Floors for thought: a Belgian rug-maker’s remarkable house
Carine Boxy laughs as she explains she’s always preferred things a little wild. As a child, growing up in east Flanders in the small town of Deurle, near Ghent, she says she forbade her parents to ever mow their lawn.
Communing with nature is something she has passed on to her own children: her son Auguste puts oysters and kimchi in the ground to ferment and her daughter paints and sings in trills. Her free spirit, a hankering for something else, she attributes to her great-grandfather, Paul Gevaert, who founded the first organic food company in Belgium in the 1950s. He also started a community which lobbied for global passports. “He wrote passionate letters to Einstein, Churchill and the Pope; those letters are in the municipal archives.”
Boxy herself creates large interior carpets out of sheepskin, “landscapes” which drape over floors, walls and furniture. These hides are rugged, rough and wild and every piece is a puzzle of dozens of meticulously chosen skins that create a land of different colour tones and textures. Finding the skins can be an intense process – she buys as many as 1,000 at a time. “To create what you have in your mind, you need a lot of different whites, greys and sands.”
Four generations of Boxy’s family on her mother’s side have lived in the house, built in the style of an English cottage, that her great-grandmother bought from the painter Jenny Montigny in 1904. Boxy and her husband, Stefan, asked their good friend Maarten van Severen, a celebrated Belgian furniture designer and interior architect, to renovate it.
“My mother was worried we’d ruin the house, but was pleasantly surprised. Maarten opened up the kitchen, installing large, rimless windows that look out on to an untamed garden. He brought more light into the house, but what he did so well was to keep the spirit of it.”
The result is a characterful home which weaves together a European midcentury elegance with original Arts and Crafts panelling and Brutalist design. “Even the blue and yellow Delft tiles, which might have looked too kitsch, work seamlessly,” she says, pointing to the fireplace.
In the hallway on the ground floor is a long table by Jules Wabbes piled high with design books. To the left is the kitchen. Stefan is a chef who, with his twin brother Kristof, received a Michelin star in the 1980s.
The kitchen has an industrial feel. “Maarten designed the aluminium table – we don’t care that there are marks from wine because the patina looks so good,” says Boxy. “The work surface near the stove is made from a Brutalist-style concrete… [Belgian designer] Axel Vervoordt admired the kitchen, he liked that it was concrete which wasn’t treated, that the surface had a cave effect. It wasn’t fashionable 20 years ago in the way it is today.”
Boxy says that Stefan is passionate about collecting furniture. Favourite pieces include the Flag Halyard chair with orange cushion designed by Hans Wegner, and the big table in the living room in wenge wood by Jules Wabbes. There is also a lot of furniture from Maarten – a table, a folding screen, a bookshelf. “We both like to collect what isn’t in fashion, just what we like and see. We don’t think about whether it will fit or not and it just sort of fits.”
Boxy was a fashion agent before she started making rugs in 2009. “I wanted a rug in my home, but couldn’t find one I liked – they all looked too homey.” So she looked for sheepskins, learned how to sew and made her own. “I ended up sewing 40 Australian Merino skins into one big moon landscape of about 25sqm.” These days she makes rugs, still large at about 8x6m, for Frank Lloyd Wright houses on America’s West Coast.
She finds a meditative calm in sewing, and the moment she finishes the carpet she gives it a name – and has found these names to be cannily prescient. “There was a couple who bought one which I had called ‘Tears’ and I learned they had lost their three-month-old baby.” Then there was the rug she christened “Pacific” only to discover her client’s husband had just sailed across that ocean.
Although Carine’s sheepskins look rough and wild, most of her clients are minimalists. She thinks her rugs break the linearity of the minimalist home. “Somehow they unite the space. There is something about them that takes you back to your roots.”