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Urban Indoor-Outdoor Living: A Young Couple’s Redesign of a “Charmless” Row House in Ghent

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Urban Indoor-Outdoor Living: A Young Couple’s Redesign of a “Charmless” Row House in Ghent

June 17, 2024

Architects are known for taking forever when it comes to finishing their own places. Not so Arthur Verraes of Atelier Avondzon. With his partner, Kelly Desmet, a corporate lawyer, he tackled a total makeover of a moldering row house in Ghent that had been sitting on the market for months.

The couple worked steadily for three years taking on an impressive amount of the tasks themselves: laying brick walls, building cupboards, and tiling baths. But completion happened thanks to a helpful deadline: the impending arrival of their son, Lou.

Overhauling their previous place, an apartment in Brussels, gave Arthur and Kelly the courage to take on a needy house. The two welcomed the opportunity to build: in addition to creating a loft-style living area, they turned the wrecked attic into a full third floor. And to plant: Kelly discovered gardening during the pandemic and introduced greenery indoors and out.

Join us for a tour—and stay tuned: we’ll be exploring Kelly’s container gardens and green roof on Gardenista.

Photography by Tim Van de Velde, courtesy of Atelier Avondzon.

&#8\2\20;it was a charmless late \19th century terrace house with a rotten  17
Above: “It was a charmless late 19th century terrace house with a rotten roof,” says Arthur. The couple preserved its glazed white brick cladding (scroll to the end to see the façade and a few rooms as they were). The green-glazed plinth tiles inspired the use of green on the new windows, garage door, and gutter.
arthur and the family&#8\2\17;s irish terrier, rudi. before the couple move 18
Above: Arthur and the family’s Irish terrier, Rudi. Before the couple moved in, there was no nature in sight. Now there are plants growing indoors and out: here, wisteria climbs around the entry.
the exterior required the most work:  &#8\2\20;we only kept the street 19
Above: The exterior required the most work:  “We only kept the street façade and the structure of the floors,” says Arthur. The concrete steps lead up to a green roof.
arthur and kelly, both 3\1, worked on the house throughout the first years of t 20
Above: Arthur and Kelly, both 31, worked on the house throughout the first years of the pandemic. Arthur trained as a civil engineer architect and this project gave him firsthand building experience. Kelly discovered her passion for landscape design.

The Living Area/Kitchen

the living floor—one flight up from the garage—had been divided i 21
Above: The living floor—one flight up from the garage—had been divided into a trio of rooms. Arthur opened it up by inserting steel beams. Birch plywood partitions, here in front of the stair, appear on every floor, and there’s now under-floor heating (and a heat pump on the roof). The Pillow Sofa is a Muller Van Severin design for Kassl Editions.
&#8\2\20;we deliberately left the brickwork visible but finished it with a  22
Above: “We deliberately left the brickwork visible but finished it with a thin layer of plaster and paint applied with rough brushes,” says Arthur. To support the new roof, they had to first rebrick the party wall shown here, which enabled them to create these built-in shelves and their kitchen cupboard (below).

Kelly found the modernist chair at a flea market. Note the instant plant stand made from concrete blocks.

arthur and kelly built their round dining table themselves. its shade of blue r 23
Above: Arthur and Kelly built their round dining table themselves. Its shade of blue reappears here and there: on the sofa and on their bed.
the birch plywood partition rises in front of the stair, and close to the kitch 24
Above: The birch plywood partition rises in front of the stair, and close to the kitchen, holds storage cupboards and the fridge.
muller van severin&#8\2\17;s wire c cabinet: was &#8\2\20;the first thi 25
Above: Muller Van Severin’s Wire C Cabinet: was “the first thing we bought when we sold our apartment,” says Arthur.
  arthur&#8\2\17;s design for the kitchen was inspired by richard roge 26
Above:  Arthur’s design for the kitchen was inspired by Richard Rogers’ 1969 Rogers House. It was custom made by Bossuyt, a Belgian company specializing in stainless steel components for professional chefs.
kitchen tools hang from a rod in the built in cupboard. the tripod light is ach 27
Above: Kitchen tools hang from a rod in the built-in cupboard. The tripod light is Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s 1954 Luminator Floor Lamp still in production by Flos.
a stove, microwave, and dishwasher are incorporated into the hidden far side of 28
Above: A stove, microwave, and dishwasher are incorporated into the hidden far side of the island.

Downstairs

the tiled front entry is fitted with more built in plywood storage. arthur had  29
Above: The tiled front entry is fitted with more built-in plywood storage. Arthur had the bathroom’s space-saving accordion door made from leftover fabric by a hospital supply company.
the couple&#8\2\17;s bedroom has tall new windows overlooking the garden. 30
Above: The couple’s bedroom has tall new windows overlooking the garden.
the room steps up to a wardrobe, sink, and capsule shower (made of wood finishe 31
Above: The room steps up to a wardrobe, sink, and capsule shower (made of wood finished with, what Arthur describes as, “the same waterproofing polyester used on canoes”).

Upstairs

what had been a tiny ruined attic was rebuilt as a full top floor, with two bed 32
Above: What had been a tiny ruined attic was rebuilt as a full top floor, with two bedrooms (one is currently in use as an office).
&#8\2\20;we chose not to work with a hall and to make the doors ‘inv 33
Above: “We chose not to work with a hall and to make the doors ‘invisible,’ so that the central space can be used optimally as a second living space and playroom,” says Arthur. “By stopping the partitions short of the ceiling, you get light in the morning and evening.”
arthur designed and tiled the upstairs wraparound bath himself using porcelain  34
Above: Arthur designed and tiled the upstairs wraparound bath himself using porcelain stoneware squares from Winckelmans. The wall cabinet is sanded aluminum modeled after Muller Van Severin designs.
the floor opens to a terrace used as an outdoor dining area. the checked dog pi 35
Above: The floor opens to a terrace used as an outdoor dining area. The checked dog pillow is the Fritz Bed from the NYC company Approved by Fritz.

Floor Plans

in addition to the garage, the ground floor houses an entry area, bedroom, wc,  36
Above: In addition to the garage, the ground floor houses an entry area, bedroom, WC, and laundry,
the living area and kitchen are now one big room that overlooks a green roof in 37
Above: The living area and kitchen are now one big room that overlooks a green roof in the back of the house.

the new third floor is designed courtyard style around a main living/play area. 38
Above: The new third floor is designed courtyard-style around a main living/play area.

Before

the house dates to the late \19th century and haas been updated over the years& 39
Above: The house dates to the late 19th century and haas been updated over the years—Arthur says the glazed brick on the façade likely “happened sometime in the 1970s.” The mansard roof was entirely replaced.
a look at the conditions as they were. asbestos was everywhere including under  40
Above: A look at the conditions as they were. Asbestos was everywhere including under the linoleum and behind the wallpaper.
the existing eat in kitchen. 41
Above: The existing eat-in kitchen.

We recently featured a Colorful 1951 Willy Van der Meeren Kitchen in Brussels that Atelier Avodzon masterfully updated.

Another young couple’s impressive own home:

Izat Arundell’s DIY Design and Build Stone House in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides

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