“I saw the garden before I saw anything else,” says Bernadette de Geyter, 55, of her Antwerp home, which, with its dusty yellow facade and tiled hip roof, is evocative of a rustic Provençal manor house. “We bought it from a Frenchwoman who knew the name of every plant in both Latin and French,” she adds of the grounds surrounding the two-story bastide, which was built in the late ’90s. Botanical lexicons aside, it’s easy to see how de Geyter — who worked as a buyer for Ralph Lauren before launching her mohair knitwear line, Made by Bernadette, eight years ago — fell for the five-bedroom property with ivy covering its exterior and an acacia tree growing by the downstairs windows alongside various boxwood hedges. Not long after purchasing the place — located some 30 minutes from Antwerp’s city center — 12 years ago, de Geyter planted two apple trees and a rose garden, which blooms in the spring and early summer with bursts of soft pink (Chapeau de Napoléon), hot pink (La Ville de Bruxelles) and white (Boule de Neige). Every year, she enjoys cutting the flowers and placing them in vintage vases throughout the house.
The home’s bright interior, as well as its vibrant garden, is a lasting source of inspiration for both de Geyter and her daughter, Charlotte. In 2018, the two launched Bernadette Antwerp, a women’s clothing line comprising mostly slinky, boudoir-ish dresses, often in vivid colors or with floral prints in soft crepe or Italian silk. Charlotte, who is 28 years old, graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2016, and there’s a knowingness to the brand’s designs that is informed by the perspectives of two women from different generations. Hemlines are either short and playful or long and elegant; a skirt can be paired with a silk-satin bralette or else a voluminous dress might be matched with a dramatic, oversize taffeta bow. In some ways, the duo’s sensibility is reminiscent of the work of another Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, who has an expansive 55-acre property and garden nearby, and who also often looks to the natural world for his prints and patterns. “When you first start at the academy at Antwerp,” says Charlotte, “you’re really pushed to find your signature, to be able to translate it from who you are. I think my designs reflect being raised in such a colorful home.”
“A warm atmosphere is important to me,” says de Geyter, who has filled her home with all manner of antiques she’s found at Vossenmarkt, a high-end Brussels flea market. She describes Belgium as a place with a lot of gray light, and to counterbalance this, she has punctuated many of the rooms with table lamps that she turns on or off as the sun moves from east to west. The result? Walls and other surfaces are perpetually bathed in a soft, warm glow. De Geyter is particularly fond of the color pink and has found ways to use it without creating too naïve of an effect. The dining room is painted in a gentle blush tone reminiscent of the inside of a seashell. Smaller touches of the hue exist throughout the house, as if added by the quick brush strokes of an Impressionist painter: on the inside of a hanging lampshade, on the top of a wooden step stool or within a glass paperweight. In the living room, the salmon-colored sofa that sits in front of the fireplace is loaded with a variety of custom-made pillows, many also in shades of pink, that de Geyter commissioned from a local craftswoman.
On a recent summer day, both mother and daughter are wearing maxi dresses from their pre-spring collection, launching this week. The prints were designed by Charlotte, who likes to photograph the garden and create a mood board, before sitting down to sketch her ideas out by hand. She’s partial to patterns of rose sprigs and ’60s-inspired flower swirls. That said, the pair do most of their design work and fashion appointments in a studio closer to the city center (and near where Charlotte lives), which, in stark contrast, resembles a white-cube gallery — the better to see the clothing on its own, they both insist.
When the whole family is here — including de Geyter’s son, Sébastien, and Charlotte’s boyfriend, the artist Ben Sledsens — the house is a place for relaxing, not work. “I feel like I’m on holiday when I’m here — it doesn’t seem to be in Antwerp, it seems to be somewhere distant,” says Charlotte. And, though she was careful about visiting at the beginning of the pandemic, the house was designed for social interaction: On the ground floor, each room opens onto the next, so it’s easy for de Geyter to hear her family’s comings and goings (including those of its newest member, an Australian Labradoodle puppy named Maurice) or to see her husband working in the study as she cooks from the other end. The kitchen is filled with cookbooks, thanks to Charlotte’s grandmother — she gives them a new one each holiday, though they admit that lately they’ve been making more spice-laden dishes from chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi. Vessels and platters — some are porcelain antiques, others are South African ceramics picked up from a seaside market — line the room’s wall-to-wall shelf. Beautiful wood serving boards, purchased on a jaunt to the French countryside, rest on a marble countertop beside a pink, retro-looking toaster. Nearby, three goldfish swim in a large bowl. “We used one fish for a shoot,” de Geyter says. “And then I said, ‘Oh, my God, we need more because it’s lonely!’” In the warmer months, the family enjoys eating outside, often chasing the day’s light or a different view of the house. “My mother always puts the dinner table in a different spot in the middle of the garden,” says Charlotte. It’s a move that’s idiosyncratic yet charming — not unlike their colorful clothes.