The human scale
This homely pied-à-terre in Brussels, by interior designer Joris Van Apers, demonstrates how the contrast of light and dark can add character to compact spaces
This pied-àterre in Brussels shows how the contrast of light and dark can add character
Received wisdom warns us
against dark colours in small spaces. But, when one Ardennes-living Belgian couple tasked Flemish interior designer and craftsman Joris Van Apers with transforming this 90-squaremetre flat at the top of a 1950s apartment block in Brussels into a serene, one-bedroom piedà-terre, he threw that myth out of the window. After calling on what he calls ‘the old trick’ of knocking down dividing walls to make an openplan space, he painted the living area, bathroom, main bedroom and a guest room a luminous off-white, produced using six layers of chalky limewash. But the central hallway? Darkest matt green, almost black. It’s a dusky foil to the rooms that lead off from it on all sides. ‘The use of an intense colour emphasises the spaciousness and levity of the rooms directly next to it,’ Joris says. ‘It’s all about creating contrast.’
Continuity is maintained by the upcycled pine floorboards that run throughout. Joris’ interior design studio grew out of his parents’ reclaimed materials company, so the fittings and a lot of the furniture were handmade in his specialist salvage workshops. ‘ We like to make,’ says Joris. And there are many charming one-off additions in this home, from the bespoke-built, green marble-topped cupboard that invisibly houses a new radiator to the re-worked French beams that have been transformed into kitchen units, topped with black slate. It’s very clear from the attention to detail in this apartment that Joris enjoys working on small homes. ‘I think that the idea of “the bigger the better” is just a bit too American for me,’ he says. vanapers.be
HOW TO CREATE SPACE USING LIGHT AND SHADE Interior designer Joris Van Apers’ tricks for adding drama to smaller homes
COLOUR ‘Darker or more intense colours make the mind imagine things,’ Joris says. ‘They make a space more mysterious.’ A room can seem to swell or have more potential when you can’t immediately see its dimensions. WINDOWS If there is no natural light, don’t try and artificially lighten a room. Embrace its darkness and turn it into a USP by painting it a statement, atmospheric shade. MIRRORS Particularly in a shady room, mirrors can further distort a person’s sense of space and can trick the eye into thinking that a room is almost double its size. FLOORING If you paint a small room dark, be sure to keep the flooring pale to prevent it from feeling too cavernous. LIGHTING Don’t ruin the atmosphere of a sultry small room with spotlights. Stick to vintage sconce lights or table lamps. ➤
Small does not mean easy, according to Jordan Cluroe of 2LG Studio, who, along with his partner Russell Whitehead, was commissioned by ELLE Decoration’s Content Director, Pip Mccormac, to completely renovate his one-bedroom flat in London’s Waterloo. ‘ When you have a team of workmen on site it becomes very difficult to move around,’ he says. But, of course, that wasn’t the only problem in fulfilling a brief that included increasing the limited natural light and creating an ‘Instagrammable kitchen’. There was also a desire to entirely banish the old memories of a space that Pip had lived in six years ago before renting it out.
‘The proportions of the layout were not working and there were a lot of small rooms coming off a dark hallway,’ Russell recalls. Situated on the second floor of a Brutalist block, the 60-squaremetre apartment had a fairly large bedroom, but the kitchen was tiny. Increasing this space was a priority: ‘ We removed the existing wall between the bedroom and lounge to create a larger living space,’ Russell says. ‘The old kitchen then became a minimalist bedroom, a cabin-like nook with pockets in the door and a sizeable window to keep it bright.’ The whole apartment now feels more welcoming and inviting, thanks to this focus on maximising light. ‘By adding a sliding wall of smoked glass and brass cladding in the hallway, we made the sun bounce into the space,’ Jordan says. ‘ We took this idea of playing with light to the next level by covering the inside of a niche above a dressing table with mirrored glass – it’s an unexpected gentleman’s vanity area, framed by ‘Decanterlight’ pendants by Lee Broom. ‘It doesn’t seem like the same place that felt so gloomy and dark to me before,’ Pip says. ‘The kitchen glimmers with sunshine, making me happy every day.’ Though the emphasis of this project was to create space, it’s also added sophistication to this home. 2lgstudio.com
‘IT JUST DOESN’T SEEM LIKE THE SAME PLACE THAT FELT SO GLOOMY AND DARK TO ME BEFORE’
HOW TO MAKE A SMALL SPACE LOOK LUXE Designers 2LG Studio reveal three practical tips for stylish homes
REMOVE RADIATORS They encroach on the available space. We used vinyl parquet-style flooring tiles from Amtico. They are thin enough to slip underfloor heating beneath, and run throughout the property, for a cohesive flow. REFLECTIVE SURFACES These don’t have to be just mirrors. The polished brass cladding in the door-less walkway bounces light from the living room into the adjoining hall. OPT FOR DELICATE FURNITURE Think thin legs on chairs, skinny bodies on lamps and narrow sofa spindles, which all allow light to pass easily around and through them, stopping rooms from feeling too boxed in.