For interior architect and designer Lionel Jadot, designing a hotel is like directing a movie. The 53-year-old Belgian is no stranger either. As well as coming up with plans for hotels in Lisbon and wineries in France, renovating penthouses for private clients in London, overseeing a European co-living start-up and managing Zaventem Ateliers, a massive studio complex housing the design co-op which he founded in 2017, Jadot has also made three short films and a feature film. “I think in boxes,” he says. He describes himself as “an adventurer” and is always on the go: in his spare time he goes on motorcycle holidays to explore the more remote parts of India and Costa Rica.
Today, behind the wheel of his jet-black 1966 Mustang, he is making his way through Brussels’ Friday traffic on his biggest and most ambitious project to date: Mix. Housed in a massive 1969 functionalist building, Mix includes a 180-room hotel, three restaurants, a food market, a co-working space, an auditorium, and a health club. Formerly known as La Royale Belge after the insurance company that designated it as its headquarters, the 40,000-square-foot building bears witness to a bygone era of luxurious corporate architecture. Designed by René Stapels and Pierre Dufau, the Corten steel structure is arranged in the shape of a cross on a transparent base and overlooks an ornamental pond and a beech forest. Clad in mirrored, caramel-colored glass, it has the luxurious, menacing scent of a Bond villain’s lair.
Jadot won the contract to reinvent the interior two years ago, proposing to fill the building with site-specific works by local artists and designers. Above all, he wanted Mix to be a showcase for the community of creatives where he has created Zaventem Workshops – and for Belgian design in a broader sense. “I don’t like it when everything fits together perfectly with matching colors,” Jadot says of the melting pot of styles. “In this way, the hotel becomes a huge means of communication: there are thousands of stories about the objects and the people behind them.” With this he picks up a copper coat hook and starts an animated monologue about the development of the design with Fonderie Woit, a decades-old foundry located in Liège, near the German border.
More than 52 artists from Zaventem and beyond have contributed pieces to the hotel – from door handles to a 4 meter high wooden sculpture. Every detail is commissioned like a work of art. Belgian studio Krjst has custom designed curtains for the windows of the main restaurant and bedrooms. Sister and brother duo Alexandra and Gregoire Jonckers, famous for their large-scale metal, mineral and resin works (and who, together with their eighty-year-old sculptor father Armand, occupy the largest studio in Zaventem), have created a huge reception desk in their signature etched brass. Roxane Lahidji, a French designer who makes furniture from a natural salt composite harvested from the Rhone Delta, has created more than 200 lamps for the bedrooms and 12 for the lobby. And on the food market there is a monumental bar of 157 m2 in concrete blocks, made by a Zaventem alumnus Bram Vanderbekedesigned to complement the original concrete diagrid ceiling.
“I don’t know many architects or designers who would invite so many others to contribute,” says Vanderbeke, who now lives in Ghent. “I think that’s going to create very strong elements in the space.” He smiles. “To do a crazy project like (Mix) you have to be like Lionel.”
Born into the Brussels family of furniture makers Vanhamme, Jadot tinkered from the age of six in the workshop under his parents’ apartment, trying to become a sixth-generation craftsman. When his mother died unexpectedly, leaving his father bereft, Jadot gave up his place at the design school in Florence at the age of 19 to take over the family business – and oversee a team of 35 artisans. some things I don’t know, other things you’ll have to help me with.’ I learned a lot.” Eleven years later he decided to go it alone and founded his own studio in 2001 with a reputation for upcycling. “Nowadays (upcycling) is a concept, but I was always super aware of it that there were still a lot of things left – marble, metal, food – that we could use,” he says.
Zaventem Ateliers was born out of Jadot’s understanding of collective creativity and a mission to revive a medieval craft guild. In 2015, he discovered an abandoned 19th-century paper mill near Brussels Airport, on the outskirts of the city. With funding from several investors, he spent a year converting the three-story, 6,000-square-foot brick building into 32 glass-fronted workshops around an exhibition space, and set up a board to help him choose tenants . They favored analogue makers with specialist skills who were eager to participate in a modern creative network.
Today Zaventem Ateliers houses 24 independent makers (including weavers, woodworkers, ironsmiths and sculptors) and Jadot’s own practice, where 10 people work full-time. Long-term leases at favorable rates encourage designers to settle. There is an open-source database of both contractors and collectors. Then there is the conviviality, gently fed by Belgian beer: in addition to a now legendary opening party in 2018, with 1,500 guests, the artists come together daily in the communal kitchen, on the roof terrace or in front of the open-air fire. For Belgian designer Arno Declercq, whose blackened wood furniture has fans of architects Peter Marino and Kim Kardashian, and who created the 13-foot-tall sculpture for Mix’s lobby in iroko wood sourced from Benin, such interaction is a welcome change from his 12-hour workdays. “Otherwise I would have become a monk,” he laughs. Designer Pierre Coddens agrees: “If you want to create objects and projects with a soul, you have to have fun. Without pleasure… the objects will be meaningless.”
This modern guild and its new creation, Mix, are another facet of Brussels’ ongoing cultural revival: a city once written off as bureaucratic, bourgeois and boring. In 2022, more than 650 gallery exhibitions will be on the agenda.brussels of the city. New spaces for contemporary art, such as Fondation Blan, are emerging and established players are expanding: last August, Xavier Hufkens celebrated his 35th birthday with a modern building attached to the existing gallery in a 19th-century mansion. Meanwhile, all eyes are on the long-awaited opening of the Kanal-Centre Pompidou Brussels, which in 2025 will become one of the largest contemporary and modern art museums in the world in the former Citroën showroom on the Brussels-Charleroi Canal.
“Brussels has grown in recent years into a place where many international artists, representing different generations, live and work. It’s an incredibly rich landscape,” said Kasia Redzisz, Artistic Director of Kanal, formerly of Tate Liverpool. “Brussels is sharp, critical, humorous, surreal. The performance by Marcel Broodthaers, who enters the Center for Fine Arts on a camel in 1974, is a perfect reflection of this. I don’t think it would have (happened) in Liverpool.” No wonder psychiatrists at Brugmann University Hospital are conducting a pilot study that prescribes free museum visits in Brussels to help with burnout and anxiety.
“I think people in Belgium are open-minded and don’t take themselves too seriously. We don’t care, we just want to do it”, Jadot agrees. It is this open-mindedness that he tries to honor with the confluence of creativity that is visible with Mix. “It’s not a collective, it’s more like a family. We are all different – we do many things. But in the end, when we do something together, energy is created.”