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The House Whisperer

09:36 10/01/2014
Isabel Verstraete is a busy woman. The Ghent native, currently living in Antwerp, directs an in-demand marketing firm, which is already more than a full-time gig. When we met for this interview, she was overseeing a photo shoot for a corporate client and quickly had to put on her other hat, that of a Brussels real estate entrepreneur.

Verstraete is one half of Housestories, a company that offers furnished flats with a difference. “There are thousands of furnished apartments in Brussels,” she says, “but when you look closer, you find that few of them are high-quality. Most are either put together on the cheap or sterile and standardized, like a chain hotel.”

She and business partner Alexandre Pijcke set out to offer something more, an elegant alternative for business travellers who find themselves in Brussels for four nights (Housestories’ minimum stay), four months or four years.

In 2008 they acquired an Art Deco mansion in Avenue Besme, situated in the suburb so green it’s called Forest. The structure has been renovated with an eye toward both contemporary ecological values and its original architectural panache. The end result is five separate flats of different sizes. In addition, each has a unique flavour thanks to the design intervention of Verstraete, who slept in all of the flats to make sure everything was in order. “You can see that many architects and designers have never actually lived in their spaces,” she says. “Sometimes important details are overlooked; you get out of the shower and there's no place to hang the towel.”

Honed by her professional background in marketing and a passion for travelling, Verstraete’s eye for detail ensures a top-shelf experience right down to the charming vintage furniture and a secure parking lot that makes guests feel safe and comfortable.

Although lovely, the neighbourhood isn’t an obvious choice, especially for newcomers to the capital. This, according to Verstraete, is simply a matter of education. "When expats come to Brussels,” she says, “they only know one word: Ixelles. Then, after a while, they learn another: Chatelain. These are great neighbourhoods, of course, but there's so much more to Brussels."

 Housestories’ guests have figured this out, and that might be the only thing this diverse bunch have in common. “Our clients come from different industries and from all around the world,” Verstraete says, “but they’re an adventurous lot. They want to step outside the designated expat zones and see all the city has to offer.”

Written by Georgio Valentino