The restored neo-renaissance and neo-classical facades of the Antwerp residence of the artist and landscape architect Ronald van der Hilst – two buildings that have been joined together to form a building – tell the story of their past. (Both buildings were built in the 16th century and extensive renovations were carried out in the mid-19th century.) But once you’re inside, you can not do anything with it. The rooms are decorated in neon colors and have huge walls decorated with tulips. Born in the Netherlands, van der Hilst was not always a friend of tulips. He was obsessed when he discovered the seventeenth-century Zomerschoon varieties. “These tulips are like living antiques,” he says. (Since then, he has founded a full tulip-inspired company that sells “tulip” bricks, wallpaper, fabrics, vases and planters.) When van der Hilst met his husband Marcel Vissers in 1994, he lived in the classicist style house (it was run down , used as a student apartment). In 1997, they bought the building next door. After the breakthrough of the walls “there were many nice surprises”, recalls van der Hilst. “We found hidden floors, beautiful chimneys and stained glass doors.” But the biggest surprise was the discovery that one of the city’s oldest cafes was on the ground floor of the second building. “And in the 17th century,” van der Hilst says, “tulip bulbs were traded in these coffeehouses.”
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