intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
It is difficult to imagine that, not so long ago, this wonderful mansion in Brussels had been abandoned! An opulent showcase of the talents of the celebrated architect Pierre Jamaer and the best of his artisans, the house has now benefited from an exemplary restoration. Enjoying one of the large bedrooms in the Maison Jamaer, the décor of its drawing rooms, the chef’s cooking, and the owner’s welcome, is to relive the velvety hospitality of 150 years ago and to don the persona of an intimate guest. A sugar-coated bubble of history ideally situated between the Gare du Midi (TGV) and the centre of Brussels.
If there were a golden age for Brussels, then it would have been in the second half of the 19th century. It was a euphoric era for the newly emerged Belgium, and its extravagant king wished to elevate it to the level of a world power. Industry prospered and commerce flourished; technical and artistic creativity seemed limitless. One new quarter after another shot up built from architectural designs in an infinite variation of the ‘neo’ styles so popular at that time. Anyone who prided himself on his wealth, social standing or reputation in the old Brabantine city, dreamt of living in one of these luxurious ‘Gothic’, ‘Renaissance’, or ‘Classic’ houses embellished with decorative elements from other eras. These tall and elegant town houses were designed to receive.
The Palais du Midi, a large commercial complex built opposite the Maison Jamaer, evokes the building fever that gripped Brussels at the end of the 19th century. © eBru
In the 19th century, the Maison Jamaer was the private residence of the town’s head architect, Pierre Victor Jamaer, a great exponent of the neo-Gothic style. Thanks to him, many buildings in the Grand-Place, have preserved their irresistible charm, in particular, the King’s House that had been badly disfigured when the town was bombarded in 1695. The restoration, undertaken by the architect, was carried out with fastidious attention to accurate historic and stylistic detail, in a manner similar to the French architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Pierre Jamaer designed the beautiful neo-Gothic interior of the City Hall in Brussels. The city hall’s flooring is identical to that he had installed in his own house. © Delcampe
The King’s House on the Grand-Place in Brussels, Pierre Jamaer’s chef d’œuvre, was rebuilt in the Gothic spirit and involved numerous surveys and casts taken of ancient fragments.
The head architect started building his own house in 1874, which he turned into a veritable showcase of know-how of the time and sought the services of the best craftsmen in the town. Complex and ornamented frameworks, fine cabinetry and carvings, expressive sculptures, ‘old’ stained-glass windows, mosaic flooring, faux materials, silk furnishing fabrics, painted medallions, luxurious hardware, artistic ironware, leadware with relief decorations, glazed ceramics, fine stuccoes, gold finishes and polished marble – every detail is so finely executed that wherever one looks, is a feast for the eyes – a wealth of talent!
The remarkable chimney piece in the dining room is made up of painted wood, varnished plaster, stucco and false marble. It was in fact, the model for a monumental door or window surround to be sculpted in stone.
Maison Jamaer’s façade richly ornamented to its ridge, catches the eyes of passers-by in the old Avenue du Midi.
Behind the ‘Flemish Renaissance’ façade (as interpreted by its creator), English, French and Italian influences are fused into an astonishing combination of styles that are typical of the spirit and taste of the century. But the residence also incorporated all the latest technical innovations of that time – (hidden) iron beams, gas lighting, running water, ceiling heating, cement tiles – it is the marriage of modernity and the period’s artistic styles that make this house so special.
Very fashionable, and considered the height of refinement, faux wood and faux marble decorative painting was given a far higher value than the materials it imitated.
The ventilating gas lamp (sunburner) hanging from the dining room ceiling was an unusual feature in private houses. The chimney, which vented the flue gases, hidden within the flooring, also heated the first-floor bedroom, which was conducted by means of a large, horizontally cut, block of blue limestone.
The house had a number of other owners, a rich, house-linen merchant, an insurance broker, followed by a private company, as well as many doctors who received their patients here.
The building was then converted into offices and flats, which remained empty (and a target for vandalism) for many years, until Alain Blond, captivated by this threatened building, bought it in 2012. Adhering to the conservation standards, he was determined to restore it to its former glory. His project was to return it to its original function – a house ‘built to receive’ – with its festive drawing rooms, a shared table d’hôte, and bedroom suites for its guests.
Alain Blond, in the top floor loggia, converted for his own use.
Many of the decorative elements from the period had suffered from exposure to bad weather and needed intensive care! © Maison Jamaer
The listed rooms and facades were entrusted to the care of heritage specialists carefully supervised by the town’s monument and sites department (see video – before work started). It was an exemplary restoration site and a stimulating project for the chosen artisans. The upper floors were subject to a more contemporary conversion, but highlighted with creative accents.
Today, Maison Jamaer, is proud to put its splendid drawing rooms, its five bedrooms and an excellent cuisine at the disposal of its guests. Your host will also point out that you can have delicious meals delivered, which you can reheat in the little kitchenettes that are installed in every suite.
Heavy curtaining hangs from the old windows, to insulate the rooms from the noise in the avenue and the railway nearby.
During your stay, you may even enjoy a harp concert (such as this one given here by Ysaline Lentze) or treat yourself to a patisserie in its drawing rooms.
Restored by Pierre Jamaer in 1889, the Black Tower’s roof carpentry evokes that of the architect’s house. © EmDee
If your itinerary includes a visit to the Grand-Place, the City Hall and the King’s House so that you can admire Pierre Jamaer’s restoration work, you will also appreciate the vestiges of Brussels’ first medieval fortifications, which were saved from ruin by this architect and his passion for cultural heritage.
The Justice Palace, very visible from the back of the house, is typical of this prolific period and well worth a visit. It is without doubt the most impressive example of eclectic architecture to be found in Belgium! A number of halls and stairs are partly open to interested visitors.
The inordinate dimensions of the immense staircase at the entrance of the Justice Palace in Brussels are staggering! © Dierk Schaefer
One of the city’s museums is dedicated to the artist Antoine Wiertz, and gives a rich picture of the flourishing romanticism of the 19th century. Brussels offers nearly one hundred other museums – don’t hesitate to consult your host, who will give you useful advice about them.
There is nothing like a little violin music by Henri Vieuxtemps to waft you from the present to the musical realms of 19th century Brussels. At the time Pierre Jamaer was drawing up the plans for his house, this well-known Belgian composer was a professor at the Brussels conservatory of music. His concertos, sometimes lively and generous, sometimes languorous and melancholy, are in complete harmony with the murmurings of this beautiful residence.
Une demeure terriblement attachante, d'abord par l'hospitalité généreuse de son propriétaire, amoureux du patrimoine délectable dont il s'est fait le porte-parole (ne pas hésiter à l'interroger sur les travaux de restauration). Un espace évocateur d'un style de vie bien révolu, extraordinairement ouvragé, à quelques minutes à pied du coeur de la capitale européenne.
Beau concept de Maison d'hôtes, spécialement bien équipée, loin de l'anonymat des grands hôtels. Le beau logis se prête à toutes sortes d'activités de groupe ou de famille, nocturnes et diurnes. A recommander aux personnes qui séjournent régulièrement à Bruxelles pour y rencontrer leurs contacts professionnels ou des amis : les pièces historiques du rez-de-chaussée peuvent être mises à leur disposition et aménagées en salon de thé ou en salle à manger privée (menus préparés sur place par un chef ), en salle de réunion, de concert ou de conférence.
Quand l'histoire nous aide à réinventer l'accueil...
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Monsieur Alain Blond
Av. de Stalingrad, 62
Tel. +32 2 513 34 42
House’s own website
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