Back in 2015, Bertelles was conceived by its founder, Gilles Grosjean-Nash, as a part-time, side project; until 2018, when he made the decision work full-time on the brand, letting it take centre-stage. He wanted to develop the brand and create a dedicated space where it could flourish and continue to evolve: somewhere to brainstorm, design, and create. Nowadays, the Bertelles' studio, located in the centre of Brussels, is a thriving, contemporary space situated inside a historic and charming building that homes the whole team.
Finding the right space wasn't straightforward. On discovering the perfect home for Bertelles, Gilles said, "I visited a few places but never found exactly what I envisioned. An estate agent had just shown me around a place in Ixelles that was a little too small for my liking when they mentioned that they had something interesting available in the city centre. I've always liked the centre of Brussels - there's a diverse mix of culture and businesses. The building in question was situated right in the core of the creative district of Dansaert and, at first glance, it was really a sad-looking space! To be honest, it was in very poor condition, but I could instantly see its potential. It was love at first sight." Trusting his gut, Gilles made an offer and very soon after, the building was his.
Built in the 1910s, this historic site had initially been used by company trading margarine products. By the 1930s, it was used by a plumbing company and was owned by the same family all the way until the 2010s. Bertelles is only the third business to occupy the building and host its activities there. But such an old building needed a lot of work doing to it before it could be habitable and the renovation was not an easy task. "It took a little longer and cost more than expected to start the work and to know what could be done. I could imagine what I wanted but I struggled to put it down in practical terms and it was at this point that I contacted Richard Vandevelde of Pragm Architects."
Gilles had first met Richard some years ago during a renovation of an old industrial carpentry workshop where they bonded over a shared passion of industrial interiors and maintaining old buildings. Having worked on projects together in the past, it was decided that Richard would take on the Bertelles renovation project: "When he showed me the place for the first time, it was obvious to me that he had found a little gem in the middle of the city centre. We wanted to keep the character of the old building while stripping it down to give it new life and agreed on the importance of maintaining the spirit of its industrial past while also implementing contemporary elements to modernise the space."
Richard was delighted to take on the renovation project with Gilles. "This old workshop from the beginning of the 20th century, located inside an islet with a yard and a central coach-way, was a perfect playground that would be a long-term home for Bertelles, with substantial office, shop and workshop spaces." However charming the space may have been, the renovation threw a few unpleasant surprises their way, including extensive roof reparation that interrupted the apartments situated above the space, and a burst toilet irrigation pipe - during the summer! - in the courtyard ("The smell was just awful," Gilles recalled).
But it was not all so tumultuous. During the renovation, Gilles came upon an historic little plateau from the plumbing company that had once been housed in the space, advertising the installation of a complete bathroom into private homes for the modest price of 1250 Belgian francs. And regarding the building's structures, there were some particularly pleasant discoveries in the hallway. As told by Richard: "There, we uncovered and showcased an old granito wall that had been painted over, as well as old, out-of-use windows in the top part of the carriage entrance, which allowed plenty of natural light to come through again. Those features have enabled us to highlight the entrance and stage the arrival in the yard."
"A challenge that presented itself during the project was to reorganise the space while leaving freedom for evolution inside the building so that the studio could still take a different shape in the future." This element of the renovation has been a clear success, reflected in its fluctuating nature with, for example, the recent addition of a repair and sampling atelier inside the Bertelles studio. Bertelles is the specialist in braces, and now any purchase of these gorgeous, high-end braces can be repaired - if necessary - in-house by its talented, specialist designers.
And Gilles has further plans for the studio: "I envisage a space that is lively, welcoming, homely: here, at Bertelles, we want to offer many kinds of services. I want customers and designers alike to come to the studio to view the products, try on the braces, and share their passions with us. We want to collaborate and work with others and continue to expand the Bertelles family. Within the “family” there are other independent brands, such as Lunetier Ludovic, who make beautiful and unique custom-spectacles, and Thibault Vancauwen, a Parisian hat maker. Our aim is to continue branching out and collaborating with designers and craftsmen like this and have the Bertelles studio be a place where that can happen. It's about finding like-minded people."
Working with independent businesses is important to Bertelles. "Passion is all you get when working with freelancers. I like working with people who really love what they do, who are, like me, a little bit crazy. You have to be to renovate a really old building to make it your studio and office space! It's not that you can't find that passion or spark in corporates, but with independents and freelancers, I find that you have more room for flexibility and creativity." This was another reason for Bertelles' collaboration with Pragm Architects for the renovation of the building. Gilles' respected the functional creativity and pragmatic nature of Richard's work and was impressed with his ability to strike a balance between maintaining an historic space whilst giving it a contemporary, clever update. The feeling is mutual and Richard has also echoed the success of their collaboration: "What I really value in Gilles’ project is that he was able to bring back an artisanal, productive activity and restore the primary calling of the establishment."
You can find the beautifully-renovated Bertelles studio on Rue Pletinckx 27, just next to Place Saint-Gery in the centre of the city. Apart from elegant braces and a welcoming team of staff, inside, you can peruse a library of books on fashion history, menswear and craftsmanship and admire restored furniture sourced from auctions, flea-markets and second-hand stores - a fitting decor, aligned perfectly with the spirit of the studio itself.
See below more photos of the Studio.
Find Pragm Architects on here:
This text is an edited compilation of an interview conducted by Bertelles with Richard Vandevelde, founder of Pragm Architects, which took place on 21/09/2020 in Brussels.