April saw the opening of August, a former Augustinian cloister that has been transformed into a sublime hideaway under the guidance of legendary Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen in his first-ever hotel project. Housed within five heritage-listed structures, the 44-room hotel embodies a tangible celebration of history and Flemish culture in the heart of Antwerp’s Green Quarter.
A sense of serenity permeates the public and private areas, from the stunning bar and lounge set in the old nun’s private chapel, to the intimate guestrooms that reflect the authentic dimensions of the original convent chambers. Bookend the experience with three exquisitely private walled gardens, a spa with an outdoor swimming pool, and an elegant guest library, and it quickly becomes apparent that August transcends the definition of hotel to emerge as the epitome of a modern day sanctuary.
Paying homage to both the structural integrity and innate spirituality of the former cloister, while simultaneously crafting a unique visual identity suited to a contemporary hotel, posed the greatest challenge to Van Duysen when considering the design concept for August. The resulting design is informed in parts by the strong existing aesthetic of the nunnery and adjacent townhouses that make up the hotel’s public areas and guestrooms and yet is elevated by understated soulful modernism.
“When you restore a building, you have to do it with respect. We have to consider the past as being a beautiful gift,” explains Van Duysen of the core inspiration behind the sensitive renovation. Soaring wooden ceilings, arched windows and restored patterned floor tiles frame pared-down interiors, which are defined by the use of desaturated colors augmented by a few well-chosen statement design pieces. The main bar and lounge area, for example, features a beautiful Adolf Loos-like light feature by Flos, and customized furniture created in collaboration with Molteni&Co.
Set in the former nuns’ living quarters, the essence of Augustinian convent life is revived in the 44 guestrooms, where the historical day-to-day dedication is translated into a serene modernism. Ranging from 16 to 42 square meters, almost no room is quite alike thanks to the unique footprint of the storied buildings, leaving space for each to have its intrinsic personal touches. Bespoke finishing is found in every element of the room design, from the tailormade Flos lighting to the Portuguese handwoven carpets, while luxurious bathrooms feature Italian hand-glazed tiles, Fantini taps designed by Van Duysen, and Bamford amenities. Each room offers views over the hotel’s verdant gardens or Antwerp’s distinctive cityscape, and the magnificent suites lead out onto perfectly appointed terraces overlooking the chapel, courtyard and pond.
August provides a shelter that feeds the soul, but more corporeal nourishment is the focus of the hotel’s refreshingly fuss-free restaurant concept, which has been developed by chef Nick Bril of The Jane, a neighboring two-Michelin star eatery. Conscious of its location and history, the modern brasserie is sublime in its simplicity, offering seasonal, accessible dishes that follow the rhythm of the seasons. Bril is also responsible for the small plates served at The August Bar, a light-filled space leading out onto a covered, heated terrace and the lush gardens beyond. Housed within the singular setting of the meticulously restored turn-of-the-century chapel, the bar represents a sophisticated world of repose, dominated by beautiful, over-sized taupe and gray-beige sofas.
The hotel’s dedicated wellness area is ideally located in one of the terraced brick townhouses, surrounded by a secluded walled garden. Comprising a sauna, hammam, and hot stone therapy room, the spa offers a wide variety of facial and body treatments as well as innovative rituals, using Bamford products and treatments. A swimming pond complete with self-filtering reed bed provides the ultimate rejuvenation, however guests looking for a more extreme cool down are well catered for with fresh ice scrubs and an outdoor therapy shower. Rounding off this picture of stylish tranquility is the hotel library, a fully-stocked temple to the written word among spectacular surroundings.