Name: Axel Vervoordt
DOB: 29 June 1947
Place of birth: Antwerp, Belgium
Occupation: Art dealer, art collector, interior designer
Mr. Vervoordt, your work includes art collecting, antique dealing, architecture and design — how would you describe your profession?
It's very difficult to answer, if you ask me! (Laughs) What's your profession? I don't even know. What I really don’t like is when people call me a decorator. That’s a name I really don't like. And mainly because I think it's not at all what I'm doing. I‘m mainly an art dealer and an art collector, but I do a lot of architecture work as well. I design furniture using found objects as well, and I treat it like a job. I do many things! I like beautiful architecture, raw materials, and good art. What I'm really searching for is harmony.
Harmony in what way?
I like to work in a very architectural way that is based on sacred geometry. So everything has a deeper meaning, one that is thoughtful and respectful. I like to create atmosphere. It's not only done for beauty. It's all done for energy, and a positive experience.
Is cultivating this positive experience perhaps the most important thing when inhabiting a new space?
I think it's important that the owner of the house, or those that live in the house—that they’re feeling one with it, it’s part of themselves. It’s important to make a livable house that’s welcoming, and warm, and this has nothing to do with money, you know. You can create a great atmosphere with simple flowers, with little objects that you find. In fact, even when I work with very expensive houses, and with very expensive art, I like to make them look casual. I think it's important that everybody should feel at ease.
“I think that one should make a house that really fits you like your second soul. It should be your most preferred place on earth!”
Instead of feeling like you’re in a museum.
Right. I really don't like houses where people only live in one room, and all the other rooms are only used to show to guests. I think it's a pity. I think that one should make a house that really fits you like your second soul. It should be your most preferred place on earth!
Is the process of creating a home that is your second soul instinctive, or is it something that can be learned?
I think it's always easy when it’s instinctive, because it’s more about a feeling, about daring to do something different. But I also think you can learn anything if you want to! I’ve had clients for many years and some of them used to live in houses with no souls. And after knowing me and working together on a new house, they became masters in creating that soulful atmosphere. So I really had the experience that many of my clients have enormously improved in bringing this great atmosphere to a house.
In your experience, what mistakes do people often make when they start putting together a home?
Everything should not be too perfect! That’s not human. Because as humans, we are anyway imperfect. It's about the beauty of the imperfection, and daring to do it. Another thing that’s very important to me is that you also combine the search for beauty, with practicality; that everything is livable. And for instance, when you live in an old house, like I do, the first years when you arrive at his house, you want to respect the house as much as possible. I think you don't want to be too overwhelming. In the beginning I think it’s important to listen to it and to follow its style a little bit as well. You know, you want to love the house and the house should love you back because like I said, there should be a oneness between the two of you.
How did you then go about creating that oneness?
Well, we started historically, like the room I’m sitting in now, we restored with the original paint, we restored the fireplace so it's more classical. But then the room behind me has more contemporary art. And the higher you go, the more contemporary-inspired it becomes. The second floor is even like a meditation room. It's wonderful to be able to travel in your own house! (Laughs)
The feeling must also be enhanced by your many antiques. In photographs of Gravenwezel Castle where you live with your wife, paintings and sculptures always seem to be moved around the rooms.
I love the change! It's to rediscover the art because we have a big art collection, a lot of it in storage. Also, if we just bought a new piece of art and we hang it, but then you see that the pieces that are hanging around it don’t work so well, you have to change some more. But there are some pieces that we will never change, it’s like they belong there. Like the Lucio Fontana painting in the library or the big Antoni Tàpies painting in the room upstairs — whenever we tried to change it, it never worked.
What about the wood portrait of the Buddhist monk that you are often pictured with? Apparently it is one of your most treasured pieces.
It’s at our Kanaal gallery now! We made something like a chapel for it, it found a fabulous place now. I tried to move it from my house not long ago, and it really didn’t work so we quickly put it back. But now it's in a pure cube room, it is surrounded by a religious space. It’s very beautiful, very meditative and spiritual. It really talks to you.
“Even if it's rare and beautiful, and I could make a lot of money, I won’t buy it. I think it's more important to feel something that to see something.”
Do you miss it in the house?
No, because I could never have been an art dealer if I wanted to keep everything! (Laughs) For me, simply knowing it is the most important. I think my task is to give these objects a better place, whether it’s in the home of a client or a great museum. It’s very important for artists as well, for their work to be in a major museum rather than in private collections. I feel almost like a duty to do that. And it’s something that is also building on the future.
Because you are at the same time documenting and archiving these rare historical objects.
Yes. But I’m definitely not an art dealer because I want to escape my own time. I like to find in the old things, things that are eternal, that are very universal — that’s always been the search for me. It can be a thousand years old, it can be a hundred years old, it doesn’t matter as long as it has that eternal feeling, that spirit. And then I love to join them with contemporary artworks. I like evolution, and not revolution. I like to create the atmosphere in a way that makes objects seem as if they always existed there, even if it's contemporary pieces. And I think within contemporary art, I find things that I cannot find in the old art as much, things like space, and feeling the void. Feeling the void is very important.
But ultimately a harmonious home should have both the old and the new.
Right. If you have a beautiful room in your place, for instance, with great proportions and great light: leave that space quite empty. And in a room that is darker, put lots of books there and make it into a beautiful library room. Then you have the Yin-Yang, you have a light room and a dark room. With aesthetics, I never buy things just for the value or just for the beauty: they need to have a positive energy. It’s the message they bring that is the most important. That’s why I never collect objects of war. When I feel negative energy, I don't even want to touch it, let alone buy it. Even if it's rare and beautiful, and I could make a lot of money, I won’t buy it. I think it's more important to feel something than to see something.