Djernes & Bell: transformation of a historic apartment in Copenhagen

Djernes & Bell define themselves as an architectural practice with a particular interest in “what already exists”: built, material, human, natural. This brand new studio, founded in 2020 by Justine Bell and Jonas Djernes, is based in Copenhagen, where the architects carried out their very first project together: the transformation and enhancement of a luxury apartment in the historic center of the Danish capital.
But Justine Bell and Jonas Djernes each worked alone before tackling this project together. Justine Bell has worked with John Pawson and Carmody Groarke in London and Gottlieb Paludan in Copenhagen, and is an external lecturer at the Aarhus School of Architecture, Design & Build Studio and visiting lecturer at the Royal Danish Academy of Architecture, The Institute of Architecture and Culture. Jonas Djernes has worked with 6a architects and Caruso St. John in London and with Leth & Gori in Copenhagen and has taught at the Institute of Architecture and Technology at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture from Denmark.
Their first common project could be described as a kind of manifesto of their philosophy, in which each action aims to extend the life of what already exists, whether it is an architectural construction, a surface coating inside it, an element or a detail of the furnishing. Based on Claude Monet’s aphorism that “… the surrounding atmosphere gives it life – light and air, which vary continuously”they focus their attention on the fact that matter does not exist as a static reality, but as continuous transformation, which it is natural to support and emphasize. Thus, the space in which we all live, and where architects work, cannot claim to be something new and perfect, because that would be a lie. Welcoming the signs or the patina of time for its ability to tell the story of the place; what really matters is not to destroy the passage of other past lives, but to continue to evoke them.
The idea they repeatedly expressed is that the most enduring state of a building is its current state, requiring nothing to tear down and rebuild, but simply repaired Where it is needed. Hence the great care Djernes and Bell take in everything they do, down to the smallest detail.
The apartment is located in the historic center of Copenhagen, occupying an entire floor of a corner building built in 1859. Inside, its layout with Connecting rooms facing the street was retained, without adding any walls or closing anything except the central utility block. In accordance with the plans of the historical city archives, the most private rooms are positioned on the sides, with the most public part of the house being in the center, at the corner of the street, where the entrance is.

The apartment was full of luxurious details such as wooden paneling at different heights, totally or partially covering the walls, with elegant decorative frames. Instead of replacing worn materials with new ones, the architects’ approach was to salvage them, even where it required minor “mending” wood. This is the case of the pine wood floor which required more than 30 repairs to restore the broken plank edges. Where appropriate, wood has been replaced with local pine or oak from certified forests, working with local carpenters to make the new furniture.
The entrance hall, the scullery and the bathrooms and at the rear have undergone a more radical transformation. The kitchen has been completely redesigned and assembled as self-contained units retain the original woodwork and plaster cornices. The generous space behind the kitchen serves as storage, creating a quick connection between the entrance and the most private part of the apartment. The kitchen and the sink in the scullery are concealed by retractable doors which allow quick “tidying up” of these spaces. The kitchen island sinks and countertop are custom made in Swedish red sandstonethe material covering all the surfaces of the bathroom and the baseboards of the entrance hall.
The generally negative view of mass-produced Danish furniture has for some time led to a preference for self-design and especially handcrafted. In this house, all tables large and small have been handcrafted from European walnut that is at least 90 years old, guaranteeing the durability of their production.
The whole apartment is dotted with details that add nobility to the space: from the elegant round windows connecting distant spaces in the layout of the house, such as the entrance hall and the shower area, to the hidden bathroom door in the bedroom wall; from the round, black, jewel-like electrical outlets set into the walls and standing out, to the new radiators evoking the house’s original style and coffered ceilings.
The colors have been completely changed, drawing on the delicate atmospheres of the paintings of Giorgio Morandiwho paints bottles and vases forming metaphysical landscapes.

Mara Corradi

Architects: Djernes & Bell
Customer: Private
Engineer: Regnestuen
Contractor: Bolig 360 with Hus Entrepris/ Sergejs Turs
Masonry company: E-Nielsen
Carpenter walnut tables:
(01, 03-21, 23-28) Lars Rolfsted Mortensen
(02) Nikolaj Thaning Rentzmann
(22) Jonas Djernes

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