It has long been popular for designers and architects to find ways of re-purposing industrial buildings. These structures often have an historic or even an iconic appearance, and thus are sometimes sought after by those looking for a more unique living space. Patrick Mets is one such individual.
Mets has always been interested in water towers in his native Belgium, the brick and concrete structures that used to supply people with water across the country. And while working for a company in Brussels, he began to dream of living in one of these structures. As a result, he eventually set out to make his dream a reality.
Speaking to filmmaker Kirsten Dirksen in a video uploaded to YouTube in May 2017, Mets explained, “For one and a half years, we [drove] around on a motorbike, looking for water towers. [It] was also a bit of a challenge to find them, because sometimes they are near the roads, sometimes they are in the middle of a forest.”
When Mets did find a water tower, the first thing that he had to do was determine whether it was still being used. Then he had to find out if the owner would sell him the property. It was a long process, so when he was finally given the chance to purchase a water tower in 1996, he didn’t think twice.
The building in question had in fact been sold at auction not long before. Nonetheless, Mets felt that this particular tower was exactly what he’d been looking for. So he found the new owners and offered them $35,000 – a bid that they accepted.
Despite Mets’ enthusiasm for the building, though, it was in a sorry state and hadn’t been used for perhaps 15 years at that point. The windows were broken and the brickwork was black and crumbling in places. Additionally, some of the concrete had decayed and was in need of replacement.
Unfortunately, the poor state of the interior wasn’t the only issue that he faced. The water tower is situated in a protected area, meaning that there are restrictions on the construction work that can be carried out there. Consequently, it ended up taking eight years for Mets to acquire building permission. Even then, he only succeeded due to an obscure loophole.
As it happened, the tower had been built by the Nazis during their occupation of Belgium in World War Two. Mets decided to have it registered as a “site of historic importance,” which would allow him to make changes to the structure. Essentially, building work would be permitted if the exterior wasn’t altered.
It still took half a decade of work to transform the tower, but Mets had chosen well. “Some water towers are entirely empty,” he later told The New York Times. “But this one had six floors… I began envisioning each floor as a separate living space.”
Mets then hired Mauro Brigham, an architect from the Bham Design Studio in Brussels. Brigham began by renovating the structure of the building. This included repairing and repainting the neglected concrete columns that supported the old water tank, as well as replacing the brick joints and increasing the size of the windows.
It is Brigham’s interior work, however, that has transformed this ageing shell into a masterpiece. Considering that the work actually ended up costing $1.8 million, though, perhaps that’s to be expected. The results really are spectacular, with the six floors now making up a unique two-bedroom home.
One particularly notable feature is the fourth level of the tower, which has been turned into an eye-catching bathroom. The shower is in the center of the room, meaning that water is flowing exactly where it used to during the building’s heyday. The showerhead itself is almost 15 feet high and 14 inches across, creating an incredible cascade.
When Brigham was insulating the tower so that it would be suitable for habitation, he also included soundproofing. Using the latest technology, it means that despite the tower’s proximity to an airport, Mets and his family can’t hear the planes nearby.
Mets was keen to retain as many of the original features of the water tower as possible. For that reason, much of the actual water tank is still a part of the structure. It has been painted a dark hue, with artwork drawn in what appears to be chalk across several sections.
Perhaps the most spectacular part of the renovated building is the new roof terrace, which offers extraordinary views of the surrounding countryside. What’s more, during the summer it’s possible to sunbathe on the roof and then use a purpose-built shower to cool off.
Mets and his family enjoyed living in the space following its successful renovation. After a couple of years, however, they decided to move in order to be closer to relatives and schools. Nowadays, the tower is rented on a day basis for businesses to use as a unique meeting place.
During her documentary, Kirsten Dirksen asked Mets if he had another project in mind, now that his work on water tower was complete. Mets wasn’t sure, but had some words of wisdom for would-be renovators. “You have to keep dreaming,” he said, laughing. “This was a big dream [that] we realized.”
Although Mets’ project was hugely impressive, it isn’t the first time that a water tower has been converted into a new living space. And one such renovation was featured on the British television program Grand Designs. This tower was in Kennington, London, and was originally built during the Victorian era.
Like Mets’ tower, this building was protected and subject to stricter building regulations. And it also offered panoramic views of London. With four bedrooms and an elevator for the nine floors, it was a gorgeous property and was reported to be one of the biggest renovations ever to feature on the TV show.
Unfortunately, though, it proved to be more difficult to sell than the owners had hoped. After spending almost $2.8 million of their own money on the renovations, they struggled to sell it for their asking price of $9 million and consequently were forced to drop the price to $6.5 million.