written by:
photos by:
May 13, 2013
Originally published in The Furniture Issue
as
Open Estate
In this Brussels mansion, nothing has a price tag, but almost everything is for sale. Here, two design experts curate their fantasy house.
Neoclassical modern home in Belgium
In 2010, Ike Udechuku and Kathryn Smith moved into a neoclassical house in the Saint-Gilles district and set out to create what Udechuku calls “a gallery of the living experience.” Several times a year, they partner with European galleries in presenting rare and choice furniture, objects, and art in their home. They live with the items they borrow­—eating breakfast at a one-of-a-kind Danish dining table, sipping wine on an iconic sofa—and welcome collectors and visitors into their home to experience (and purchase) design icons in situ. “These pieces are intended by their makers to be used, not to be in a museum,” says Udechuku.
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Vintage rosewood bench by Richard Seifert
Here, Smith sits on a vintage rosewood bench designed by the Swiss-born British architect Richard Seifert.
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Modern monochrome dining room
The drawing room, the couple’s principal entertaining space, contains many highlights of the exhibition, including two Tonico lounge chairs by Sergio Rodrigues; a jacaranda bench by Alberto Reis; a leather-and-rosewood sling chair fabricated by Liceu de Artes e Oficios de São Paulo; and drawings by the contemporary Brazilian artist Paulo Climachauska. "Furniture is more beautiful with a patina—and this comes from years of careful and loving use." —Kathryn Smith
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Modern atrium with jacaranda high board
On view in the soaring atrium are a jacaranda high board from the 1960s, a chrome and glass lamp from Italy, a black leather chair and footstool by Sergio Rodrigues, a Berber rug, and a pair of photographs by the Brazilian artist Luiz Braga.
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Modern living room with vintage furniture and objects
When curating the rooms throughout their house, Udechuku and Smith mix borrowed pieces related to the temporary exhibition—such as the playful sculptural lamps crafted from found materials by Brazilian artist Rodrigo Almeida—with vintage American and European classics from their personal collection, such as a Florence Knoll sofa designed in 1954 and newly re-upholstered in a yellow Kvadrat fabric. "We have no opening hours but people call or knock and—if we are home—we welcome them in and put the kettle on." —Ike Udechuku
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1955 Grand Prix chairs by Arne Jacobsen
A stack of 1955 Grand Prix chairs by Arne Jacobsen rests besides a minimal art piece.
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Glass pieces by Gunnel Sahlin for Kosta Boda
A trio of glass pieces by Gunnel Sahlin for Kosta Boda lays on top of a glass and wooden side table.
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Teak framed sofa by Illum Wikkelsø
A 1959 teak-framed nine-foot-long SW 50-4 sofa by Illum Wikkelsø for the Danish furniture company Søren Willadsen sits pretty.
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Modern eclectic living room with yellow sofa and red ball lights
Located just off the entry hall, this room opens onto a lush garden. The residents commissioned the overhead light from designers Sylvain Willenz and Hubert Verstraeten. “The use of red billiard ball references Charles and Ray Eames’s Hang-It-All coat rack,” says Smith. The wall-hung light is by the contemporary São Paulo–based designers Luciana Martins and Gerson de Oliveira. The rug is a Moroccan patchwork from the 1960s; the teak-and-leather Kilin chair is by Sergio Rodrigues; and the cane-backed sofa is a student daybed designed by Hans Wegner for Getama in the 1950s.
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Wooden Siefert bench
The monumental Siefert bench has become "something of a signature piece for Ampersand House," says Udechuku, "and we are reluctant to part with it—despite some tempting offers."
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Ceramic vase by Estudio Manus
The ceramic vase with curvaceous handles was created by Estudio Manus. "We aim to show people that you can live with precious, unique, delicate objects in a very normal and robust way." —Ike Udechuku
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Modern dining room with dining table by Joaquim Tenreiro
Udechuku and Smith consider the rare rosewood-and-black glass dining set by Joaquim Tenreiro the highlight of their Brazilian Modern exhibition. "It's a true masterpiece, and the only piece I have felt really nervous about using," admits Udechuku.
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Udechuku and Smith stand in front of their neoclassical townhouse in Brussels. They met at law school in Australia (Smith is Australian, Udechuku is British) and together discovered their love of design while furnishing their homes over the years—in Australia, in London, in San Francisco, and later in Luxembourg. Today, clients come to them "for the breadth of our design knowledge, relentless pursuit of perfection for each client, and for our ability to research and source rare and unusual pieces," says Udechuku.
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"A thousand people a week from around the world see our website but most people walk past the house itself without guessing that the rather stern exterior conceals such a wonderful interior," says Udechuku. "Some might notice the small, hand-carved Welsh-slate plaque with the Ampersand symbol but few recognize it as a logo or anything commercial. This contradiction between public and private is a balance we strive to maintain."
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Udechuku opens his heavily ornamented front door, inviting a visitor into Ampersand. The downside of their unusual lifestyle? "Living in a home that is also a gallery requires being visitor-ready at most times… so no wandering around in pajamas at midday!" says Udechuku.
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"People visit and they may well buy a specific chair but, more than anything, they appreciate the way we put the look together," says Udechuku, shown here with a client. "They often invite us to their homes and offices to consult on how to create an eclectic personalized look combining the type of pieces we have at home."
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Although Udechuku and Smith admit that they were a bit nervous using the rare black glass table by Joachim Tenreiro, they nevertheless did use it every day, sitting down for meals with their family and hosting visitors for tea. The glow from the copper lamps by Danish designer Jo Hammerborg "add to the mis en scène in a way that personalizes the space," says Udechuku.
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The oak parquet flooring in the open lobby area is original to the house. "The space is never dead," notes Udechuku. "We just had a party where we set up a turntable in this space on a vintage cabinet so that guests could spin their own vinyl records. Sometimes we arrange this space as a comfortable seating area with sofa and easy chairs, reading lamp and music. We don’t like dead spaces in houses, so we make a point of bringing spaces to life in new ways."
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18 / 18
Neoclassical modern home in Belgium
In 2010, Ike Udechuku and Kathryn Smith moved into a neoclassical house in the Saint-Gilles district and set out to create what Udechuku calls “a gallery of the living experience.” Several times a year, they partner with European galleries in presenting rare and choice furniture, objects, and art in their home. They live with the items they borrow­—eating breakfast at a one-of-a-kind Danish dining table, sipping wine on an iconic sofa—and welcome collectors and visitors into their home to experience (and purchase) design icons in situ. “These pieces are intended by their makers to be used, not to be in a museum,” says Udechuku.
Project 
Ampersand House

