There are many reasons for buying a small house. While cost is commonly cited, for some, an excess of space is simply unnecessary, whether for having fewer personal possessions, a dislike for housekeeping or a desire to minimise one’s environmental impact.
For one couple, a small house meant the opportunity to live in one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in Brussels: Flagey Square.
With thoughtful design, small houses can effectively offer that essential balance between great location and a safe haven in which to relax. However, all too often lack of imagination results in making even a spacious abode feel claustrophobic, as was the case for the City House (as this residence has come to be known). With 180 m2 floor space, including the cellar, it’s definitely compact, but as they say, good things come in small packages.
Rather than seeing the modest dimensions as a restriction, the owners approached it as an opportunity. Well acquainted with Neolith®, they envisioned the cosy dwelling dressed floor to ceiling in Sintered Stone, a chance to explore its aesthetic potential in every room of the house. Minimalists at heart, they set out to prove two propositions: that it’s possible to achieve diverse ends with one medium, and that contemporary materials can be used with traditional builds.
For interior designer Michel Penneman, the City House presented a welcome challenge. Numerous walls marked out tiny spaces with limited dimensions, creating an enclosed, cramped atmosphere.
He was not put off by the size of the humble dwelling, as he explains: “I prefer to have smaller areas to work with, rather than larger houses and apartments. They’re more challenging, so you need to find a creative solution which balances space, aesthetic and budget. I love that complexity.”
Keen to open the rooms up to create longer perspectives and increase the sense of space and light, he imagined the house with fewer walls while maintaining the integrity of the frame.
Early communication with an engineer helped ensure this. Removing the walls which divided the ground floor rooms allowed natural light from the front windows to flood in, emphasising the height of the ceilings and giving the impression of a greater area. A similar approach was taken on the first and second floors to create simple, more open spaces.
Ground Floor Before
Ground Floor After
For Michel, ever-changing moods and the multi-functionality of the modern interior played an important role in the design of the house.
He describes: “In the areas of the house where you live and relax, I prefer to work primarily with clean, neutral colours. Brighter, bolder hues come in as furniture or decorations, which can be easily changed in conjunction with shifting tastes and trends. If you choose worktops or flooring in these colours, however, it’s not so easy.”
A palette of white, grey and black was chosen to provide a serene backdrop, ideal for a range of accent colours.
Light plays a key role in creating a comfortable, airy atmosphere. Modifications to the front door and a kitchen skylight at the back of the ground floor meant natural light could pour in from both ends of the building. An open staircase with large windows brings sunshine to in from higher up. Natural illumination is complemented with carefully selected lighting fixtures, chosen for their visual warmth to create a relaxing domicile.
Floor: Phedra Satin. Walls: Arctic White Silk. Coffee Table: Calacatta Polished. Backsplash: Estatuario Silk
Pristine Arctic White Silk and warm Phedra Satin feature prominently throughout the home on stairs, flooring and walls to reflect light, making every room feel more spacious. Concrete-inspired Beton Silk extends the neutral motif to the utility room with an ultra-modern effect.
Marble designs create elegant focal points throughout the house. In the culinary space, the bold veins of Estatuario Silk reach across the kitchen island and splashback. The more delicate detailing of Calacatta Polished adorns a set of coffee tables. On the first floor, understated Blanco Carrara brings visual interest to the bathroom.
Bright décor is especially brilliant when juxtaposed with darker elements. While Michel tends towards light colours for living spaces, this preference does not extend to the less frequented areas.
He explains: “In rooms where people don’t spend so much time during the day, there’s not such a strong need for bright, neutral tones. It’s an opportunity to create a different atmosphere from the rest of the home, a room with ambience.”
Walls: Krater and Arctic White Silk. Floor: Phedra Silk
In striking contrast to the rest of the house, the comparatively small third floor shower room is perhaps the most dramatic. Almost every surface, from the shower and flooring to the sink and worktop, boasts the bold inky tones of Nero Marquina, punctuated with characteristic white veining.
In the bedroom, a dusky wall of swirling Krater, amidst three of Arctic White, adds intense visual depth to the space.
From cellar to attic, the City House successfully explores the range of possibilities of Neolith in a whole house, transformed from a jumble of confined spaces to an open, trendy home, fit for a contemporary couple.
Michel comments: “Real stone and marble are fragile, difficult to clean and require a special protective coat. After a few years, the product changes colour and is no longer the same as what you started with. In contrast, Sintered Stone is incredibly easy to maintain. A long time from now, this house will look exactly the same. All it needs is cleaning.
“The thinness of the slabs offers possibilities unavailable with natural stone. It’s easy to create furniture and use with doors. Beyond this, Neolith’s colours have an amazing quality, making it nearly impossible to see the difference between real marble and an interpretation.”