James Bond and the Woodland Stone
On the outskirts of Antwerp stands a solitary house with an astonishing ability to adapt itself to the surrounding nature and the changing seasons. Today, we are paying a visit to a place with distinct undertones of James Bond.
For some minutes now, the bulky SUV tyres have been kicking up pebbles left and right. Leading away from Antwerp, the gently curving, single-lane and only occasionally tarmacked road heads into mixed woodland which would be an almost unsurpassable picture of rugged romantic beauty even without the billowing clouds of mist surrounding it.
James Bond and Blofeld await
Our destination: the newly built “Bras House”. It is a solitary house that has already spawned as many stories as an ancient farmstead. Local people claim that it has been camouflaged so that it cannot be seen from the air. And that only a small part of it can be seen, the vast bulk being hidden beneath a dark lake.
In short, we feel like James Bond, readying ourselves for Stavro Blofeld’s secret bunker base and half expecting to see a Moonraker launch pad directly under the lake. You should never pay too much attention to rumours…
The sleeping crocodile
…however, as we realize at that moment, it always makes sense to check them out. In the seasonally soft light of the low-sitting sun, the trees give way to a clear view of the house we are looking for. And yes, there is a near-black pond lurking in the foreground.
This pond reflects the façade of a long building that lurks like a sleeping crocodile on the water’s edge. The two-storey window front is like a wide-open mouth – ready to devour any visitors. And to receive us. To tell us its story.
It must be said that, when building this villa, Belgian star architect Dirk De Meyer did in fact try to render it invisible. Albeit for entirely different reasons than rumoured. As Dirk De Meyer explains: “Rather than planting a foreign body in the idyllic forest, we wanted something that would integrate itself as much as possible.”
The Woodland Stone
This was not so simple, given that the house covers an area of 190 square metres. Although the solution was ultimately nothing special from a design perspective, its effect was nonetheless spectacular. Three different types of shell limestone slabs were alternated on the façade: in this way, the house front imitates the play of light breaking through the leafy trees. And the building resembles a giant rock that has held sway there from time immemorial.
Incidentally, to complete the integration of the building into the forest, the DDM Architectuur team made another surprising move: the building was designed with the prevailing seasons in mind. Dirk De Meyer: “The meander-shaped floor plan lets in the same amount of daylight regardless of season or time of day and, at the same time, allows an unobstructed view of the garden.”
Although this explains the camouflage gossip, we haven’t seen a trace of the alleged underwater paradise so far. However, all becomes clear just a few steps later when a ramp cuts the water in two and then disappears below the surface in the middle of the pond.
But this leads directly to the garage which, together with a few basement rooms, is located beneath the house and not under the pond after all. Far more exciting than the alleged Moonraker base are the areas that can now be reached through the garage by an elevator – the living quarters!
The inside of the house is divided up into three areas, each with its own distinct characteristics. However, owing to the lack of pillars – replaced by intelligent truss systems – they all have a similar hall-like look. First of all, though, we come to the fitness and wellness area. A sauna and a long swimming pool with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that permits a view into the garden and conjures up the feeling of being in a spa deep within the woodland.
Music for the eyes
In the second part of the house, there is a large living room, with a stand-alone kitchen looking down on it. Decked out for the most part in dark shades, the kitchen and its black, boxy design form a contrast with the lighter shades of the ceiling and floor.
The third area is clearly the centrepiece of the striking building: a music room with a glass wall offering a calming view of the garden, while the opposite wall is covered with a dark larch veneer. Inside the house, the larch veneer wall gently brings out the aesthetic line of the house’s exterior.
And while we are standing in this impressive room admiring, through the huge window, the dark house’s reflection in the pond, it suddenly hits us: we are standing right in the middle of the sleeping crocodile’s enormous mouth. It has swallowed us whole yet we have no desire to escape.
The gigantic woodland stone has had us under its spell all along.
Text: Johannes Stühlinger
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe