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Publication Date: 2013-04-05

House Tours

​Beyond the Modern Box: A Modern Home in Brussels

Gisela Williams explores a young couple who build a striking house outside Brussels that imbues classic modernist forms with color, wit, and an unconventional attitude toward family life.

Soon after Alix and Bruno Verney moved with their two young sons to Brussels from Paris in 2008, the couple bought a plot of land in the leafy, well-to-do suburb of Uccle. But instead of doing the predictable thing-hiring the same prominent architectural firm that most of their neighbors advised them to call-they enlisted the help of ambitious young Belgian architect Frédéric Haesevoets.

“Every house here has the same light-wood floors, the same kitchens, even the same door handles,” says Alix, who formerly worked in public relations for companies such as Gucci and Saint Laurent and is now expecting their third child.

“We are not afraid to be different,” Bruno, an entrepreneur, adds with a smile. Even from the outside, the Verney house stands out like a woman wearing edgy Alexander Wang among a flock of matrons in classic twin sets.

The front façade is the meeting of two Tetris-like rectangular blocks; one is made of a light-gray treated concrete and the other is an enormous mosaic of darker-gray stone tiles. With its lack of windows or formal entrance, the house looks like an abstract contemporary fortress. But don’t judge this particular house by its cover.

Though there are very few windows at the front, the first thing one notices on entering the narrow, two-story space is the abundant natural light. That’s because the rear façade is filled almost entirely by a wall of windows that look out onto a hedge-lined garden with an expansive lawn, which was designed by noted Belgian landscape architect Erik Dhont.

For the Verneys, letting in light wasn’t only vital to their quality of life-Belgian winters can be long and dark-it was essential for their collection of contemporary art, items from which are found in every room, from the reflective fabric piece by young German artist Daniel Lergon hanging in the living room to the almost life-size Don Brown statue of his wife, Yoko, in the kitchen.

That sculpture holds pride of place in this open space-a long, rectangular room with a polished resin floor and a 13-foot-long white island by Bulthaup-that dominates the ground floor. “This is the room we are in from morning to night,” says Alix.

“From the beginning we knew the kitchen would be the center of the house.” A glass wall between the kitchen and the family room serves double duty, letting in light and creating a seamlessness between the two spaces. The many transparent surfaces effectively allow the eye to circulate from one room to the next. From the family room, for example, one can peek into the formal living room through the sleek two-sided glass fireplace that separates them.

The living room exemplifies Alix’s eclectic style: Chairs by Eileen Gray and Mies van der Rohe surround an India Mahdavi table; a vintage sofa is by Belgian designer Jules Wabbes; an Italian lamp is from the 1960s; and the whimsical side table with legs of metal branches was designed by family friends Jorge Almada and Anne-Marie Midy, founders of the company Casamidy, based in Belgium and Mexico.

As she does in the fashion she wears, Alix swings easily from European vintage to high-style contemporary, often adding organic shapes to soften the modernist hard edges. “I love to mix and match,” she says. “Some new pieces, some vintage pieces, plus a surprising object that one doesn’t see so much.”

In the living room, that unpredictable object is a purple metallic three-dimensional Aldo Chaparro sculpture that hangs purposefully off-center above the fireplace, so that it appears it might take flight at any moment; the classics include a Marcel Breuer leather-and-chrome chair in the family room and Saarinen stools and Tulip chairs in the dining room.

The latter is a semi-secluded space on the ground floor. An intimate square room, with an oval Christophe Delcourt table at its center, the dining room can be closed off from the kitchen and entry hall with sliding doors. Two stunning artworks face each other: a very modern, three-dimensional goth-style piece by Dieter Detzner, made of black reflective acrylic glass, and an Anselm Reyle painting of clashing colored and metallic foil stripes.

“We love to entertain,” says Alix. “We have dinner parties at least two or three times a month.” Although the second floor is more of a private space filled with minimalist bedrooms, spacious baths with glass-enclosed showers, and a corner office that the couple shares, even here there are several jewel-like details, such as the exposed metal beam under the sky roof, an Yves Klein–blue wall at the top of the stairs, and retro-patterned David Hicks carpet in the walk-in closet. All of these illustrate Alix’s fascination with “dressing up” surfaces with original details. That might also explain her obsession with accessories.

“I probably have about 400 bags and 400 pairs of shoes,” she says sheepishly. Many of her accessories are kept in a custom-made, chest-high ebony box filled with drawers that stands like an enormous jewelry box in the center of the room.

"Happy wife, happy life," Bruno says with a smile.

Article by Gisela Williams. Produced by Anita Sarsidi. Photography by Richard Powers.

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