WORDS & PRODUCTION Marc Heldens PHOTOS Alan Jensen
Once the chapel of a monastery, this high-ceilinged, open spaced apartment in the Dutch village of Bennebroek is now home to a textile artist and her partner.
Located in the heart of Bennebroek village in the Netherlands, the neo-Gothic St Lucia monastery has seen various tenants come and go. Built in 1896 by the Sœurs du Sacré-Cœur (the Sisters of the Sacred Heart), it was initially a boarding school for girls from wealthy Catholic families. This was a short-lived endeavour, and with (no doubt) heavy sacred hearts, the Sisters sold it to a fellow Catholic order, the Franciscans, who founded the St Lucia monastery here in 1920. Theirs was a much more successful residency that lasted until 2007, when the buildings were sold to a property developer, who transformed them into seven townhouses and 11 apartments.
One of those buildings is the former chapel, bought by textile designer Milla Novo and her partner Nigel Nowotarski, who works in the fintech business. While the 190m2 chapel’s six-metre-high ceilings would not usually make for an ideal living space, for Milla it was perfect – she creates large knotted wall hangings inspired by her connection to the Mapuche community of south-central Chile (her mom still lives there), and this was the perfect functional and comfortable place to live and work. “My works are what you might call grand, and the wall hangings are large,” says Milla. “Daylight is extremely important in order to be able to work properly. That my work can take place at home, in my own living environment, is a bonus.”
Another bonus during the renovation was when a painted head of an angel emerged from behind the plaster – and then another one. When the building originally went on sale, it was stated that nothing was left of the original murals, but as it turned out, most of them were completely intact beneath the stucco. “It was a sign,” says Milla. “It felt like a kind of guardian angel. Past and present came together, became ‘entangled’.”
Where possible, the murals were restored, becoming the basis for the interior colour scheme. The interiors were conceptualised in collaboration with Wouter Slot of Amsterdam-based Standard Studio. “It was a challenge to come up with a concept to suit both residents,” he says. “We also had to respect the monastic atmosphere while giving the interior a comfortable, homey feeling for Milla and Nigel.”
The couple designed the kitchen themselves. “The choice of material was especially difficult,” says Milla. With the help of Dutch natural-stone expert Nick Blok, she opted for Italian quartzite; its patterns and pink/amber tones go well with the original murals. As with all aspects of the interior, the goal was to retain the atmosphere and spaciousness of the chapel. “Together with Standard Studio, we have created a beautiful layout – one that allows for adventure,” says Milla. “I wanted an open flow in the apartment; that way, you can take a walk through your living space. I think that’s very important.”