Next time you visit Brussels, skip the Grand Place, Manneken Pis and the Atomium.
Be original and head to the neighbourhood of Saint-Gilles instead, to pay a visit to the former house and studio of the famous Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (1861-1947).
The complex consists of two adjoining houses and was built between 1898 and 1901. No. 25 was the private mansion of the Horta family and no. 23 housed the architects’ studio.
Whilst Horta designed them as an ensemble, the two facades clearly hold their own individual features. However, both are exemplary of Art Nouveau architecture – with a mixture of different building materials, curved lines, asymmetry, large windows and elegant forged iron ornaments.
The same goes for the highly sophisticated interior designs that form an intrinsic part of the whole structure – inside and out, small scale to large, all was designed as a whole, as a so-called Gesamtkunstwerk.
In many of the interior elements you will see curved or intertwining lines and/or asymmetrical floral motifs, from the treatment of floors, walls and ceilings to things like light fixtures, door handles and furniture upholstery. The use of materials is diverse and precious, from exotic types of wood to marble, gilded metal and textiles like silk and velvet. The colour scheme is soft and muted throughout the house.
A lot of the original furniture has been preserved, so in this house you can really get quite a complete picture of an Art Nouveau mansion.
Besides the admirable decorative Art Nouveau elements and furnishings, another remarkable feature of the house is the atypical internal structure and planning of the rooms on many semi-levels and around a central staircase.
The staircase is an artwork in its own right – with a balustrade of meandering forged iron ornaments and a glass dome. Here you can also see to its full extent how constructive elements are decorative ornaments at the same time, and how functional elements like light fixtures are incorporated into the design ingeniously. The lamps meander around the balustrade and around the support structure of the dome and look as if they have sprung from it. Other special features here are the facing mirrors at the top of the staircase, in which the highly decorated and light-filled space seems to be repeated endlessly.
I don’t want to spoil too much for those who want to visit the museum, because in a house like this you should really just enjoy the rooms, feel the atmosphere and discover the remarkable details yourself, but I’ll share just a couple more pictures to give an overall impression of what’s inside.
The dining room on the main floor I find quite unusual – it has an arched ceiling and the walls are covered in white glazed bricks, but it still has a warm and inviting atmosphere about it, and you can spot a pair of gorgeous glass pendant lights and table chandeliers in this room.
The first floor houses a welcoming grand salon and a boudoir on the street side. However, it’s the bedroom with adjoining dressing room and bathroom in the back of the house that I adore most of all things in this place. Beautifully designed furniture, grand mirrors, pretty light fixtures and a lot of pastel pink and asymmetrical flower motifs.
With many more rooms to enjoy, all dressed with the wonderfulness of Art Nouveau style, the house is definitely worth the (small) detour you’ll have to make to get to the Rue Américaine from the city center.
Musée Horta, Rue Américaine 25, Brussels (tram lines 81, 91, 92, 97 (Jansonplein), bus line 54), tue-sun 14h-17h30