A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

van Buuren House, Brussels, Belgium, and other Belgian buildings

Van Buuren House

 

Okay, it’s been a while… But I moved, and changed jobs, and have done other things, so my diligence with the blog has slid a little.  But at least you haven’t waited for naught, because Belgium has some serious architecture. Unfortunately, it’s not always open. I trekked it to Villa Empain, the Art Deco masterpiece I had planned to see, to find it closed. So I got my kicks elsewhere.

 

This is as much as I got to see of Villa Empain. Thanks for the 'Open every day* *Except Monday' sign, guys!

 

Thankfully, the van Buuren Museum was open – another place that puts Bruxelles’ design nous on display. The house’s exteriors characterise the Amsterdam school of architecture, while the interiors are pure Art Deco goodness (the dining room had me swooning). The house was bought by a banker and his wife in the 1920s, who dubbed it a ‘private memory house’ and put it on public display upon their passing in the ’70s. It has an accompanying Alice in Wonderland-esque garden, too, if that’s your kind of thing (incidentally, the owner’s name was Alice van Buuren…).

 

I, of course, lost the accompanying notes discussing the house, which is a shrine to modernist design and serious art collection (various works by the Masters were donated by the van Buurens to museums worldwide). But the pictures are what you’re keen to see, right?

 

 

 

The garden is a pretty serious creation. Part Art Deco rose garden, part English picturesque, it has a real life maze, which, as you can imagine, amused this child. It now covers about 1.2 ha worth of land. The rose garden (which was apparently used for garden parties. I’d like a rose garden for my parties, thanks) was established prior to the house being built, and was designed by Jules Buyssens.  The picturesque garden, meanwhile, is accented by Japanese maple trees, a Japanese wild lemon tree (‘thorns of Christ’), and a wild Chinese apple tree.

 

 

Rene Pechere (my, what a French name you have!) designed the maze in 1968. It was created to mark the occasion of the Israeli Ambassador’s departure.

 

Whereas Berlin was all post-communist urbanism smashed up against grand old pre-war structures, Brussels was defined by being straight-up pretty, like a miniature Paris. It had an alternative vibe, but a safe one, and one of its quirkiest features was the odd piece of colourful street art that’d pop up around the place. Some of my favourite residential spots from roaming around the city are below.

 

 

The pink house!

 

The Cube House, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 

I’m excited about writing this post because it’s on The Cube House (‘Kubuswoningen’), a post-war piece of dynamite architecture by Piet Blom that is just perfectly weird. It’s an important piece of Netherlands’ rebuilding after WW2, and it reminds me of my time in Rotterdam – so, hey, wins all round.

 

 

The Cube House is part of a housing project in Oude Haven. The point was that Rotterdam has essentially been flattened in the war, and Blom wanted to construct a style of housing that had resonance and purpose. The Cube House was part of that framework, as was the neighbouring set of apartment blocks (pictured below). The apartments each had a balcony overlooking the harbour, and the area was designed with outdoor cafes and bars facing the sun in order to create a Mediterranean, outdoor summer livin’ vibe. This seemed to be working even when I was there, as there were plenty of people out on their balconies and down at the restaurants enjoying a drink. I, on the other hand, was freezing, so perhaps the design wouldn’t suit someone with my intense sensitivity towards temperatures under 22 degrees celcius.

 

 

 

Due to its past, Rotterdam doesn’t boast the pretty, seventeenth century consistency of Amsterdam. It prides itself instead on divisive contemporary architecture. Some of it is confronting (because you don’t see it anywhere else, and that usually gives people pause), but it’s always worth looking at. It should be noted that Rotterdam still has pretty pockets of beautiful old houses lined up near the water, so it hasn’t lost all its old charm.

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

I journeyed to Europe recently. And the architecture there is bangin’. Pretty much all of my travel photos are of buildings (surprise, surprise) – and here they are, for your viewing pleasure. I hit up Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin and Brussels, and will be featuring a post on each, so hopefully you’re keen to scope out some more international posts. One of the defining aspects of Amsterdam is the fact that it boasts both seventeenth century and contemporary architecture of significance – it’s a place where design is cared about and preserved, especially given it’s such a tourist draw. Some of its prominent buildings were listed in the Arch Daily article I linked to in the previous sentence (and I’ve featured some of those here), but I loved the fact that every street was pretty in Amsterdam.

