Yves Plançon, a French property developer who calls himself a ‘collector of houses’, was looking for a house in Brussels when he came across Villa Gaverzicht for sale in the province of Waregem, east of the Belgian capital. “When I discovered this place, I didn’t hesitate for a second,” he says.
Built by a little-known Belgian architect named Gentiel Van Eeckhoutte in 1939, the house stood empty for three years after his widow passed away in her 90s. “I can understand why she lived here so long. It is a very comfortable place to grow old,” says Plançon. Indeed, with all those semicircular shapes, balustrades and round windows that mimic a ship’s portholes, it looks like a luxury barge.
“For a year I read a lot about the architecture of the interwar period”, says Plançon, “and only then did I start with the restoration.”
He was lucky too. Villa Gaverzicht was virtually intact. “The house has been on the monument list since 2009. The Cubex kitchen, the luxurious bathroom with marbrite tiles, the monumental staircase and the stained glass windows: almost everything still looks as it did in 1939 when it was finished,” he says.
Strangely enough, the interior had been preserved thanks to the bad taste of the widow’s new partner. He put a terrible floor over the original floor, saving the beautiful tiles. Ugly wallpaper covered the original paint on the walls. The aluminum and plastic doors were replaced by copies of the original doors. Little had disappeared. And what was missing was reconstructed, based on the original plans.”
Plançon discovered an enormous number of original drawings and blueprints for Villa Gaverzicht in the basement of the house. The archive also contained plans for Van Eeckhoutte’s other projects in Flanders, on the Belgian coast and on the French coast. “I even discovered plans for funerary monuments, barns and farm machinery that no one knew about. While studying the plans, I understood that Villa Gaverzicht was his masterpiece. It was the house where he showed his skills in the most advanced way. This villa even had central heating and a luxurious bathroom, quite rare for the time.”
When you enter the house you feel like you are walking on a movie set, perfect for a Great Gatsby remake in Belgium. In the glamorous entrance hall, a green glass globe lamp illuminates the original stair ramp, which leads to the bedrooms and a billiard room. The railings and round doorways are a reference to the design of a boat. Almost every detail in the house that you see is original, even the antique furniture, which has been carefully selected by Plançon, together with interior designer Rémy Motte. “I have a huge collection of art deco glass. From the age of 20 I regularly bought art objects at auctions. Every time I see something better that would fit well here, I replace it. Friends or neighbors also give me art deco furniture. They know I want to replicate the atmosphere as faithfully as possible.”
Van Eeckhoutte’s fascination with architect Le Corbusier becomes clear at Villa Gaverzicht. Ocher, blue, orange and green – typical Le Corbusier colors – are a subtle reference used throughout the house. Horizontal windows dominate the rear facades, and the flat roof originally featured a small pool – typical of Corbusier who often added recreational elements to the roofs of his homes. Even the reinforced concrete construction, which allows for an open plan, goes back to the principles of the Swiss-French architect. Plançon designed the geometric garden paths in reference to those of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy.
There are beautiful custom cabinets in the office, where Van Eeckhoutte perfectly integrated his wastebasket, wardrobe and storage system for his plans. But the ultimate eye-catcher is the stained glass window. “What exactly it represents is still a mystery to me,” says Plançon. “But I also see triangles, compasses and a cathedral: elements that could indicate that he was a Freemason.”
The hardest part of the restoration was finding the original materials. “Bakelite switches can still be found, both in black and red. But it is very difficult to find marbrite glass tiles, a Belgian innovation from the glass factories of Verreries de Fauquez,” says Plançon. “In the kitchen a few light yellow tiles are broken. In the upstairs bathroom, the green marbrite is almost intact.”
For lovers of obscure pop, that bathroom might ring a bell: Arbeid Adelt, a Belgian band from the 80s, shot the cover of their album Young Heroes here in 1983. “It’s no coincidence that the lead singer put on his Le Corbusier glasses for the photo?” says Plancon.