Sels Exclusieve Villabouw

A sleek interior fitted into a classic exterior

How to combine the charm of a classic country villa with the comfort of a contemporary interior? Sels Exclusive Villabouw took up that challenge and, in close consultation with the client and interior designer Dieter Vandervelpen, created a home that fused old and new into a unique whole. Thanks to the high degree of connection between the living areas and between the garden and the house, it has become both a beautiful and warm living environment. “The most successful remodel is one in which the house feels cozy the night before you move in.”

The villa that caught the eye of the current owner was more than half a century old and in need of refurbishment, but also stood on a plot of more than 6,000 m2 on the northern edge of Antwerp. “Such beautiful locations are sparse and I also really liked the look of the house,” he says. “So I decided to buy the house and renovate it according to my wishes.” He called on Michael Matheussen, manager of Sels Villabouw in ‘s Gravenwezel, a man he had known for some time, but not from building assignments. “The first thing he asked me was if it was an objection that we are friends,” says Michael Matheussen. “I answered in the negative. Every construction process has tensions – delays, things that go wrong – and I thought that our transparent way of working would not jeopardize the friendship. Practice proved me right.”


The original house had two separate entrances, two staircases and a large number of separate rooms. Combined with many shady trees and a dark interior, this made it a somewhat gloomy affair. Sixty-nine trees were cut down by permit – and sixty-nine new ones were planted, but in no small part along the drive-through, which leads around the house like a causeway all the way to the parking lot and garage. This allows guests to see the entire property and residents to park next to the kitchen, which is especially convenient if you need to unload groceries.

Clean, clear lines

The interior is characterized by clean and clear lines, typical of the 21st century and of Dieter van der Velden, the designer who drew for the interior design and much of the furniture. For example, the dining table in the kitchen includes reclining spots for cutlery made of the exact same marble as the kitchen counter.

Dieter van der Velden also designed the client’s desk, equipped with six corners and a large number of USB connections and outlets neatly concealed in the top. The resident: “He has a very personal style and at the same time is such a great craftsman that he also takes into account the wishes of the client. This house has a sloping roof and partly because of this, a sleek interior had to be fitted into a classic exterior. No sinecure, I can say.”

Monastery Hall

Either way, the garden is always nearby. The client’s office is separated from the lawn only by tall windows and a sliding door. This spills over into flower beds and groves, providing a natural transition from the landscaped to the more natural and wooded part of the garden. Also from the spacious kitchen there is direct access to the covered terrace and even from the other rooms there is always a view of the green surroundings. The choice of light woods, white marble and light-toned furniture also enhanced the open character of the home. “But surely the most important improvement in that area was making sure there were passages and turning many smaller spaces into a limited number of larger ones,” says Michael Matheussen. “This also made room for a house bar, while on the second floor we no longer had to keep the long corridor – a cloister we soon called it – closed off halfway. That corridor now also provides more circulation. You can easily walk throughout the house both upstairs and downstairs.”

One step further

That this challenge was nevertheless brought to such a successful conclusion is due in part to the technique of rendering, or visualizing a plan in photographs, which makes it seem as if the renovation is already complete when it has yet to begin. That gave the client a very detailed and realistic picture of how it would be. At the same time, these images appeared to give reason to deviate from them, even if only in details. Usually these are adjustments to reduce costs, but in this case, the client and architect ended up going a step further than they originally intended. “I think we were able to do this because we didn’t let what was there limit us,” states Michael Matheussen. “Most builders and architects walk through the existing home and necessarily adjust their imagination by what they see, by the walls they literally and figuratively bump into. We don’t do that. The paper has been the starting point for us. Then your mind is freer, you see other possibilities and solutions, and you come to a more beautiful result.”

Though large, not lonely

The result is not only a more beautiful home that better meets living needs, but also a warmer and cozier one. “The danger of a new construction or renovation is that you get saddled with a home that is too big and too lonely, that you get lost in. That is absolutely not the case here. There is a great deal of connection. Residents can stay in different parts of the house and still know that others are there, too. This creates a strong sense of being at home, and from the very first moment you set foot inside.”

Copyright Jaro van Meerten, The Art of Living magazine

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