Art Deco Heaven (or a Baron's Folly)

 Hollywood Hills or Brussels suburbs? The villa Empain's Pool Terrace.

Hollywood Hills or Brussels suburbs? The villa Empain's Pool Terrace.

How wonderful to leave the confines of my own preconceptions and be surprised by a town. This weekend I visited a  playboy mansion in the Hollywood Hills.  Except  I never left Brussels.

The Villa Empain is an Art Deco palace created in 1934 by Swiss architect Michel Polak.  He was commissioned by Baron Louis Empain , just 21 at the time,  who had recently inherited a vast fortune from his railway magnate father. In his grief Baron Empain decided to spend a lot of  money which is evident in the marble and rosewood entrance hall, the gold leaf window frames and  the polished granite facades. 

 Gold leaf framed windows and polished granite add bling to Brussels quiet suburbia.

Gold leaf framed windows and polished granite add bling to Brussels quiet suburbia.

Despite the villa boasting its own American Bar replete with bronze fountains and a purpose built fencing room, the sleek geometrics, curving walls and stained glass failed to seduce the young baron. After barely inhabiting the villa he donated it to the Belgian state with the stipulation that they run it as a museum of Decorative and Contemporary  Art. But History had other plans for this house.

 Art deco wrought iron abounds 

Art deco wrought iron abounds 

In 1943 it was requisitioned by the German army and after the war became the Embassy of the Soviet Union.  It fell empty in the 1990s until a Belgian business man bought the house and tried to do a "Grand Design" on it - ripping out all the original features. The Belgian conservation society "Monuments et sites" intervened and commandeered the house, preserving it for posterity and fulfilling the Baron's wishes. 

 Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds are just one of the installations on display in the latest exhibition "Decor"

Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds are just one of the installations on display in the latest exhibition "Decor"

After extensive restoration the villa became the new home of The Boghossian Foundation and the house is now a  Cultural Centre and Contemporary Art Space. 

Admittedly I understand the barons's unwillingness to set up home here. The wrought iron and marble are impressive but a little chilly and the large central atrium seems only to cut out the heart of the house. 

The way the gold leaf glistens on the window frames is something special though and the whole place is just designed for a party.  It's not hard to imagine serried ranks of tuxedo'd butlers proffering trays of champagne in some Gatsby-esque extravaganza. 

But even  without a glass of champagne in hand this house still  lifts the spirits. Be sure to put Villa Empain on your Brussels Bucket list.

 The pool and stained glass splendour of the Villa Empain

The pool and stained glass splendour of the Villa Empain