Where Architects Live | Studio Okami

  • Studio Okami Architect’s founding partner Bram Van Cauter takes est through his renovated Brutalist-style apartment in Antwerp, Belgium.

    This Belgian architect’s home, which he shares with his wife Doris, who is an art collector, and dog señor Peña, is situated on the bend of Antwerp’s Scheldt river, inside an early 1970s Brutalist building. Bram’s studio space is located on the 10th floor of the building, while his home is located on the 13th, offering a unique connection between work and play.

    Studio Okami stripped back the five-bedroom, two-storey interior to create a breathy, single-bedroom loft, connected by a striking blue staircase. Bram’s playful approach to colour, texture and scale sees the Brutalist interior transform into a gallery-like space for him and his small family.

    The home’s stainless steel kitchen island is designed as a sculpture when not in use.

    What drove you to convert this space into your home?

    Bram Van Cauter: The Brutalist character of the building is very strong, and the spaces are so well designed. Almost everybody who visits the building falls in love with it. Being 50 years old, the building has it flaws and quirks, but I strongly believe that good design has the capacity to be appreciated for generations to come. Its location and proximity to the city centre also makes it very attractive.

    What was your inspiration for this project?

    Bram Van Cauter: Brutalism in general and more specifically the work of Juliaan Lampens.

    How do you establish zones for work and relaxation?

    Bram Van Cauter: All spaces in the apartment are strictly for relaxation and leisure. Having the office three floors below is very effective for that, as I think if it were any closer I would have difficulty leaving my work behind.

    The spiral staircase and bridge, welded onsite and painted a powder-blue colour, establish a flow and connection between the lower level with the private spaces upstairs.

    Could you please explain your design approach? 

    Bram Van Cauter: Every imperfection that surfaced during the stripping of the building was preserved. The poetry of these errors adds to the fascinating story that began in 1972 with the design of architects Leon Stynen and Paul De Meyer.

    The dividing walls are made of reclaimed brick, which we cemented. Above the windows are niches that now serve as bookshelves. Furniture, objects and artwork add colour to the grey concrete. The light-blue-painted steel footbridge and spiral staircase is considered a sculptural addition, just like the monolithic stainless steel kitchen block.

    The space is designed to emulate a ‘public hall’; the dining area and kitchen are one elongated space. The bedroom is located above the kitchen, seperate but still connected to the sitting room, office and bathroom. All spaces enjoy an incredible view of the Scheldt. The apartment is beacon of tranquility inside our large and ever-evolving city.

    “The apartment is beacon of tranquility inside our large and ever-evolving city.”

    Pieces from Doris’ impressive art collection are delicately placed throughout the home to cover existing holes and plugs. The rest of her collection are on display in a secondary duplex, acting as a gallery and B&B for friends and family.

    What challenges did you face while completing your home?

    Bram Van Cauter: From the kitchen, bathroom, cabinets and spiral blue staircase, everything in the apartment was made to measure. Remodelling an apartment 45 metres above ground level meant all bespoke furniture needed to fit inside the internal elevator, defining the maximum size of the kitchen island and forcing us to weld and paint the staircase and bridge on site. Open communication with the neighbours and a strict schedule for the execution of the renovation was key.

    What’s your favourite aspect of the project?

    Bram Van Cauter: The bathroom is really a spot to wind down. In almost all my designs you will find a double shower setup. It creates a sense of connection as a couple, going over your day together. It’s a very timid, soft space in the heart of the apartment. While the showers are for the morning, the bathtub is used to relax together, with a glass of wine and some snacks.

    Styden and De Meyer’s brutalist Riverside Tower building is its own neighbourhood, featuring communal spaces such as a washing area, garden and oversized entrance hall for dwellers to interact and coexist.

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