Featuring high-end design collaborations and carefully curated pieces, this art-filled neoclassical home in Brussels is both home and gallery for a creative couple who like to share their unique style. CASA VOGUE BRAZIL
It helps if you have an eye for selecting furniture. It also helps if you have a truly magnificent home in which to showcase them. Demonstrating an extraordinary knack for putting together contemporary art and rare pieces furniture within a classical environment, this is the fantasy home of Ike Udechuku and Kathryn Smith - a dynamic design duo who use their home as a gallery. At this house there may not be a price tag on show, but everything within it is for sale.
Curating two exhibitions each year that focus on a particular theme, the idea behind their home-cum-gallery, Ampersand House, is to present the possibilities of how furniture and art can look and work together - all within an architectural space. ‘We want someone to come into the space and feel as if it is a living environment’, explains Kathryn. ‘It’s often difficult to deal with architectural dimensions, so this helps people to understand how to incorporate art and design elements into their own space.’ A place to live, work, and entertain - rather than a showroom or shop - the fact that the pieces are borrowed from top European galleries is almost incidental. First and foremost, this is a home and the couple use it as such. For example, in the dining room, they eat dinner. In the kitchen, they prepare food. But carefully. There are no big dinner parties here. ‘We use the space personally’, says Kathryn. ‘It’s not like we close the door and go upstairs.’
Primarily specialists in mid century design, Kathryn and Ike were both involved in other careers before venturing into the design sphere. ‘We had both been collecting for a very long time, supporting young designers and contemporary artists’, explains Kathryn. Starting as a private interest, the couple now advise clients on singular pieces or entire interior schemes, using their residence to inspire and convey their particular aesthetic. ‘People visit and they may well buy a specific chair but, more than anything, they appreciate the way we put the look together,’ says Ike. ‘They often invite us to their homes and offices to consult on how to create an eclectic personalized look combining the type of pieces we have at home.’
In 2010, the couple moved into the house in the Saint-Gilles district of Brussels immediately attracted to the building’s sweeping double-height entrance. That and the expansive windows and light. ‘Growing up in Australia I have an ingrained need for light’, says Kathryn. ‘That vast blue sky is part of my DNA. With the grand spaces downstairs and more intimate rooms above, the house is also perfectly designed for what we do. It has the classic three rooms in a row, which enables the space to be used in so many different ways.’
This versatile, classical backdrop plays host to all manner of styles. A recent exhibition, Brazilian Modern: Masters of Style, paired masterpieces of mid-century Brazilian furniture with some of the country’s most exciting contemporary art and design. Next on the horizon, is an installation on Scandinavian Art Deco design - Kathryn’s latest style crush. ‘The variety of exhibitions we’ve curated goes beyond what I might select for my private interior, but in doing so, this has developed what I enjoy and appreciate’, explains Kathryn. ‘The experience has broadened the range of things that I love but I also have the luxury of being able to live with things for a while and then move on. Before this exhibition, I had never lived with Brazilian design. They are big robust pieces of furniture, but incredibly comfortable and beautifully made. At the moment, I’m in love with Swedish 30s and 40s design, so we would like to do something that reflects that. It’s a more feminine, delicate design. In all of what we do, there is also the influence of my husband, Ike! We by no means we share the same taste. He prefers a more contemporary, harder-edged style, whereas, I’m for more colour and flourish. We find a very good meeting point at around 1945!’
Kathryn and Ike consider their remarkable rosewood bench by the British architect Richard Seifart one of their favourite pieces in their home - an item that the couple struggle with the idea of parting with. ‘You have the luxury of living with items for a time but this piece has become so much part of the identity of the space’, says Kathryn. ‘I feel very responsible to the artists and designers whose work we show. When you have a personal relationship you not only feel responsible for protecting the furniture but for advocating on their behalf. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that for all the people visiting, nothing has ever been damaged. It’s a self qualifying audience. They are naturally very careful as they love art and design and value the objects. In terms of the older pieces, people often ask why do you let people sit on them. In fact, that’s what they were designed for. They get better with usage. Like a pair of leather shoes or a briefcase, they get better the more they are touched.’