In 2010, Ike Udechuku and Kathryn Smith moved into a neoclassical house in the Saint-Gilles district and set out to create what Udechuku calls “a gallery of the living experience.” Several times a year, they partner with European galleries in presenting rare and choice furniture, objects, and art in their home. They live with the items they borrow­—eating breakfast at a one-of-a-kind Danish dining table, sipping wine on an iconic sofa—and welcome collectors and visitors into their home to experience (and purchase) design icons in situ. “These pieces are intended by their makers to be used, not to be in a museum,” says Udechuku. Here, Smith sits on a vintage rosewood bench designed by the Swiss-born British architect Richard Seifert.

Udechuku and Smith used to work in law and finance, but they now primarily serve as design advisors, chasing down unique vintage pieces and creating “eclectic personalized looks” for clients’ homes all over Europe. Their own residence, Ampersand House, epitomizes their aesthetic and approach, but Udechuku is quick to point out that it is foremost “a place to live, work, and entertain—not a showroom or shop. It seems almost incidental that we routinely sell the pieces around us.”

Modern atrium with jacaranda high board
On view in the soaring atrium are a jacaranda high board from the 1960s, a chrome and glass lamp from Italy, a black leather chair and footstool by Sergio Rodrigues, a Berber rug, and a pair of photographs by the Brazilian artist Luiz Braga.

