BRUSSELS – A small yet ambitious project sees an existing family home divided into two self-sufficient dwellings behind a typical Belgian terraced-house façade. Architects Edouard Brunet and François Martens worked together on the renovation which, from the street, conceals the great transformation that has taken place. Only visible from the back of the building, the crowning glory of the project is a contemporary cantilever jutting out of the existing fabric.

To protect the residential architectural heritage, minimal changes were made to the front of the house. In agreement that the rear facade was lacking significant heritage, the architects utilised this area by removing the rear part of the roof to create a cantilever – incorporating a terrace – that extends out over the garden. This contemporary intervention distinguishes itself from the existing building, with full-height windows that offer views of the city skyline, while direct views onto neighbouring houses were avoided, granting privacy.

An upside-down approach was taken in the upper apartment; an open-plan living area and kitchen are situated on the top floor, with the bedrooms and bathrooms located on the floor below. This arrangement was chosen for two crucial reasons, the first of which was to reduce noise transfer between the two households, by placing the bedrooms together and separating the living spaces. The second reason relates to the fact that the living space could have direct access to the terrace, making the most of the views, whilst also permitting daylight to enter into the far depths of the most used area of the apartment.

Making the most of the upper level space, all the existing walls were removed and a mezzanine added, allowing the overall attic volume to be seen. The architects coordinated all necessary functions, such as the toilets and stairs, into one single piece of ‘furniture’, which runs both horizontally and vertically through the upper two storeys. The integration of all functions into one continuous form was shaped by the desire to maximise the use of space throughout the entire apartment, a notion established in Japanese and Dutch architecture. A birchwood finish wraps the furniture for a fresh, unified design, adding a warmth to the otherwise minimalist interior.

Minor modifications were made to the lower part of the house. To make the dwellings independent, a new staircase was added. Situated in the living space on ground level and running up to the first floor, the new staircase provides access across the levels of the lower apartment, allowing the existing staircase at the rear of the building, to be used as private access to the upper floors. Carefully drawn and crafted, the suspended staircase is in touch with the contemporary transformation of the top floors, whilst still fulfilling its own identity. Appearing weightless, the rigid, iron stairs concertina down into the living space stopping in mid-air, three final steps integrated into a bamboo furniture unit complete the design. With an articulate attention to detail, the staircase enhances the aesthetic quality of the whole room.

Photos courtesy of Studio Dennis De Smet

Mark #58 jumps to Japan where we take a look at how Jun Igarashi makes the most of small spaces. Find your copy in the Frame store.