Thirteen rickety garage boxes with a leaky roof and an allure of illegal dumping: not exactly a show that makes the average home hunter’s heart beat faster. But Lauren Grosenberger and Robin Schaefer saw it as their future family home.
Have you heard about a head and neck trunk farm? You come across this type of ’embodied’ architecture in the Dutch province of Friesland. Call it the perfect typology for working from home: people live in the head, work in the body and neck form the intermediate link. With a little imagination you could call Lauren Grusenmeyer and Ruben Sciffer’s home the urban counterpart to such a farmhouse, because the new building is made up of three different volumes. On the street side is a “Halle” with a coffee shop and yoga studio. Robin is the foodie on duty, Lauren Yogi. A glass “neck” leads from the café to the “Coop”: their family home in the form of an all-glass open plan living space that opens onto the enclosed garden. “It was our dream to combine work, family and life in one place,” says Lauren. Holy Trinity now comes together under the name Home Practice, in the working-class neighborhood of Brugse Poort in Ghent.
It all started three years ago when a couple got the chance to buy a thirteen box plot of land for their garage. Admittedly in tatters. “There was no electricity and it was raining inside.” The boxes were in a narrow side alley, in a dark corner that attracted illegal dumping. But the young couple saw opportunities rather than problems. Lorraine: “We saw the huge potential of the place. But to make sure that we were actually allowed to live here, we first approached the city of Ghent. We learned that boarded-up houses had been standing here in the 1930s, so that the land still had a residential purpose. Moreover, the city was So excited about our plan: to tackle a run-down place by removing its squalor and greening it and to start a neighborhood initiative: our café. But when we submitted our building application a few months later, we got a hood on the nose. They saw our plot of land as part of a larger plan: the side by side. With neighboring barns, this could become a joint venture with a public garden. It faltered, because we had bought the land in the meantime and were not interested in such co-operation. We negotiated and were finally allowed to carry out our plan, just as we wanted it to be.”
This plan came from Felt, an architecture firm in Ghent founded by Jasper Stevens and Karel Verstraeten in 2014. Good move, because their first design was an instant hit. “When we saw their proposal, we said, ‘You have painted our dream.'” We hardly changed anything about the first floor plan. Only the kitchen and sitting area changed places. And upstairs we converted one large bedroom into two small rooms.
Grusenmeyer and Sciffer provided much inspiration for the architects. Pictures of traditional Japanese homes with sliding paper walls, among others, but also Eames House: the famous designer couple’s modern studio home, designed as a modular building block of steel and glass. These two effects will definitely return. Just look at the rhythm of the wood paneling on the wall in the kitchen, yoga studio, and café. The metal of the Eames House did not suit the architects of the working class area, so it became a lightweight brick facade. However, they kept the large glass partitions and the idea of double height spaces at stair height.
When it comes to money, the couple has kept their cool. Lorraine: “We knew very well what we wanted to spend: 2,000 euros max per square metre. This is aggravated by the new building standards. We often had to puzzle and search, but we succeeded.” Among other things, the use of structural materials as a finish. For example, the entire wood frame structure remained visible, just look at the rafters in the ceiling and at the glass wall. The walls were covered with Fermacell, an environmental alternative to plaster. It is usually plastered, but we left it exposed. By providing wood slats on the seams you don’t see that they are all loose boards. In the café we chose wider beams so shelves could be placed on them.”
Robin says they made the most money in the kitchen. “I am a real hobby cook. The kitchen should be large and comfortable, preferably made entirely of stainless steel. The architects drew the kitchen of my dreams, but when we received the quotation, it turned out to be out of our league.” In search of a more affordable alternative, Lauren came across Firmax, a Belgian company that makes kitchens based on Ikea cabinets. “They don’t just sell other facades, they make whole kitchens that you can customize to a reasonable extent. Our Firmax kitchen costs half as much as a custom kitchen. Of course there are also limitations: because of the modular system, you have to make compromises. For example, the cabinet wall does not reach The roof and the rhythm of the doors don’t quite match the beam structure.”
Another big saving is electricity: Robin installed it himself. “Technology matters to me. On top of that, I really wanted home automation and access control for the yoga teachers who come here. Leaving that to a professional was out of our budget,” he says, quickly adding, “I have to admit I totally underestimated it. You have loosened at least six kilometers of flexible pipe. Until I could no longer move my arms and shoulders.” His tireless work has paid off: the yoga studio, where nine other teachers teach besides Lauren, operates completely independently, separate from the family home. Because no matter how wonderful the combination of work, life and family is, It is sometimes gratifying to close that door.
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