The couple changes out the furnishings, objects, and artwork in their home up to three times per year, sending purchased items to collectors and returning pieces that didn’t sell to the partner gallery that loaned them. A recent exhibition, Brazilian Modern: Masters of Style, paired masterpieces of mid-century Brazilian furniture design, borrowed from the Milan gallery BE Modern, with some of the country’s most exciting contemporary art and design. On view in the soaring atrium are a jacaranda high board from the 1960s, a chrome and glass lamp from Italy, a black leather chair and footstool by Sergio Rodrigues, a Berber rug, and a pair of photographs by the Brazilian artist Luiz Braga.

The drawing room, the couple’s principal entertaining space, contains many highlights of the exhibition, including two Tonico lounge chairs by Sergio Rodrigues; a jacaranda bench by Alberto Reis; a leather-and-rosewood sling chair fabricated by Liceu de Artes e Oficios de São Paulo; and drawings by the contemporary Brazilian artist Paulo Climachauska.

Vintage rosewood bench by Richard Seifert
Here, Smith sits on a vintage rosewood bench designed by the Swiss-born British architect Richard Seifert.

“Mid-century Brazilian furniture is a revelation,” says Smith. “Many of the influential designers of this period emigrated from Europe to Brazil, seeing it as the land of the future. They encountered distinctive materials, techniques, and traditions, and through these particular circumstances evolved a coherent new school of design.”

When curating the rooms throughout their house, Udechuku and Smith mix borrowed pieces related to the temporary exhibition—such as the playful sculptural lamps crafted from found materials by Brazilian artist Rodrigo Almeida—with vintage American and European classics from their personal collection, such as a Florence Knoll sofa designed in 1954 and newly re-upholstered in a yellow Kvadrat fabric; a stack of 1955 Grand Prix chairs by Arne Jacobsen; glass pieces by Gunnel Sahlin for Kosta Boda; and a 1959 teak-framed nine-foot-long SW 50-4 sofa by Illum Wikkelsø for the Danish furniture company Søren Willadsen.

open estate collector
"People visit and they may well buy a specific chair but, more than anything, they appreciate the way we put the look together," says Udechuku, shown here with a client. "They often invite us to their homes and offices to consult on how to create an eclectic personalized look combining the type of pieces we have at home."

This September, Ampersand’s focus will shift to Belgium and the Netherlands, and the house will showcase select objects and furnishings made since World War II.

Located just off the entry hall, this room opens onto a lush garden. The residents commissioned the overhead light from designers Sylvain Willenz and Hubert Verstraeten. “The use of red billiard ball references Charles and Ray Eames’s Hang-It-All coat rack,” says Smith. The wall-hung light is by the contemporary São Paulo–based designers Luciana Martins and Gerson de Oliveira. The rug is a Moroccan patchwork from the 1960s; the teak-and-leather Kilin chair is by Sergio Rodrigues; and the cane-backed sofa is a student daybed designed by Hans Wegner for Getama in the 1950s.

Udechuku and Smith consider the rare rosewood-and-black-glass dining set by Joaquim Tenreiro the highlight of their Brazilian Modern exhibition. “It’s a true masterpiece, and the only piece I have felt really nervous about using,” admits Udechuku. “We are aware of only one other example in the world. The chairs have the appearance of great delicacy. We have to remind ourselves that they have supported diners for over 60 years and are still in perfect shape—so they are in fact remarkably sturdy.” The table is complemented by a pair of 1960s Saturn copper lamps by Danish designer Johannes Hammerborg. The ceramic vase with curvaceous handles was created by Estudio Manus. Of course, not everything is for sale at Ampersand House. The couple does get attached to their favorite finds. The monumental Siefert bench has become “something of a signature piece for Ampersand House,” says Udechuku, “and we are reluctant to part with it—despite some tempting offers.”

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