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Magazine    February 2002

Axel Vervoordt: From Castle to Kanaal

The castle

The Kanaal

The castle's Oriental Drawing Room

A Mon Dvaravati statue in the Kanaal's Column Room

World of Interiors fans will want to peruse Belgian antiques dealer and interior designer Axel Vervoordt's new eponymous book for the numerous pictures of aged walls, paint peeling, yet very much alive and intriguing. The largescale book's subtitle, The Story of a Style, is told through Vervoordt's two properties, his castle in a locale near Antwerp called 's-Gravenwezel, and his Kanaal gallery in a restored industrial complex on the banks of a nearby canal.

The story begins with Vervoordt's family history, and how he started buying and selling antiques when he was a student. As a young adult, he bought and restored a 16th-century house in the center of Antwerp. When numerous admiring clients asked him to do the same, he fell into decorating. Now, with a staff of 100, he personally supervises between 12 and 20 interior design commissions a year for a variety of royalty, pop stars, museums, bankers, collectors and musicians. In 1984 Vervoordt bought the castle, from which he operated his antiques and design business, and when he ran out of space his search for larger quarters led him to the Kanaal in 1999.

Though the Vervoordt castle and Kanaal are two entirely different buildings, some of the spaces and the way they are arranged with furniture, art or objects look very similar at the hands of Vervoordt. "I like to live in the warm, rich world of the baroque and the serene, calm world of the Orient. I love Zen houses ... and I also admire Thai monasteries because even unrestored and empty they have a real aura of peace and beauty," writes Vervoordt. In the castle, many of the spaces, such as "the Oriental drawing room (above left)," are minimally furnished, with a few pieces of furniture and sculpture. The library's fireplace (below left) is a contemplative space, with Lucio Fontana's 1959 painting Concetto Spaziale, which suggests man's ascent into the heavens, and a circular Pi jade (770-221 B.C.) representing heaven.

When Vervoordt decided to buy the Kanaal, a complex of warehouses, grain silos and a large round building, he wanted a truly minimalist environment where he could exercise his vision of "limitless spatial purity." By stripping the buildings down to the bare wooden board or cement floors and exposed brick or whitewashed-cement block walls, Vervoordt hopes to show "how we might wish to live in the 21st century." Not only is the variety of the antiques and art that he offers awe-inspiring but so too is his philosophy. "I consider myself a very eclectic collector and dealer. I treasure the timeless and disdain the trendy," states Vervoordt. "My taste spans centuries, continents and economic strata. I love the tension between different object and different cultures." Two elaborate silver candelabra "taken away from some princely 18th-century dining table become not table decoration, not emblems of wealth and power, but strange and beautiful abstract objects," he writes. Amidst a forest of pillars in the building's cement grain dryer (above right) he installed his collection of Mon Dvaravati statues made between the 6th and 8th centuries by Indian monks who brought Zen Buddhism to Thailand. "It's a challenging new context in which to reconsider these spare exercises in form from an earlier age and a different culture," he notes.

Perhaps the most dramatic space in the Kanaal is the old circular brew house. There hangs Anish Kapoor's 1998 sculpture installation At the Edge of the World (below right). It embodies Vervoordt's raison d'etre: "My task .. has been to rediscover works of art, to save them for the future, to reveal them for what they are, to show them at their best, to give them a better place in the world—and, perhaps, by doing this, to create harmony and find new ways of expressing the inner life."

The castle's study

On view at the Kanaal: Anish Kapoor's At the Edge of the World

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Axel Vervoordt: The Story of a Style"
Assouline, $70

Stokerijstraat 15 - 19
B-2110 Wijnegem, Belgium
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