 

 

Buildings that are rare/non-existent in Australia (centuries old, grand, stately) are ubiquitous in Amsterdam, which was my first stop. It’s all pretty buildings and canals (developed in the 17th century) and bicycles. … And ‘coffee shops’. And windmills! The streets in Centrum and the surrounding inner-city neighbourhoods like Jordaan and Westerpark are lined with storeys-tall terraces. Interestingly, when I got the chance to peer in one (like the stalker I am), I noticed (and this is obviously anecdotal) that the Dutch appear to put a significant amount of effort into interior design, which warms the cockles of my heart.

 

 

Now, while I was there, I inevitably thought to myself ‘I wonder how much a place here goes for…?’ Bit dated now, but the New York Times did a nifty (very well titled!) article on house hunting in the city mid-last year. Here you go. Some quick points – difficult to buy a house (rather than an apartment), the ones that are available are dear/exclusive, it’s fairly reasonably priced for a European city with stagnating values of late, and prices vary from $200k – $6m+. Parking is a rare commodity…coming from Sydney’s inner-east, I can only empathise.

 

 

 

The metro.

 

Metro.

 

I'm not totally sure what this is…but I liked it.

 

 

ARCAM.

 

I also visited Rembrandt House, which was constructed at the beginning of the seventeenth century and is now kind of anachronistic as it sits on what appeared to be one of Amsterdam’s most updated/modern inner-city streets. But no matter, it’s still cool. Especially the beds (see below). Rembrandt was, of course, in case anyone needs the background, a Dutch painter considered one of the ‘greats’. I’m not going to take you through all the details because that link above shares a fair bit of information and, hey, you may want to visit it, but I will say that he ended up losing the house as he couldn’t make the mortgage payments and moving into rented accommodation. Quite a modern type of downfall. He was earning a good living as a successful artist, but the saying is ‘more money, more problems’, right? (I personally find that ‘less money, more problems’ rings true for me, though.)

 

Rembrandt House.

 

Rembrandt House.

 

And I’ll leave you with this one, because I also love (g00d) street art:

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

I am currently in Europe, and given half of what I do when travelling overseas is photograph architecture, I figured I should give you a sneak peek of the posts to come when I return. Among other exciting things, I’ve seen windmills. Windmills! In Holland! Bear in mind that I don’t have my laptop with me for uploading, so the photographs at the moment are iPhone based. I’ll upload my DSLR shots when I return, and hopefully interweave the pictures with some kind of commentary.

 

 

Playground.

 

 

110 Elizabeth Bay Road, Elizabeth Bay

 

Usually I prefer to write about places I hunt out myself, but sometimes one is sent to me that I really like. This is one of those times. It’s a block of apartments up for sale in one of my favourite suburbs (as I’ve noted before), Elizabeth Bay. It’s on the harbour, it’s curvy, it’s strata-titled…All wins.

 

It contains four two-storey apartments, which is pretty contemporary for a block built in the early ’70s, although it sounds like some remodelling may have occurred, and is listed on the Australian Institute of Architects’ register of Significant Architecture in NSW.

 

 

The piece I was sent said it’s being marketed at around the $30 million mark (which figures) by Stuart Cox of Savills, who said “I doubt that an entire block of apartments in this prime location will become available again in my lifetime” and described it as a “trophy asset”.

 

May I please have this view?

 

This little article provides some perspective on the construction. The tower-like build was precipitated by the narrowness of the block (unsurprising in the area). Every floor has harbour views, and there’s basement parking for up to 12 cars, a serious boon in an area in which I have personally driven around for an hour without finding anywhere legal to park my car. It’s been thoroughly updated (as the pictures demonstrate) - both in terms of the individual apartments and the common areas – so the primary question is what the purchaser will do with the block. It’s an intriguing proposition.