A Belgian Architect's Courtyard House Offers Work/Life Balance

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By Michele Koh Morollo
This square, wood-clad residence on the outskirts of Genk is arranged around a serene courtyard that bathes the interiors with light.

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. 

Several square perforations of varied sizes along the wooden facade serve as windows.

Several square perforations of varied sizes along the wooden facade serve as windows.

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 courtyard allows light to penetrate deep into the room.

The courtyard allows light to penetrate deep into the room.

"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. 

In the summer months, a grapevine in the courtyard provides shade.<br>

In the summer months, a grapevine in the courtyard provides shade.

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. 

Like the windows, the front door is also a square to extend the motif.

Like the windows, the front door is also a square to extend the motif.

"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. 

A Noguchi coffee table is a focal point in the living lounge.

A Noguchi coffee table is a focal point in the living lounge.

An aerial view reveals that the entire roof slopes down and inward towards the courtyard. 

The courtyard connects to all the zones in the house.

The courtyard connects to all the zones in the house.

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. 

A completely glazed inner courtyard ensures that the home is flooded with light.

A completely glazed inner courtyard ensures that the home is flooded with light.

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. 

A traditional Japanese tatami room.

A traditional Japanese tatami room.

One of the rooms is a modern update to the traditional Japanese tatami room featuring furniture designed by Geraets' father, Robert.

A black planter with ferns separates the living lounge from the dining area.

A black planter with ferns separates the living lounge from the dining area.

A plant in the middle of the courtyard creates a contemplative mood.

A plant in the middle of the courtyard creates a contemplative mood.

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. 

A black LC4 chaise lounge from Cassina is paired with an Eames storage shelf from Herman Miller.

A black LC4 chaise lounge from Cassina is paired with an Eames storage shelf from Herman Miller.

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. 

The study area has built-in shelves and a Joyn Conference Bench by Vitra.

The study area has built-in shelves and a Joyn Conference Bench by Vitra.

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. 

A black Arne Jacobsen Series 07 chair from Fritz Hansen is arranged with an Eames storage shelf from Vitra and white Eames DAX plastic armchairs.

A black Arne Jacobsen Series 07 chair from Fritz Hansen is arranged with an Eames storage shelf from Vitra and white Eames DAX plastic armchairs.


Project Credits: 

Architecture, structural engineer, interior and lighting design: Cocoon Architecten 

Builder: HSBB 

Landscape design: Akiko Ambe & Willy Reynders 

Cabinetry design and installation: Romulus|Remus 

Finishings: Scarco