All this week on the Cut, we’ll be looking at how various architects and homeowners around the world — from Brooklyn to Shanghai — have renovated historic buildings with perfectly meddled-with results.
The restored neo-Renaissance and neoclassical façades of artist and landscape designer Ronald van der Hilst’s Antwerp home — two buildings that have been combined into one — clearly tell the story of its past. (Both structures were built in the 1500s and underwent significant renovations in the mid-19th century.) But once you’re inside, nothing can be attributed to any era; the rooms are packed with a pastiche of neon colors and giant tulip-adorned walls. Holland-born van der Hilst was not always a tulip fiend; he became obsessed only after discovering the 17th-century Zomerschoon varietals. “Those tulips are like living antiques,” he says. (He’s since started a full-fledged tulip-inspired business, selling “tulipped” bathroom tiles, wallpaper, fabric, vases, and planters.) When van der Hilst met his husband, Marcel Vissers, in 1994, he was living in the neoclassical house (it was rundown, having been used as student housing). In 1997, they bought the building next door. After they broke through the walls, “there were many nice surprises,” van der Hilst recalls. “We found hidden floors, beautiful chimneys, and stained-glass doors.” But perhaps the greatest surprise was the discovery that the ground floor of the second building had housed one of the city’s oldest cafés. “And in the 17th century,” van der Hilst says, “it was in these coffeehouses that tulip bulbs were traded.”
*This article appears in the October 6, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.