Architects Bram Seghers and Inge Buyse of Buyse Seghers Architects were charmed at first site as soon as they laid eyes on their now home, a 17th Century abandoned ruin of a once-grand manor house. Today the historic home breathes new life after a reconfigured sense of proportion due to the opening up of internal rooms and the addition of new views from within. We spoke to them recently about the history of their home and the recent restoration undertaken.
How long have you lived here?
We moved in in 2011 but the house itself was really finished in 2012.
Tell us about how you found the property and what made you decide to undertake the renovation?
We first saw the property on a summer bike ride and we were charmed by the desolate ruin and overgrown garden. Although it was not for sale and the house didn’t look like it could be made habitable again we did imagine and dream of what it would be like to live there.
At that time we rented the first floor of a large castle nearby and were already thinking about buying a sizable property and maybe setting up a plan with different layouts that could house two or more generations or functions. Thus we were actively searching for a large house with a large garden preferably in the city centre of Ghent, without success.
A year later we saw a newspaper ad noting that the site came on sale for an excessive price. Anyway we contacted the owners and visited multiple times, already drawing first designs and calculating expenses. We now know that the interest of most other possible buyers (some of them we are building for today) faded when they saw the state that the property was in. It took a year longer to negotiate a correct value with the sellers…
What can you tell us about the history of the house?
We studied the history of the house quite extensively and the site was already noted on the ‘Ferraris Maps’ which were drawn up in the period of the Austrian Netherlands (this is the period in which Austria/the Habsburg Monarchy was in control of the Southern Netherlands, modern Belgium, from 1714 until 1794).
What is specific about the history of the house is that it developed organically meaning that is was not built ‘at once’ but started as a 2 story ‘tower’ (now our kitchen with vaulted ceiling and bathroom above) which was continuously altered and expanded over time. The different phases can still be read in the exterior brickwork which we lime-washed on the side and back facade.
The initial plan of the house had a strong division of front and back rooms. The front rooms were south orientated and did not have views on the mirror pond and woods behind the house. The rooms in the back had beautiful views but were north orientated and rather dark and cold.
By creating new openings we connected front and back facades opening up views and bringing light in all rooms. At the same time we developed a multi-functional plan enabling different layouts and uses in time. Doing this we gave the house a certain flexibility which ensure its future existence. The house can be divided into separate living quarters or can for instance be used as a house with an adjacent office.
Far from a modernist attitude, we aim for light and proportion more than for a contrast between what is added and what is existent.
What do you love most about living here?
Of course we love the house as we renovated, altered and rebuilt it with much care but we love the trees in our garden the most. A house can be built and delicate space can be made in reasonable time but trees take generations to grow. The old Catalpa, Ginkgo Biloba, Copper and green Beeches, Tulip tree, Cedrus libani – amongst others – are always present. As they surround the house they filter the light and moving shades of leaves and sun are projected on our interior walls. The light changing from season to season but also from room to room and floor to floor.
How did you choose the colour palette for the floor and wall coverings?
We mostly start from choosing and applying materials and afterwards add matching colours. You can have an idea of a colour beforehand but it always has to be tested on site as colours differ by their surroundings, at different times of the day.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Frederik Vercruysse
Why did you choose to work with Frederik Vercruysse on the photo collaboration?
When we had just moved in our house we thought about having photos taken. We had images in mind with a one point perspective showing proportion which is of essence in our work. At the same time we felt that we needed somebody who had a shared affection for detail.
When we saw Frederik’s work ‘Compositions’ we were taken by the delicate photography and sense of proportion and detail in his images. At that moment we felt Frederik was the right photographer to work with.