Cristina, could you tell us about yourself? What do you do for a living?
I’m 29 years old, and I was born in Helsinki to a Finnish mother and an Italian father. I arrived in Brussels when I was four years old after spending a few years in Milan. As for Fred, he’s a Belgian through and through, an ex-banker who launched his juice bar business in 2006. Today, we work together in the business that he built. We have three children: Alexandre who’s five-and-a-half, Louis (who follows him around everywhere because they’re only a year apart) and our lovely little girl, Colette, who’s one.
What is the story of this house?
We used to live in Uccle, which is closer to Brussels. We started to run out of room and the children were sleeping in the same bedroom. Fred was born here, in Rhode-Saint-Genèse, and we naturally started looking around here because our budget would stretch to more space than we would get in Uccle. We had visited heaps of houses, but this is the one that made me fall head over heels. It was a much bigger project than I had expected, but it was impossible to miss out on it. The house was a ruin, but it had an amazing look about it. The plot was incredible. With a few small exceptions, we have kept the size and space in the rooms the same – on the other hand, we opened up everything below and we made the attic habitable, and it’s now one of our favourite rooms.
How did you furnish and decorate the place?
Everyone in my Finnish family is an architect. My grandfather finished some unbelievable projects, like our house on the coast, which is a peaceful paradise that’s full of light. In their house in town, my grandparents have an incredible collection of furniture from the 50s, 60s and 70s, which hasn’t aged a day in sixty years. When I go to visit them, I’m always ecstatic about the attention to detail that they had back in the day. Clearly, their style inspired mine. Minimalism, with lots of black and white, and where there is colour, it’s very restrained. Blank spaces to let you breathe and period designer furniture (which we bought bit by bit in auction houses or over eBay).
At the very beginning, our house was very black and white. In winter, it gets pretty cold. For that reason, I wanted to add a bit of warmth with more ethnic accessories.
And the space, how is it organised, given that you have three children?
At home, the bedrooms are strictly for sleeping only! We don’t spend a lot of time upstairs and the children don’t have any toys there. We spend most of our time in the kitchen or the games room. In the summer, everything is wide open and we make the most of our garden wherever we can (even though, in Belgium, the weather is far from a sure thing).
Do you have a favourite era or a designer whom you’re particularly fond of?
We switch between the 50s and 60s, and the 70s. We don’t have a favourite designer but we do sometimes get fixated one designer or another. For the moment, we dream of finding a bar table by Willy Rizzo.
What kind of decoration are you into at the moment?
At the very beginning, our house was very black and white. In winter, it gets pretty cold. For that reason, I wanted to add a bit of warmth with fabrics, carpets, cushions, and crockery that’s a bit more ethnic. That’s definitely my obsession of the moment.
Is interior design compatible with a family life?
In our house, when you want something enough, you can do it! So, if we want to make sure that the decoration is compatible with the children, it will be. They know that there are some things that they can’t touch and they’ve learned to be careful. There are accidents from time to time, but I like to remind them that they are just things and it never matters all that much.
You travel a lot (at least two or three trips since we first got in contact). What is your favourite family destination? What would you recommend?
I love to travel. When I was little, we spent our holidays in Finland and Italy. It was brilliant and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Sometimes, people ask me why we drag our kids all over the world “when they won’t remember a thing.” To my mind, it’s absurd to think like that. Travel is what builds our character – every time they travel, they grow, learn to adapt, discover new things, and taste new food. They’re used to that busy pace, they love it, and it’s good for them! Our favourite destination is still Finland. Our house by the seaside is my version of perfection. Everything is stunning when you go there. In summer, the light is incredible, and fortunately, my husband has fallen in love with the country as well. By going there, you learn to get a taste for the simple things in life, with the feeling that you’re the only ones in the world in this silent environment. There are no restrictions on what we can do and the concept of time doesn’t matter. It’s a trip that I would recommend to anyone. Helsinki is a great city, and the people in Finland are completely lovely. It’s super kid-friendly and there are brilliant trips that you can take by boat to Stockholm or Tallinn.
Are there any places you would recommend visiting in Belgium or anywhere else?
We recently spent a weekend in Ghent and we loved it! There are some lovely restaurants, quite elaborately decorated the way I like, everywhere you go. I hadn’t been there since I was fifteen and I really fell for the place. Otherwise, in Brussels, I recently discovered the Sanzaru restaurant, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. It was incredible.
What are your plans for the coming year?
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay – Translation: TextMaster @thesocialitefamily