A medieval fairytale house in Belgium has become a showcase of eclectic pieces, where everything is for sale.
There are a number of things Jean-Philippe Demeyer can’t abide. The Flemish antique dealer and decorator dislikes strictly period interiors and houses that are too decorated. “Things should look natural, not too perfect,” he insists. Serene rooms make him anxious. He derides anything too trendy and steers clear of anything too serious. “You have to give things a twist,” he insists. He favours mixing pieces from different origins, and is a firm fan of the English country house look. “The English have a very eclectic way of staging things,” he notes. More than anything, he feels that a room should create an impact. “Just as there’s power- dressing, I like ‘power-furnishing’. You need to create a sense of surprise. There’s something of Alice in Wonderland in what I do.” A visit to his house, located 10 minutes from the centre of Bruges in the Flemish region of Belgium, is certainly like stepping into another world. Named Rooigem and surrounded by a moat, the property is believed to have originated in the early 13th century as a hunting lodge for a local noble family. The interiors feature bold juxtapositions, bright colours, geometric motifs and a serious amount of flair. The furnishings are constantly changing as everything is for sale. In fact, the only place out- of-bounds to his clients is the kitchen, where Demeyer spends most of his time. “I don’t really need a house,” he quips. “A bedroom and kitchen would do!” He has also turned the old stables into a fabric showroom and, with his associates Frank ver Elst and Jean-Paul Dewever, produces a small, locally manufactured homewares collection. There are angular-faceted tables made from plaster and Surrealist wall lights based on a model originally created for a hotel in the nearby seaside resort of Knokke-Le-Zoute. Demeyer himself is very much a local. He was born in Bruges and initially studied to become a lawyer. Immediately after his final exam, however, he went to work for the antique dealer Paul de Grande. One of his biggest inspirations was the Tintin comic, The Secret of the Unicorn, which he first read at the age of six. “There’s a drawing where Tintin breaks down a wall in a château and finds himself in a basement filled with lots of antiques all mixed together,” he recounts. “Although I didn’t realise it then, that’s what I always wanted to do.” His first memory of Rooigem dates back to his teens. He had a friend who lived nearby and would often ride past on his moped. “It was completely empty, shrouded in plants like something out of a fairytale,” he remembers. Located on an ancient Roman route, it was actually built on a sand bank. “Whenever the farmers over the road plough their land, seashells come to the surface,” he recounts. Originally, the property consisted of just two rooms, which were added to over the course of several centuries. The most recent structure is the orangery, dating from the 1860s. Demeyer bought Rooigem in 2005 and has changed very little inside. He simply added electricity, gas, heating and water, but otherwise the flooring and most of the fireplaces are original. The exception is the fireplace in the summer sitting room, which was built by him from bricks found on the site. The colour of the first-floor library was inspired by the bright green of the duckweed ››
this page, from top: in the large heraldic room, Chinese 1940s lamps; poplar wood veneer Art Deco-style sideboard; faceted plaster table by Demeyer; artwork by GERHARD HENDRIK GRAUSS. In the office, ‘Metropolis’ sofa and cushions by Demeyer; neo Rococo mirror. opposite page: in the library, Belgian Art Deco armchairs; cushions (in foreground) by Demeyer; painting from 1910.
this page: in the library, papier mâché lamp by JEAN-PHILIPPE DEMEYER. opposite page: in the office, German 1950s ceramic lamp; table by Demeyer painted with a faux malachite finish; artworks include Strange by French artist ANY CRISS and large oil painting by EMMANUEL NOTERMAN (1846). Details, last pages.