Building and buying

His dream home: an antique lover lives in a converted movie theater

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

In Burgfelderplatz in Basel, antique lover Andreas has fulfilled his dream of a 600 square-meter city loft. Andres has created his apartment in the oldest movie theater with both sound and image in Switzerland. The building, which dates back to 1929, has offered Andreas and his collector’s treasures a new home – with a museum-like character.

Andreas Häner is sitting on his 1950s staircase – two double doors can be seen in the background.
© Natascha Vavrina

In this article

The power of imagination

Living in a former erotic cinema? It sounds sleazy, but it will be a dream come true for 54-year-old Andreas Häner this year. And the past of the Art Deco building in Burgfelderplatz is not quite as disreputable as it sounds: the “Corso” was built in 1929 as the first movie theater equipped for sound film, and opened in 1931 – making it the oldest movie theater with both sound and image in Switzerland. It didn’t start showing films with nude scenes until the mid-1970s, when pornography was legalized in Switzerland. The movie theater part of the building has been empty since it closed in 2011.

“When I stood in this huge hall for the first time in January 2016, I thought: this is a 375 square-meter nightmare,” Häner recalls. “Complete darkness, not a single window, just a huge, useless gloomy hall.” But despite the initial shock, he immediately had the feeling: “This is my new home.” Hundreds of interested parties had looked at the property during the five years of vacancy, but nobody wanted it. “The effort to bring light into the darkness scared them off,” laughs Häner. “And they probably lacked the imagination to picture what could be made of such a drab hole.”

Luckily for him: “The price was rock bottom because the building had been empty for so long.” The Bern-born artist, who studied art and architectural history and has collected antiques and works of art for decades, immediately recognized the movie theater’s potential: “The fact that the ceilings were almost seven meters high allowed me to install a second floor – and with it a living area of around 600 square meters, which provides plenty of room for all the treasures in my collection.”

A huge chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the central hall of the apartment. The large room is filled with collector’s items. It houses a library and a comfortable seating area.

The heart of the apartment: the old movie theater auditorium has been transformed into a central hall with a library, a chandelier and a comfortable seating area.

The renovation: from movie theater to the duplex apartment

He set about planning the conversion with the help of an architect: “I found the idea of building a completely new house in an existing building in the middle of the city fascinating.” Partly for reasons of historic building preservation, the outer shell had to be maintained in its original state. But inside, the gigantic movie theater was turned into a duplex apartment with a central hall and a gallery running around it. A huge skylight transformed the once gloomy hall into the light-flooded heart of the apartment.

Andreas Häner stands in the middle of the empty main hall before the completion of the construction work. Craftsmen are building shelves in the background. Andreas looks proudly at the huge chandelier above him.

During the construction work, the large hall stood empty – but Andreas Häner could already picture how he would fill the room with collector’s items and history.

The main hall houses numerous antiques: two red sandstone columns from a demolished baroque library in Colmar, a staircase from the 1950s, double doors from around 1900, and a wooden balcony railing from an antiquarian bookstore in Bern.

Integration of antiques: the red sandstone columns come from a demolished baroque library in Colmar, the staircase dates back to the 1950s, the double doors are from around 1900, and Andreas Häner uncovered the balcony railing in an antiquarian bookstore in Bern.

Large, industrial-style metal shelves reach up to the ceiling in the central hall. The free-floating staircase connects the two levels of the apartment.

Large, industrial-style shelves are ready for the many art treasures Andreas has collected over the years.

The second floor, with a bedroom, two guest rooms, a modern kitchen, a bathroom and a salon, makes his living dream complete. Häner pays special attention to the sustainable re-use of materials and elements from demolished or renovated houses – and hence to the appreciation of antique building materials: a staircase from the 1950s is the focus of attention in the large hall. The structure is supported by four columns made of red sandstone, which come from a demolished baroque library in Colmar. A lavishly decorated wooden balcony railing and an ornate wrought-iron Art Nouveau window (both from around 1900) have also been incorporated into the loft, along with many other windows, doors and columns from historic buildings. “I am giving these beautiful items a second lease on life, and I take great pleasure in doing so,” he says proudly.

A white bathtub and mirrors, which extend from floor to ceiling, are the prominent features of the bathroom.

The bathroom is Andreas Häner’s favorite room: during the construction work, the chandelier that now makes the room into a small hall of mirrors worthy of Versailles, had not yet been installed.

The picture shows the kitchen with its smooth gray and white surfaces and simple shapes. Glass doors can be seen in the background.

A deliberate break in style: the kitchen is ultra-modern with smooth surfaces and simple shapes and colors.

The conversion took three years and cost around 2.2 million francs, including the purchase of the property. “Thanks to an economical mortgage and a trusting relationship with my bank, I was able to realize my dreams and design my lavish city loft just the way I wanted it, without compromise,” says Andreas Häner happily. “Even though the remodeling took a lot of energy, time and money, and some of the fire protection and building regulations drove me to despair, I’m realizing my dream. The struggle was worth it – what more could I want?”

The design: making museum dreams come true

The construction work was finally completed in August 2020. And since then, Häner has been able to let off steam creatively by giving his collection of art and antique treasures a new permanent home: “I love to create historically charged spaces – places of fantasy that are full of history.” Antique furniture and design elements are like time capsules for him: “Whether it’s a skillfully woven carpet, a detailed work of art or a high-quality piece of upholstered furniture from long gone times – I find all these items deeply moving, and they have the power to catapult me into another era from one moment to the next.”

A wooden bureau, chairs and a chaise longue with a blue velvet cover stand on an elaborately woven carpet; pictures hang on the wall.

An elaborately woven carpet, a wooden bureau with chairs and a chaise longue with a blue velvet cover give the loft a museum-like character.

An Art Nouveau window is the focal point of the large hall. Andreas Häner has arranged seating in shades of blue. Wherever you look, there are treasures collected from the past, such as vases, pictures and lamps.

The Art Nouveau window represents the focal point of the large hall. Wherever you look, there are treasures collected from the past.

His theory is not “less is more”, but “too much is still too little”. His passion for collecting has nothing to do with junk or flea market finds: “I only buy high-quality articles that would have what it takes to be in an international museum.” The fully furnished duplex apartment has a museum-like character: wherever they look, visitors are amazed by sparking gold leaf applications, antique dressers made of real wood, or chaises longues covered in brocade and velvet. Eye-catching wallpaper in glittering gold or mint green, as well as generously stocked shelves right up to the ceiling, add the final touches to the maximalist style.

“I love my new home – but the bathroom is my favorite room,” says Häner. A magnificent chandelier from Venice hangs from the middle of the ceiling. It is reflected endlessly by two floor-to-ceiling mirrors facing each other on the walls. “This is my own little Versailles hall of mirrors,” he laughs.

Successful contrasts

To make sure he didn’t overdo the Versailles pomp and kitsch, he brought in an interior designer from Italy: “I deliberately chose someone who thinks in a radically modern way and is therefore the complete opposite of me,” Häner emphasizes. Our discussions were difficult, long and sometimes even loud. “But I am very grateful and pleased with the result,” he smiles.

Simple bookshelves and metal railings give the living rooms a slightly industrial look. And there are some ultra-modern rooms, such as the kitchen, with smooth, angular surfaces and clear shapes and colors. “I think these forced breaks in style make my home more dynamic and exciting,” he says.

But of course, he remains first and foremost an admirer of anything historical and special. Even his lodger is quite a character: a “dear friend”, as he says, from the East Prussian aristocracy, sleeps in the adjoining 90 square-meter self-contained flat that was built during the renovation.

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