Brussels Art Nouveau gem Maison Cauchie sold for €1.6 million, heritage home to open to public
Maison Cauchie in Etterbeek has been bought by Thierry de Molinari, owner of insurance cooperative CDA, based in Brussels and Luxembourg.
The 1905 Art Nouveau treasure, located in Rue des Francs, was placed on the property market by the Brussels branch of Sotheby's in May, inviting offers from €1,800,000.
"We signed the deed of sale in July, without going through a compromise, for a purchase price negotiated at €1.65 million," de Molinari told RTBF, adding, "although the value of a property like this is very subjective"
The delay in announcing the purchase was due to the acquisition of the neighbouring house, 3 Rue des Francs. It will serve as a visitor centre for the Art Nouveau property. “The Cauchie house is fabulous. But its accessibility to the public is complicated,” explained de Molinari.
Renovation plans for the additional acquisition include an elevator for people with reduced mobility as well as access to all five floors of the Cauchie house, including its terrace.
Despite its relatively small size, the 330m² property is considered a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture. Its striking façade, inspired by the Glasgow school, is one of the most beautiful in the capital. Contrasting with its geometric lines, a monumental sgraffito (façade painting) illustrates eight women, each representing an art. A ninth bears an inscription "Par nous, pour nous", a personal message from Cauchie and his artist wife Caroline Voet.
Architect and painter Paul Cauchie designed the property, close to Cinquantenaire park, as his personal home and workshop. A sgraffito specialist, the personalised façade also advertised his artistic skills to potential customers. The interior of the house features other sgraffito examples as well as designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The listed property was put up for sale following the death of its former owners. Guy Dessicy, once a collaborator of Hergé, acquired the property with his wife Léo in 1979. They extensively restored it and opened it to the public.
Last year, the couple’s daughter, Michèle Dessicy, signed an agreement with the Brussels Region for the public authority to subsidise the running costs of the house in return for keeping it open to the public.
When the sale of the property was announced in May, there were concerns that the city would lose one of its heritage sites. The region and Etterbeek municipality considered expropriating the house.
But CDA aims to preserve the heritage site and maintain access for visitors. Brussels region secretary of state for heritage Pascal Smet said the new owner would restore the house and in partnership with the region, open it to the public. "We now have a new emblematic building in Brussels that is accessible to visitors. We are very happy," he added.
"The Maison Cauchie is unique and part of our common heritage. Keeping it accessible to the public was therefore my priority. Its purchase by the CDA company is a relief and satisfying. Having renovated and maintained the Hotel de Riez in Molenbeek, the new owners, whom I have already met, have ambition and respect for the house,” Smet said in a statement.
A partnership with public authorities aimed at safeguarding an architectural gem and continuing to open it to the public was the philosophy behind the acquisition, confirmed de Molinari. "We quickly studied the feasibility of bringing the two buildings together. We positioned ourselves, we explained our approach, we welcomed Pascal Smet on site. We explained that we are a private partner who will invest the capital necessary for the renovation work and scenography."
Renovation is expected to last up to 36 months with inauguration of the new spaces planned for 2025 or 2026. "There’s a lot to do. The facade, cleaned 35 years ago, is suffering from damage pollution. Old carpets must be removed, the floors must be restored. Kitchens and bathrooms must be removed since the Cauchie house was also the home of the Dessicy couple."
While CDA will assume the renovation costs, the nonprofit association that runs visits, managed by Michèle and Dominique Dessicy, will form a partnership with the insurance cooperative.
De Molinari sees the project as a real estate investment, even if it will not generate any income. “If a company has the financial means to invest in the preservation of heritage, it must do so. If not, who will do it? Among the buyers who had positioned themselves for the Cauchie house, the heirs favoured CDA's offer because they understood that we were going to continue the work of their parents."