first two chairs to America; one went to MoMA, the other to Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, which had been recently acquired by Kaufmann’s father.

In idyllic settings, such as rural Beligum or southwestern Pennsylvania, the chair is exceptionally inviting. Cradling its occupant, the Hardoy Chair is ideally suited for relaxation. In the summer, Vandemoortelle spends a lot of her time outdoors with her two children, Merlin and Cesar, which explains the choice of furniture. Summer is her favorite time to be at home, “then this house is the perfect place to be.”

Project Credits:

Design: Renaud De Poorter
Photography: Frederik Vercruysse