Architect Edouard Pelseneer (1870-1947)
This villa was built by architect Edouard Pelseneer. The planning application dates from 1908, and was officially presented by the father of the architect, Senator Max Lion. The latter had acquired a nice property on this lane that was formerly known as the "Avenue de Longchamps”. This is where, around 1910, (in accordance with Pelseneer’s plans) three houses (Nos 51, 53, and 55) were constructed for his family. The only remaining building is No. 51 and was in fact the architect’s own house from 1911 onward.
The current owner, Theo De Beir, bought the building in December 1998. On March 4, 1999, the building was included on the list of protected monuments and landscapes, by the Brussels-Capital Region. Both the outer walls and the interior are classified.
Edouard Pelseneer (1870-1947) is considered to be one of the best representatives of the Brussels Art Nouveau. Because of his talent, he was appointed to represent Belgium at the international exhibition of ‘Decorative Arts’ in Turin in 1902. In 1895, he built the famous “les Hiboux (Avenue Brugmann 55) House”, whose facade has been protected since 1983. Unfortunately the original interior was destroyed but Pelseneer moved a lot of the furniture, fireplaces and so on to Avenue de Longchamps 51. Shortly thereafter, the refined esthete Fernand Knopff asked Pelseneer to design a house with an attached studio. This building made a name for itself as a genuine example of symbolism and gained recognition throughout Europe. However the Knopff residence was demolished in 1930.
The villa, situated at Churchill Avenue 51 can be regarded as a turning point in the career of Pelseneer. Although the interior of the left side and several details of the facade go back to the formal language of the geometric Art Nouveau, the overall look is a liberal interpretation of the Art and Crafts movement. Integrating the typical cottage style was actually an exceptional visual statement in that time. With the exception of Van De Velde’s “Flower Yard” from 1895, this type of cottage first appeared in Belgium after the First World War. The cottage style was a reaction to modernism, which was regarded as too functionalist.
From an esthetic viewpoint, the facade of the cottage building on Churchill Avenue 51 successfully embraces a composition based on a complex game of volumes. It should also be noted that the complexity of these facades is directly reflected in the layout of the house. Outside and inside are thus coherently joined. The villa holds the only remaining Art Nouveau interior designed by Pelseneer, which contributes to its uniqueness and the importance of the building.
The left has almost all of the furniture intact, including the service rooms (kitchen, storerooms, wardrobes, and so on). The furniture itself is of exceptional quality, capitalizing on the application of polychrome wood, related to theproduction of Gustave Serrurier Bovy. This furniture and most of the doors of the house have retained their hardware in brass, true to the original Art Nouveau style.
Another characteristic feature is the importance attached to the sublime quality of doors and joinery. All woodwork was realized by Henri Pelseneer, a thriving family business. Edouard's father, Henri Pelseneer, was considered one of the most important Art Nouveau furniture makers in Brussels. He produced most of the furniture and doors for another great architect, Victor Horta.
Now isolated between two apartment buildings, this villa is one of the last to testify to the grandeur that once belonged to the prestigious Churchill Avenue. Clearly this is a beautifully preserved building of outstanding quality. The villa is not only a masterpiece of a recognized Art Nouveau architect, but is also a landmark in the Brussels architectural history of that century.
Other achievements of architect Pelseneer to be admired at home and abroad:
- The House “les Hiboux” - Avenue Brugmann 55, Brussels
- The “Royal Atheneum” - Knokke
- “Hôtel de l'Ambassade d'Espagne" - Montoyerstraat 1926, Brussels
- “Le Grand Hôtel” - Saas-Fee (Switzerland)
- “Chalet des Sepioles” - Wimereux (France)
- “Hôtel de la Société et des Sucreries the Raffineries Roumanie “ - Bucharest (Romania)
- among many others
The exterior walls
This villa, placed slightly back from the street, consists of four facade walls and has two stories under varied roofing. The natural slate roof is lit by dormer windows in the north and east. The facades are enlivened by recessed and protruding parts, except for the right (northeast) side which has remained smooth. The facades consist of a substructure in blue rubble, decorated with a thin layer of plaster on the ground floor.
The first floor is treated with latticework made of wooden panels and similar stone. The volumes add picturesque flavor: while some parts are protruding, others are translated in the form of dormer windows, a triangular gable, and sometimes concealed or even conceived as a bay window with gable. Small canopies or awnings extend over the window openings or mark the separation of different levels. Their irregular arrangement contributes to the originality of the facade composition.
The facade has two entrance doors, underneath a coupled impost. The left door is a porch under an awning. The garage on the left was converted around 1956. On this occasion the receding part was rebuilt.
The interior of the villa in Art Nouveau style is preserved intact. It is actually a double house, conceived as an independence for Mr. and Mrs. Pelseneer. The two structures were probably separated to avoid disturbance between business and private life. However both houses had the possibility to communicate on all levels.
The right side was and remains the office side. From the beginning, this area was decorated and furnished in a different style than the main part (east). The offices of Ed. Pelseneer were here. The decorative elements and paneling are entirely painted in white while in the rest, the timber has usually remained visible. The access staircase is in marble, sheltered by an original vault under the staircase and a glass roof. The banister is in wood and wrought iron and form a sort of free interpretation of a more classical vocabulary, although some elements are borrowed from Art Nouveau.
The central section (left - private part), has cleverly exploited the breakdown of the picturesque style of the facades with bow windows and alcoves (e.g. in the rooms and bathroom on the first floor). Upon entering, after the entrance staircase, the ground floor left occupies a series of three consecutive rooms (living rooms and dining) across the entire east side.
On the side running along the street, you will find a small cloakroom and a toilet with a stained glass window with the image of a spider as well as a cabinet and a sofa.
In the center is a large hall decorated with mosaic tiling and a grand staircase.
In the back is a large kitchen with tiled floor and walls. A small side room is fitted with sideboards and a column lift. This side room leads down to the basement through a wooden stairway. The basement itself is tiled throughout and has been furnished with carpentry.
The front parlor (now Theo De Beir’s office) has an incorporated bank in the northeast corner, with a small closet situated above. On the opposite side is a wooden mantelpiece, a sort of cozy corner avant la letter, above which a relief with a female profile commands our attention. The carpentry is finished with fine fluting and a delicate rose motif, typical of the geometric Art Nouveau.
The dining room in the middle, whose ceiling is decorated with interwoven beams, has a fireplace in the inset paneling. The fireplace is situated opposite the window framed with carved wood. The back door with stained glass, depicting a landscape, opens onto the garden. Opposite the alcove, a mantelpiece, also decorated with Art Nouveau woodwork, is adorned with consoles, a newspaper carrier, and so on.
The impressive staircase is covered by a light fixture with circular motifs. The wooden staircase has a clear skeleton structure that was clearly inspired by the early works of Van de Velde and Hankar. The glazed roof issurrounded by a striking wooden structure acting as a vault. On the first floor we find a gallery landing. Here the doors present subtle finishing (e.g. butterfly shape in the corners).
The layout of the main rooms and side rooms on the first floor was determined by their function. The original bathroom has tiled walls executed with white and green geometric patterns. A spacious wardrobe sits next to the bathroom.
The east side was occupied by the living room (with an exceptional Belgian fireplace in the current conference room). A remarkable wooden staircase with balustrade, decorated with the same geometric motifs found in the kitchen cabinets, leads to the top floor.
For the former coverage of Villa Pelseneer, click here.