When Thomas Ostyn purchased a patch of land on the verdant outskirts of the Belgian city of Bruges, he already had big plans. The third generation of the innovative family behind kitchen brand Obumex, he had extensive experience working with the world’s leading architects, from John Pawson to Joseph Dirand, but for his own home – a family space to share with his wife Julie and their three children – he craved a fresh perspective.
‘I wanted to work with a young and talented architect,’ says Thomas, who envisioned a close collaboration on this most personal of projects.
Brussels-based Nicolas Schuybroek was the ideal man for the job. ‘His architecture is timeless but up-to-date, and he has a very diplomatic and empathetic approach to working with clients,’ explains Thomas. What’s more, Nicolas went to boarding school in the nearby town of Loppem so knew the area well.
The first task for the duo was to decide on the tight edit of materials that makes this build unique. Together, they settled on muschelkalk, a type of sedimentary rock known for its layers of fossils (from German it translates as ‘shell-bearing limestone’), sandblasted aged oak and metal for the interior. Outside, elongated grey bricks lend the building a sleek solidity.
‘For me, a house is a place to relax, so I didn’t want visual excess,’ says Thomas. ‘That’s why we kept the palette simple and consistent.’
The minimalist layout of this home was also carefully considered. ‘It needed to contain and absorb the energy of Thomas’s three young children,’ notes Nicolas, who designed a pavilion-like property with no traditional front or back. Instead, every external element is equally important – whether it be the doorway where the family change out of their dirty shoes after walks in the countryside or the grand entrance that greets guests.
‘The architecture is interesting from all angles,’ adds Thomas.
Inside, the interest continues, with a core living space – kitchen, dining area and living room – acting as an open-plan hub around which family life circulates.
‘So many people only use about 20 to 30 per cent of their houses. They provide their homes with spaces that only come into use for special occasions, like a dinner party,’ says Thomas, who strove instead for a design where no area is wasted.
To this end, much of his property is multifunctional. The main bedroom is also a snug, not just a place to sleep, while the dining room doubles as an office or a bar.
There’s a practicality to Thomas and Nicolas’s vision, but function does not overtake form here. Luxury exudes from every detail, whether it be the statement kitchen – designed by Joseph Dirand as part of Obumex’s ‘Signature’ collection – or the furniture, which includes vintage classics by Pierre Jeanneret and Jorge Zalszupin.
Even when it comes to these prized pieces, though, Thomas’s approach is unshakeably pragmatic. ‘However valuable it may be, a kitchen or a chair is designed to be used. Why would you buy a Ferrari if you can only look at it? My motto is: surround yourself with less stuff, but choose better and enjoy it to the fullest.’ obumex.be; ns-architects.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration June 2021
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