Designer René Holten went in search of – and found – the perfect premises for his business. He talked to us about his new workplace: the Andrieskapel in Maastricht, a place that not only offers him more physical space but helps him to think bigger too.
“I had no real intention of buying a chapel, but this building gives me everything I was looking for. Previously, I had always worked in houses and studios in the city. I was on the lookout for more space, not only for my own agency but also so I would have room for occasional exhibitions and workshops. My aim is to bring together the whole of Maastricht’s design world. And here I can do all of those things.”
Over the centuries
Like a well-trained city guide, René talked to us about the history of the chapel. The building dates back to 1360, and is the final remnant of a large monastic institution. At one point, an additional floor was installed – a sort of balcony - so that the nuns could attend mass, while still being kept apart from the common folk. Centuries later, further changes were made by the military and at one point the chapel was on the list for demolition – until it was restored and converted into an archive.
From altar to work surface
“When I purchased the chapel, all that remained were the outer walls. The entire interior had been stripped. We renovated the space with respect for the historical, monumental walls.” A work surface now takes pride of place where the altar used to be. A large cruciform lamp is suspended from the ceiling on long cables. “We were given permission to raise the ‘nuns’ floor’ to a higher point than where it was originally fitted. That gave us sufficient space to insert an additional level between the upper floor and the ground floor. That in turn meant more square metres to play with and – architecturally – a more appealing look.”
“The chapel is a grade-one listed historical building, so it took longer than I or the architect expected to obtain approval for the building plans. Funding was a problem too. Banks are especially cautious when it comes to creative entrepreneurs – particularly when they are self-employed,” he grinned. “The Business Contact Centre guided me through the entire process. It’s just a shame they have no decision-making powers. If you ask me, they should be given greater freedom. But at the end of the day, everything has come together. The renovation work took 14 months, and the official opening was in February of this year. We are delighted with the result. The local officials are also pleased that this listed monument now has a new role in life.”
“As an entrepreneur, this represents the next step in the development of my business. I have attracted new clients and I am still involved in my own projects. Not only have I acquired more physical space, but also space in my head,” he explained. “A small studio can be restrictive. I now have more people, I am able to work with more people and can take on larger projects. In other words, it is time for the next step for my business. Literally thinking bigger.”
“We regularly open the chapel to the public. After the summer, for example, we are taking part in the Open Monument Day, and Musica Sacra will be giving a performance here.” René looked out of the window. “We would love to also use the old convent gardens, to offer visitors outdoor space, as well. For the time being the land is owned by the municipality, but it used to belong to the chapel. I would love to see them reunited once again. It would bring the history back full circle.”
About René Holten
René Holten was head of Product Development at Artifort and has been running his own design agency for around 22 years. He studied architecture at the Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts & Design and at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. His designs have won numerous prizes. For more information visit www.reneholten.nl.
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