Rewriting History: A 163-year-old Apartment in Copenhagen by Djernes & Bell.
Somewhere in central Copenhagen, between the cosy cafés and the charming canals, is an apartment that has remained largely unchanged since 1859. And yet, not all its details are original.
When architects Jonas Djernes and Justine Bell of Djernes & Bell—known for their repair-over-replace signature—stepped in to give the 250-square-metre apartment a modern update a few years ago, the bones were intact and many details, especially in the front rooms, had remained untouched. What hadn’t were the details in the back rooms, which had undergone dramatic additions and alterations in the last 163 years.
Luckily for the pair, a dip into the archives produced a lucky little jackpot of historic drawings and rich details of the missing wall panelling and marquetry. Using that as their point of departure, they adopted two separate approaches for the front and back rooms, minimising changes in the former and maximising additions in the latter. In the front-facing living and dining areas, century-old broken boards and heavily worn pine floors were gently healed in keeping with the architects’ repair-first, replace-next philosophy. The only exception to the nothing-new rule was a kitchen camouflaged into the front using wall panelling original to the apartment.
Where the original details had faded or been removed, the architects took a more proactive approach. The entrance hall, scullery, bathrooms and bedroom to the back were elevated with classic panelling and timber details that held a mirror to the original architecture, while certified local pine or oak tri-board was trucked in for the internal linings and joinery.
For the bathroom floors and kitchen countertops, as well as the skirting in the entrance hall, the architects opted for local Swedish sandstone. As for the internal windows, they were refashioned à la relief coins to invite daylight into the foyer and guest bedroom.
The aesthetic interventions each had a plural sense of purpose. The generous scullery was designed to occasionally masquerade as a muck room and to afford comfortable circulation for guests and residents. Likewise, the kitchen and scullery sink were demarcated by pocket doors to hide messes in plain sight.
For a project so significant, the furniture had to be equally so. So was born a new walnut series by Djernes & Bell, exclusively designed for the apartment. The tables take cues from groups of columns and intertwined tree trunks as well as Japanese notched joinery. All the pieces are crafted from sustainably grown and locally sourced, mature European walnut.
For Jonas and Justine, the restoration is emblematic of their ‘make good’ ethos. “We are very focused on ‘making good’ in restoring or repairing existing buildings. More consideration needs to be put into this concept as it is central to our understanding of the balance between the man-made and the natural, and the cycles of use and decay that bind us together,” finishes Justine.
[Images courtesy of Djernes Bell. Photography by Lars Rolfsted Mortensen.]