The project ‘Rag Doll’ is situated in the oldest part of Knokke-heist at the Belgian coast, in a former dune area which is still clearly reflected in the existing relief. The existing house, dating from 1928, although certainly not an architectural gem, was registered on a list of houses not to be demolished.

Project name: Rag Doll
Architecture Firm: Delmulle Delmulle Architecten
Website: delmulledelmulle.be
Completion Year: 2020
Gross Built Area: 390m2
Project location: 8300 Knokke Heist, Belgium

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Photo credits: Johnny Umans
Lead Architects: Frank Delmulle, May Lynn Doll, Joachim Provoost, Seger Delmulle
Design Team: Seger Delmulle, Frank Delmulle
Client: Private
Engineering: Util struktuurstudies
Garden Design: Denis Dujardin

Rag Doll by Delmulle Delmulle Architecten - Sheet2
©Johnny Umans

The client had bought the home because of its location rather than for its looks or qualities. Before finding a house, he hesitated for a long time about how he wanted to live, and the goal of his search was highly uncertain. A farmhouse, a townhouse, a cottage or a sleek new building were all among the possibilities, as were a rural, urban or seaside location. The latter option ultimately made it through for health reasons.

You could almost say that the architects design reflects the doubts in the client’s mind. The top and roof floors of the typical Knokse cottage remained outwardly intact, but the ground floor gave way to a sleek, contemporary glass volume. The image-defining character chronicled by Town Planning did not prove an insurmountable obstacle to a permit for the daring design. Those who view the house from above or from behind the hedge, for that matter, are unaware of the modern reconversion.

Rag Doll by Delmulle Delmulle Architecten - Sheet3
©Johnny Umans

The design makes a cut under the roof, across the entire ground floor, which marks the stylistic dichotomy between the traditional upper floors and the new glass house, which was completely undercrofted. The construction of that basement was a requirement of the client and meant that the house had to be braced, technically a very complex feature. During the works, the upper floors, which were retained in the plan, were supported by tiny poles to absorb horizontal and vertical compressive forces. Below that, there was “workspace” to build the new basement and glass ground floor.

To maximize the contrast with the traditional part with brick facades, oak beams and red roof tiles, the architects opted for an all-glass volume, executed with triple glazing and large sliding windows at the corners to accentuate the floating character. The radical intervention also allowed for optimization of daylight, an aspect the original design fell short of given its unfavorable orientation.

Rag Doll by Delmulle Delmulle Architecten - Sheet7
©Johnny Umans

The duality was executed even more radically in the interior than in the exterior, with a distinctly contemporary living atmosphere and minimalist furnishings in the transparent section and the new basement. The most striking elements are the lacquered metal staircase, Oregon wood veneer and sandstone floor. The existing top floors were thoroughly refreshed while retaining the original atmosphere and colors. The office space on the top floor is arranged as a cockpit under a dome.

Even though the new glass structure is the protagonist in this story, it remains literally and figuratively secondary to the traditional aspect. The upper floors tower above it and the authentic roof visually takes the new section under its wing. The renovation may be radical and spectacular, but it remains largely hidden from the outside world.

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