Perfectly Precise Paper House Luminaries from Belgian Paperworks

Anne Louvau of Belgian Paperworks in Sonoma County, California has an Instagram feed that draws you in thanks to gorgeous photos of the paper house luminaries she creates, as well as appealing captions. Whenever I spot paper art that's something extra special, chances are it will wind up here on All Things Paper. 


As I told Anne, I love coming across people who are doing exceptional work, but haven’t yet attracted a ton of attention. I'm happy to help get the word out about her perfectly made little houses, windmills, schoolhouses and more. Enjoy getting to know Anne.

Cape Dutch white paper farmhouse displayed on peach and white cloth next to peony in white vase

Tell us about the origin of your business name:


The name Belgian Paperworks comes from my husband's heritage and therefore our last name, which is Belgian. I am a native San Franciscan, raised in Berkeley, educated (art history/literature) on the East Coast. I had an early career in the auction houses of Manhattan, first Christie’s, then Sotheby’s.


tall, layered white paper firehouse luminary

Previously you were a hobby silversmith. What brought about your interest in paper? 


hands holding grey and white Dutch windmill tea light luminary

I'm interested in exploring the values created through the interplay of light and shadow upon the beautifully textured paper with which I build, but even more, the values that appear when light passes through paper.

white paper schoolhouse luminary with red roof displayed on flat surface next to woven brown basket

I have always been interested in fabricating dimensional artwork that moves, often illuminates, and always hopes to surprise and delight. Breaking this down: I love the engineering part and still adhere to my original design principal that each of my paper pieces must fold flat to store in a very small space, which adds complexity to every design. 


hands holding evergreen branch on which three white paper houses with red roofs are hanging


Recently I've built more complicated structures - churches, windmills, houses with dormers - creating problems where interlocking volumes want to fold in opposing ways (although I enjoy making simple holiday paper ornaments also). Working through those challenges is the ultimate thrill for me. 


tiny lighted paper houses displayed in dark wood bookcase
photo: Laura McGinnis


Have you left silversmithing behind?


Silver simply wasn’t a great fit with a busy household and small children, although others have managed both with grace. But for me, with its chemicals and flames and sharp edges, it was not a fit. Cut paper could be easily pulled out, then packed away. And I could automate certain parts of my process by using a computerized cutter, which was very appealing. 

detail of tiny paper house layers


Can you share a bit about your process?


I use creamy, 140 pound French watercolor paper, beautifully textured and very strong, as the foundation for each building. Then I add meticulous details by hand, with some houses having as many as seven layers, or close to 80 pieces. Finally the most delicate bits are reinforced, until every house is, literally, ready to shine. The finished houses are folded flat for shipping and storage, and are designed to last for years.


hand holding up paper schoolhouse in front of actual one room schoolhouse

Have there been influences on your work from outside the art world?

Genealogy: I'm interested in genealogy and have researched both my family and my husband's, documenting some lines as far back as the 16th century. I found myself wondering who these people were, how they lived, and what their daily lives were like. 


In some cases, my research has turned up photos or drawings of the actual homes in which our ancestors lived, and those homes became my original Christmas-card houses (below). Eventually I hope to create work based on each of the various cultures that have come together to create our family.


small white paper house luminary


Travel: Shocker, after a few years in New York I left the art world entirely to lead bicycling and hiking trips for Backroads, one of the first companies to offer high-end active travel vacations. I could see the writing on the wall, understanding that grown-up life would tie me down, and decided to take this incredible opportunity to see the world. I spent ten months out of every twelve in Europe, Africa, the Himalayas, Patagonia, New Zealand, the Galapagos, and so on. 


It really was a dream job, letting me spend long months at a time in many corners of the globe, getting to know each region through its people, its history, its cultures. I ultimately traveled with them for a dozen years, and these experiences absolutely inform my work.


tiny paper house displayed on flat surface next to small flower arrangement in blue bottle 

Ultimately my work is meant to evoke a sense of home, shelter, safety, community, and love. I use paper and soft companionable light to do so. And in my illuminated paper pieces, the beauty, for me, comes as much from the engineered transitions from two dimensions, to three, and back to two, as it does from the detail, and the treats revealed by light.


smiling woman with red scarf and winter vest in woods 


Anne participated in #AMonthInPaper on Instagram this past March, and I'm so glad she did as her friendly posts give additional insight into her process. If you're active on IG, have a look at @belgianpaperworks and visit Anne's Etsy shop, Belgian Paperworks, where new designs are often added.

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Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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