A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit

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By Amanda Dameron and Dwell / Published by Dwell
The owner of an outdoor furniture company updates a 19th-century farmhouse.

In 2006, Dirk Wynants, owner of the outdoor furniture company Extremis, purchased a circa-1850s farmhouse in Poperinge, a municipality in the Flanders region of Belgium. He spent the next seven years updating it, while staying within the area’s stringent preservation codes. Here, he shares the backstory on the project.

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 1 of 10 - "If you want to respect the old, the contrast should be brutal. I want to be very clear what is old and what is new." —Dirk Wynants

"If you want to respect the old, the contrast should be brutal. I want to be very clear what is old and what is new." —Dirk Wynants

What were you looking for in a family home, back in 2006?

Dirk Wynants: We were living in a small village: 300 people and 6,000 pigs (I’m serious). Our company, Extremis, was based there due to the cheap industrial building we rented, and as long as the children were really young, it was interesting to live just across the street from work. We had all the downsides of living in a small village, but without the views, the privacy, or the quietness. We wanted to find a place with a lot of land for our horses, but which wasn’t far away from a city center—a place where we had everything we needed: a train station, schools, shops, restaurants, a library, sports accommodations, a swimming pool. Now we have all that, in the middle of the countryside but not more than two miles away from the center of this little city. We looked for something like this in all directions, also closer to the seaside. But now we have the advantage of living very close to a big part of my wife’s family as well. The location was perfect, the views fantastic, and the building had not been mismanaged by earlier renovation attempts.     

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 2 of 10 - Wynants lives in the house with his wife, Hilde Louwagie, and their three children. His own circular seating design, Kosmos, is in the kitchen.

Wynants lives in the house with his wife, Hilde Louwagie, and their three children. His own circular seating design, Kosmos, is in the kitchen.

Your renovation of the property took nearly seven years. Did you live in the house during the process? 

 Wynants: The stables were ready before I started renovating the farm, so the horses moved first. For our three children we brought in three old caravans, and put them in a U-shape, with a big artificial grass carpet in the middle, and a big old sofa and a television set. We would watch the news with the horses. 

 It was a test to see if we could manage taking a step back from our luxurious lives, and we succeeded! It was a time never to forget.  

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 3 of 10 - Wynants grew up sailing, and he created the piece to suggest "a moment of togetherness...the way one might gather at the back of the boat, to talk and drink." A side view of the house captures a glimpse of what he calls "the monolith."

Wynants grew up sailing, and he created the piece to suggest "a moment of togetherness...the way one might gather at the back of the boat, to talk and drink." A side view of the house captures a glimpse of what he calls "the monolith."

You’ve said you adapted the whole house for Belgium’s strict regulations. What did this entail? 

 Wynants: The rules are most strict in the Flemish part of Belgium: the maximum ‘living space’ a private building can have here is about 35,300 cubic feet. If you want more space, you have to find a bigger building and renovate, but the maximum size to use as living space in that building still is the same. As our building is more than 70,600 cubic feet, we had to be clever in how we used the spaces that we could not use under the name of ‘living space’ and still use the building’s full potential. A bit over 1,000 square feet can be occupied for office purposes, if you have an independent activity. Four guest rooms for renting to tourists can be included in the existing structure—with no volume restrictions. A terrace under a roof doesn’t count. And then you can use areas as technical space: my prototyping room in the basement cannot be reached directly from outside, for instance.  

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 4 of 10 - "To be able to respect the ‘massiveness’ of the roof, making bigger windows would be wrong, because we would lose the character of the farm," Wynants explains. "Therefore, I was looking for other ways to collect light. At this spot you had the big barn doors at both sides: This is the economical axis of the farm. This I kept, as my own design office is right under this volume. It keeps the sun out, so I have a splendid view when I’m working—I never need sun shades."

"To be able to respect the ‘massiveness’ of the roof, making bigger windows would be wrong, because we would lose the character of the farm," Wynants explains. "Therefore, I was looking for other ways to collect light. At this spot you had the big barn doors at both sides: This is the economical axis of the farm. This I kept, as my own design office is right under this volume. It keeps the sun out, so I have a splendid view when I’m working—I never need sun shades."

A pair of boxes cantilever from two sides of the structure. What structural and historical sensitivities informed these elements?

