Belgian eclecticism cool
Anne-Marie Midy and Jorge Almada knew it was going to be a challenge to move their family from a provincial Mexican town, San Miguel de Allende, to the northern European capital of Brussels. First, there were the logistics of buying and renovating an overseas townhouse, largely over the Internet. The couple worried about how their toddler sons, Olivier and Antoine, would adapt to a place where everything from language to weather would be dramatically different. The transition before them was daunting enough—and then along came the barracuda.
Midy, who grew up in Paris, met Almada in the United States, where they both attended college in the early 1990s. They shared an interest in design, as well as the unusual fact that both their mothers had been transatlantic flight attendants before getting married (Midy’s father was French, while Almada’s is Mexican). They fell in love and, after spending a few years in New York, moved to Mexico, where they started a company, Casamidy, collaborating with local artisans to create a line of contemporary furniture.
Casamidy’s high-style take on Mexican craft—their designs incorporate traditional handmade tin and ironwork—soon became a success north of the border. After more than a decade in San Miguel, Midy and Almada hoped to expand their business abroad. Meanwhile, Midy wanted her sons to have a French education and the experience of living in Europe. After weighing their options, they chose Brussels—the unofficial capital of the European Union—as their base. “It’s a diplomatic center where people speak a lot of languages, so we knew we would feel comfortable,” Almada says. “It’s much more affordable than Paris, yet only an hour away by train. And Belgium has such a strong design aesthetic. It felt like an adventure.”
Once they had decided on the location for their new home, they set about finding the perfect address. “We kept making offers but the houses there go as quickly as pains au chocolat,” Midy jokes. At last, they purchased a stone townhouse dating from 1907. To their dismay, all the walls were covered in uninspired, old-fashioned wallpaper. But they loved what Midy calls the “beautiful volumes of space.” The location on Avenue Molière, a grand boulevard of embassies and private residences, is well situated near Place Brugmann, a bustling square filled with restaurants, boutiques, and antiques shops.
Renovating a home across an ocean had its complications. When the workers steamed off the old wallpaper, the walls beneath crumbled and had to be replastered—an unforeseen expense and delay. At one point, the construction foreman e-mailed Midy that the color she had specified for the library upstairs—a grayish lavender known in French as parme—was so ugly he assumed it was a mistake. He told the workers to stop painting. “Continue,” came Midy’s response.
In 2009, the work was almost finished and the airplane tickets to Brussels had been purchased. Two weeks before the move, disaster struck. On a family vacation near Cancun, Midy was swimming in the ocean when she felt a blow to her neck. A barracuda had grazed her throat, slicing the muscles in her neck, as well as her external jugular, and almost piercing her aorta. She needed 62 stitches and spent three weeks in the hospital. “The doctors say it is a miracle I’m alive,” she says. It took a year until she was finally well enough to move to Belgium with her family.
Today, in their serene townhouse, it’s hard to imagine the serious calamity that she and her family endured. Midy, who loves to cook, bustles around her new modern kitchen, with its steam oven and striking yellow backsplash. The boys, now four and five, chase each other around the main floor’s spacious parlors, which are made luminous by their pale-gray walls, decorative plasterwork, and bleached oak-plank floors. Meanwhile, Almada, who travels four times a year to San Miguel (where the family still spend their summers), prepares for the opening of a Casamidy showroom on the ground floor of the townhouse.
On the floors above, the palette deepens: the guest bedroom is brown and olive, the boys’ room is blue, and the master bedroom—with its iron canopy bed—is a soft gray. Most dramatic of all is the tone-on-tone purple library, with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and coordinating walls and furnishings (even the foreman had to admit that the end result looked great).
On one of their first mornings in Brussels, Almada heard a familiar noise and noticed a flash of fluorescent green outside his bedroom window. “It’s a flock of parrots,” he told Midy, who didn’t believe him. But later, they discovered a colony of wild African parrots was indeed living in a nearby square. “The move has been challenging for our family in so many ways, from Anne-Marie’s accident to just getting used to the cold, gray Brussels weather,” Almada says. “But whenever we see those parrots, I point them out to the boys and remind them that they also come from a hot country. If they can adapt, we can too.”