YesVes Plançon, a French property developer who calls himself a “house collector”, was looking for a house in Brussels when he came across Villa Gaverzicht for sale in the province of Waregem, east of the Belgian capital. “When I discovered this place, I didn’t hesitate for a second,” he says.
The house, built by a little-known Belgian architect named Gentiel Van Eeckhoutte in 1939, had stood empty for three years after his widow died aged 90. “I can understand why she lived here so long. It’s a very comfortable place to grow old,” says Plançon. Indeed, with all these semicircular shapes, balustrades and round windows that imitate the portholes of a ship, it looks like a luxury liner.
“For a year, I read a lot about the architecture of this interwar period,” says Plançon, “and it was only then that I started the restoration.”
He was also lucky. Villa Gaverzicht was virtually intact. “The house has been listed since 2009. The cubex kitchen, the luxurious bathroom with marble tiles, the monumental staircase and the stained glass windows: almost everything looks as it did in 1939 when it was completed,” he says.
“Curiously, the interior had been preserved thanks to the poor taste of the widow’s new companion. He put a terrible floor on the original floor, which saved the beautiful tiles. A lousy wallpaper covered the original paint on the walls. The aluminum and plastic doors have been replaced with copies of the original doors. Little had disappeared. And what was missing was rebuilt, based on the original plans.
Plançon discovered an enormous number of original drawings and plans for the Villa Gaverzicht in the basement of the house. The archive also contained plans for other Van Eeckhoutte projects in Flanders, on the Belgian coast and on the French coast. “I even discovered plans for burial monuments, barns and agricultural machinery that no one knew existed. Studying the plans, I understood that the Villa Gaverzicht was his masterpiece. It was the house where he showed his skills in the most advanced way. This villa even had central heating and a luxurious bathroom, quite rare for the time.
Entering the house feels like walking on a film set, perfect for a Gatsby the magnificent do it again in Belgium. In the glamorous entrance hall, a green glass ball lamp illuminates the original staircase banister, which leads to the bedrooms and a billiard room. Railings and rounded door openings are a reference to boat design. Almost all the details of the house that you see are original, even the period furniture, which was carefully selected by Plançon, in collaboration with the decorator Rémy Motte. “I have a huge collection of art deco glass. Since I was 20, I have regularly bought works of art at auction. Whenever I see something better that would fit here, I replace it. Friends or neighbors also give me art deco furniture. They know that I want to recreate the atmosphere as faithfully as possible.
Van Eeckhoutte’s fascination with the architect Le Corbusier is clear at Villa Gaverzicht. Ochre, blue, orange and green, typical colors of Le Corbusier, are a subtle reference used throughout the house. Horizontal windows dominate the rear facades and the flat roof originally featured a small swimming pool – typical of Le Corbusier who often added recreational features to the roofs of his houses. Even the reinforced concrete construction, which allows an open plan, takes up the principles of the Franco-Swiss architect. Plançon designed the geometric paths of the garden in reference to those of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy.
In the office, there are beautiful custom-made cupboards, where Van Eeckhoutte has perfectly integrated both its waste bin, its cloakroom and its storage system for its plans. But the highlight of the show is the stained glass window. “Exactly what this represents is still a mystery to me,” says Plançon. “But I also see triangles, compasses and a cathedral: elements that could indicate that he was a Freemason.”
The hardest part of the restoration was finding the original materials. “There are still bakelite switches, black and red. But it is very difficult to find marbrite glass tiles, a Belgian innovation from the Verreries de Fauquez glassworks,” explains Plançon. “In the kitchen, a few pale yellow tiles are broken. In the upstairs bathroom, the green marble is almost intact.
For fans of obscure pop, this bathroom might tell you something: Arbeid Adelt, a Belgian group from the 1980s, shot the cover of their album Jonge Helden here in 1983. “It’s no coincidence that the singer put on his Le Corbusier glasses for the photo, is it?” said Plançon.