A 19th-Century Mansion Turned Law Office — Then Home


Against the backdrop of the original parquet floor and a marble fireplace in the dining area, a collection of antique glasses, a lamp by Muller Van Severen and a butterfly chair found on the street.

Tobias Harvey

IN EARLY 2016, the Belgian architect David Van Severen and his wife, the Swedish photographer Martina Bjorn, were looking for a larger apartment for themselves and their two young children, when Bjorn came across a curious property. ‘‘It was listed as having zero bedrooms,’’ she recalled recently. This was, it turned out, because the place was not technically an apartment; it had been, most recently, the offices of a law firm. But it was not technically office space, either — it was the bottom three floors of one of the opulent Beaux-Arts style mansions built by wealthy Bruxellois during the late 1800s, in the quiet, forested area south of the city center. Belgium’s architectural conservation laws had been notoriously lax, and so over the decades many of those buildings were demolished or carved up into offices or apartments. But the interiors of this one had somehow survived mostly intact, with ornate stucco moldings, marble fireplaces, wooden paneling, wrought-iron stair rails and parquet floors made in the traditional way, without a single nail. Huge windows on the grand top floor looked out across Avenue Winston Churchill on one side and into a densely wooded garden on the other.

There were drawbacks, not least of which was that one room was only accessible from the building’s main entrance. But Van Severen, 39, is co-founder of one of Belgium’s most dynamic architectural practices, Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen, and Bjorn, 36, studied architecture before she became a photographer — and they were confident they could make it work. And so they bought the property: By Christmas, they had moved in and soon transformed the space into an elegant, comfortable family home that honors the mansion’s architectural history but is also filled with references to Bjorn’s Swedish childhood and with furniture made by Van Severen’s late father, Maarten — an influential designer and collaborator of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas — and by his brother Hannes and sister-in-law Fien Muller, who are also furniture designers and artists.

Light now sweeps through the open-plan top floor, where the footprint of…

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