Wynants: If you want to respect the old, the contrast with the interventions should be brutal. I want it to be very clear what is old and what is new. Inside the volume, we have the kitchen with a small informal dining area. It felt strange to me to put a kitchen in this old building, certainly in the place where the barn was situated. The technology of a modern kitchen could not have a bigger contrast with the old functions. A modern kitchen almost reaches the level of artificial intelligence: Do you know that our stove and fridge are connected to the Internet?! Crazy. In my favorite movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is a black volume that represents a sort of artificial intelligence. This volume came out of space and drilled itself right through our farm. By doing that, one side peeled off and glass became visible. Normally, you are not allowed to extend the existing volume, but they allowed it. There were two non-original side buildings that we took away, and those had the exact volumes of the extensions we added. Also,I told them, ‘If you allow us to do this, we will not touch the rest of the roof.’ They understood this was crucial, and I got the permission. I’ve had to explain this many times to people whose building permits were refused and who didn’t understand why I got permission. A lot of modern architecture here has glass all around, making the house completely transparent. I would love that if we had a better climate, but in Belgium we have a lot of gray, rainy days, and sometimes I prefer to escape from that by hiding in the safety of the old closed roof—cozy and warm, away from the harsh elements. We can sit in the glass bulb—where it feels like we are really outside, no matter how windy or cold it is, to enjoy the landscape.

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 5 of 10 - In one part of the landscape, Wynants placed a Sunball, a circa-1968 piece by Günter Ferdinand Ris and Herbert Selldorf.

In one part of the landscape, Wynants placed a Sunball, a circa-1968 piece by Günter Ferdinand Ris and Herbert Selldorf.

You worked with Govaert & Vanhoutte Architects, but you were involved in the overall design. 

 Wynants: I am an interior architect. That is a real architect, except that I’m not allowed to do the structural work. However, I teach product development, not interior architecture. In my opinion, a good furniture designer is something in-between.  

You teach design at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (SIVA) and you also have a design studio there. Do you enjoy teaching? 

Wynants: Building the curriculum is the biggest challenge—how can you teach creativity to people who are not trained to think for themselves? Most important is not to skip steps: creativity first, then technical and practical skills.  

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 6 of 10 - An open-air terrace off the kitchen features a Marina table and Captain chairs from Extremis.

An open-air terrace off the kitchen features a Marina table and Captain chairs from Extremis.


A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 7 of 10 -  "It’s usable when the weather is not perfect, so we use this area most often," Wynants says.

 "It’s usable when the weather is not perfect, so we use this area most often," Wynants says.

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 8 of 10 - Discreet kitchen storage, which conceals the refrigerator, a wine cooler, the freezer, recycling, and cleaning materials, complements a view of one of the family’s five horses.

Discreet kitchen storage, which conceals the refrigerator, a wine cooler, the freezer, recycling, and cleaning materials, complements a view of one of the family’s five horses.

You installed solar panels, which produce enough energy for a geothermal system. As a result, your house is completely fossil fuel–free. Was this a goal from the beginning? 

 Wynants: I feel guilty about my footprint. Therefore, I want to minimize my impact wherever I can, and keep the maximum quality at the same time.I have a huge house, but we don’t use fossil fuel. I put many products on the market, and I earn a good living with them, but I make them as sustainable as I can. I drive a fast and beautiful car, but it’s fully electric, and the new factory we’ve built is ready to become fossil- fuel–free as well. If those who can afford it don’t do it, who will?   

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 9 of 10 - The house features one master bedroom upstairs, two guest bedrooms, and two separate guest apartments downstairs that Wynants rents out. "Farming has become a very difficult trade. Prices are historically low and agritourism is something invented to give farmers the possibility to have an extra income," says Wynants, who grows hops on his land. "The formula has had huge success; in the last years the tourism capacity of this area has multiplied many times." 

The house features one master bedroom upstairs, two guest bedrooms, and two separate guest apartments downstairs that Wynants rents out. "Farming has become a very difficult trade. Prices are historically low and agritourism is something invented to give farmers the possibility to have an extra income," says Wynants, who grows hops on his land. "The formula has had huge success; in the last years the tourism capacity of this area has multiplied many times." 

Now that the renovation is complete, would you do it again? 

Wynants: It was a very intensive process, and not that easy to combine with all my other activities. I must admit that at certain points I doubted if I would make it to the end—it took so much energy. On the other hand, I need these kinds of projects and challenges; I can’t escape from them. My worst periods are when an important project is brought to a good, successful end, and I can only help myself by starting another one. But still I consider myself a lazy person, who only wants to enjoy life.   

A Kubrick-Esque Farmhouse Kicks Its Fossil Fuel Habit - Photo 10 of 10 - Atop the carport is a Hopper table and shade by Extremis.  

Atop the carport is a Hopper table and shade by Extremis.