Axel Vervoordt is – in his essence – a storyteller, although he and his austere approach to design may indicate otherwise: “My work is about silence and strength,” said the polymath Belgian designer between two sips of coffee a recent afternoon.
But over the past half-century, Vervoordt, now 72, has established himself as the world’s greatest illusionist, bringing out of obscurity the hidden tales of a thing or a place, whether it’s an abandoned medieval alley in Antwerp, a cache of Ming castaways from dynasty porcelain, minimalist painting, a Venetian palace or, say, the home of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
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Turns out, the AD100 Hall of Fame designer also has a knack for personal anecdotes, which he relates both enthusiastically and with a wink. Sitting at a long table in his seat in Kanaal, a former distillation center just outside Antwerp, Vervoordt, with the ease of an old friend, embarks on story after story about his life, his practice and the pursuit of beauty.
âAll my life I have loved things that get old, things that get old over time,â he explains. âI have always been against restoring furniture. I think you are losing all the energy. I think a piece with a basic patina is contemporary art. It just took 200 years to look like this.
In the case of the Vervoordt empire – which now consists of an interior design firm, an antique dealer, a private foundation, as well as art galleries in Antwerp and Hong Kong – this took 50 years. From an early age, Vervoordt developed an unusual fondness for antiquated objects, starting with a 16th-century iron trunk he bought as a teenager. It is therefore not surprising that at the age of 21, he has already embarked on an ambitious restoration project by rehabilitating a row of 16th century houses in Antwerp. From there, his career quickly expanded to encompass restoration, conservation, and design for an elite clientele, all fueled by his perceptive eye and insatiable curiosity.
Vervoordt is not one to rest on his laurels. He is also not the type to rest. That morning he had already taken his horse, Raio, for a brisk ride. And currently he is balancing several residential projects including, to name a few, a private house in Paris, a mansion in the English countryside and a restaurant at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich. In addition, earlier this month he published a new book, âPortraits of Interiorsâ, by French publisher Flammarion.
Vervoordt is quick to pay tribute to his wife May (who, as he relates, spent a day in Amsterdam buying some 7,400 pieces of porcelain) and his sons Boris and Dick, who now run the gallery and the real estate of the company Vervoordt. operations, respectively. Sitting on delightfully mismatched chairs in Kanaal’s dining room, where company employees gather for joint meals, Vervoordt shared with AD PRO some of his favorite photographs and memories. Welcome to its enchanting world.