A Crumbling Home Is Revived Around a Massive Tree Trunk

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By Lucy Wang
Transformed on a tight budget, a decrepit brick structure in Ghent breathes new life as a treehouse-like abode.

When Belgian musician and artist Jan Vandecasteele bought an old corner house property in Ghent, he saw promise in the building despite its decayed state. 

"The house was completely rotten," says Atelier Vens Vanbelle, the local architecture firm Vandecasteele tapped for the design of the new atelier and home. "A very drastic renovation was needed to make his dream come true."

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The owner uses the ground floor as a studio for art and music.

The owner uses the ground floor as a studio for art and music.

Besides rotten floorboards, the project also had a challenging budget of just 150,000 Euros—half the amount needed for a normal renovation, notes the firm. Yet, the intrepid architects took on the project with gusto and were given "carte blanche" with the design.

Large wood-framed windows flood the interior with natural light while openings in the walls give the home a porous character.

Large wood-framed windows flood the interior with natural light while openings in the walls give the home a porous character.

The view from the kitchen to the living area above and atelier below.

The view from the kitchen to the living area above and atelier below.

Unimpressed by the small existing rooms and decayed interior, the architects completely gutted the multi-story building that originally contained two floors and an attic. The brick façade was restored and the roof was completely replaced.

The nearly 40-foot-long oak tree trunk was craned into place through the roof.

The nearly 40-foot-long oak tree trunk was craned into place through the roof.

The building’s pentagonal plan was reshaped into a series of split-levels that spiral around an unusual choice of a support structure—a nearly 40-foot-tall oak tree trunk.

"The tree was a logical and affordable solution, and it immediately gave the right atmosphere to the new home," explain the architects of the nearly 2,100-square-foot dwelling, named Kartasan House after Vandecasteele’s music group.

The architects gutted the interior and inserted new floors in a spiral formation around the central support of the oak tree trunk.

The architects gutted the interior and inserted new floors in a spiral formation around the central support of the oak tree trunk.

"This led to an open interior space without interior walls in the living areas. The bathroom, kitchen, entrance, and storage/laundry room were compiled in a vertical volume."

"The column had to be affordable and nice to look at," note the architects. "So we bought a tree and put it right in the middle of the building. Between the tree and the facade, we have created new floors which are built in a spiral around the tree. This results in a very dynamic and open space."

"The column had to be affordable and nice to look at," note the architects. "So we bought a tree and put it right in the middle of the building. Between the tree and the facade, we have created new floors which are built in a spiral around the tree. This results in a very dynamic and open space."

Here's a look at the spiraling floors. Note the owner's white cat peering down from above.

Here's a look at the spiraling floors. Note the owner's white cat peering down from above.

The new oak floors are connected by sets of stairs of varying sizes, all of which are also built from oak. The public spaces, including the atelier, are placed on the ground floor, while the private areas are tucked into the upper levels. 

Two bedrooms are located in the attic. 

Two bedrooms are located in the attic. 

A peek inside a mosaic-tiled bathroom with a soaking tub.

A peek inside a mosaic-tiled bathroom with a soaking tub.

"Because the new floors were randomly positioned according to the existing windows, exciting vistas and lighting conditions were created," add the architects.

Above the atelier are the kitchen, dining room, and living room—each placed on a separate floor.

Above the atelier are the kitchen, dining room, and living room—each placed on a separate floor.

The interior brick was painted white and paired with white plaster walls for a clean finish. A large courtyard-facing window was added in the dining room.

The interior brick was painted white and paired with white plaster walls for a clean finish. A large courtyard-facing window was added in the dining room.

In the kitchen, the original unpainted brick can be glimpsed. The floors are polyurethane.

In the kitchen, the original unpainted brick can be glimpsed. The floors are polyurethane.

A view from above down to the ground floor. Safety railings were kept simple so as to not detract from the minimalist aesthetic.

A view from above down to the ground floor. Safety railings were kept simple so as to not detract from the minimalist aesthetic.

In replacing the roof, the architects also added a small viewing deck (not pictured) that overlooks the park in front of the house.

In replacing the roof, the architects also added a small viewing deck (not pictured) that overlooks the park in front of the house.

Kartasan House floor plans and sections

Kartasan House floor plans and sections

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Atelier Vens Vanbelle (@ateliervensvanbelle)