A Belgian Architect's Courtyard House Offers Work/Life Balance
On the periphery of Genk, Belgium, in the eastern province of Limburg, the 2,800-square-foot, Square House is a respite from the city for architect Peter Geraerts, founder of Genk–based firm Cocoon Architecten, and his Japanese wife.
Geraets and his wife wanted a peaceful home and workspace within the city limits, yet removed from the downtown bustle, so he came up with a concept that would allow for high levels of transparency, openness, and light penetration, while maintaining privacy.
"The way we accomplished this was by seeing the home as a volume around a central inner courtyard. The courtyard allows light to penetrate deep into the rooms, and also provides a natural privacy screen," says Geraerts.
Several square perforations of varied sizes along the wooden facade serve as windows. Though the sizing and placing of these windows seem arbitrary, they were in fact strategically positioned to capture specific outdoor perspectives.
"The volume gives a closed impression on the outside, but once inside, the completely glazed inner courtyard ensures that the home is flooded with light. This courtyard is used as a private patio that’s concealed from the neighbors in the adjacent high-rise building," says Geraets.
An aerial view reveals that the entire roof slopes down and inward towards the courtyard.
This creates high, spacious ceilings along the outer walls of the house that then slant towards the courtyard. From inside, the dipping ceilings add dynamism, drawing the eye across the sunlit outdoor area towards the room on the opposite side.
The connective presence of the courtyard, and the difference in ceiling heights, creates a home where the couple can feel close and connected, but also comfortable in their own private spaces.
One of the rooms is a modern update to the traditional Japanese tatami room featuring furniture designed by Geraets' father, Robert.
Constructed with a wooden frame and cellulose insulation—which result in minimal CO2 emissions—and with mostly natural materials, the house has a small environmental footprint.
Other eco-friendly features include solar panels on the roof and triple-glazed windows. When needed, the home is warmed through a heat pump. In the summer months, a grapevine in the courtyard provides shade.
Furniture items such as a Le Corbusier LC4 chair from Cassini, an Eames storage unit and plastic DAX armchair, a Noguchi coffee table, and Arne Jacobsen Series 07 from Fritz Hansen give the interiors a simple, contemporary look with a contemplative, Japanese mood—and a touch of retro cool.