Hospitality between ancient walls
Joost Despriet Anseeuw & Despriet
The Atrium5 bed & breakfast establishment is perhaps better known to locals as De Oude Kapel, or « the old chapel », due to its former function as part of the Bethanië Convent located in the old town centre of Mechelen near Antwerp. Within the austere stone and brick architectural surroundings, it’s almost a shock to come across these two large studio apartments whose sober design would not be out of place in a high-level international hotel. But here the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, specially designed for a quiet, relaxing break. The remodelling work led by architect Lieven De Wachter had two main goals: to enhance the historic building through a conservative exterior restoration project and to create spaces and functions ideal for new living requirements within a structure originally intended for an entirely different use. A key feature of the concept was the decision to maintain the original mediaeval stone of the exterior while creating a sense of stylistic continuity inside.
Atrium5 offers visitors two spacious studios, each extending over an area of more than 50 square metres, complete with fully-equipped kitchenette, bedroom and living space separated by a sliding door, and a bathroom with shower. One also has a private terrace. Both studios display the distinctive features of Northern European interior design, based on simple elegance and functionality. The sparse, linear furnishings express a rigour and sense of measure that is in keeping with their former monastic vocation. The studios feature discreet decorative accents such as striped armchairs, soft rugs, and paintings above the beds that provide the only relief from totally bare walls. A major contribution to the calm, relaxing atmosphere comes from the neutral colour palette with a predominance of brown and grey tones. The colour grey is featured in the Infinity Stone series porcelain floor tiles from Garfloor (in sizes 60×60 cm and 30×60 cm), which due to their natural surface and tones provide a perfect connection with the mediaeval stone on the outside of the building in a play of visual and material continuity in which technology creates a link between the present and the past. The same material is also used for the bathroom, furnished with minimal essentiality that is enhanced by the continuity between the ceramic floor and wall tiling.
But there are no religious allusions here, no hints of the use of total white as a metaphor for purity or as a false show of poverty. The architect has resisted the temptation to create a simplistic and rhetorical design suggested by the unique features of the site. This location in the heart of Flanders is firmly anchored in the present while showing respect to its past roots.