The world of Vin­cent Van Duy­sen

The renowned ar­chi­tect on colour, his new col­lec­tion for Molteni & C and why he’s as much Ital­ian as he is Bel­gian

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents - Words AMY BRAD­FORD

The renowned de­signer and ar­chi­tect on colour, his new col­lec­tion for Molteni & C and why he’s as much Ital­ian as he is Bel­gian

Vin­cent Van Duy­sen has strong mem­o­ries

of the time his An­twerp apart­ment was fea­tured in ELLE Dec­o­ra­tion UK 20 years ago, early in his ca­reer. ‘For me, it was the start of ev­ery­thing,’ he says. To be told by one of the world’s fore­most ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers that we played a small part in his rise is quite some­thing, but when we un­earth the piece in our ar­chive (Oc­to­ber 1996, if you’re in­ter­ested; pic­tured above right), it proves that Van Duy­sen’s calm, con­sid­ered style showed star qual­ity from the be­gin­ning – ‘mod­ernism with a soft “m”,’ we la­belled it at the time.

Van Duy­sen – more ef­fer­ves­cent in per­son than his quiet de­signs sug­gest – is now an in­ter­na­tional star, known far beyond his na­tive Bel­gium. When we meet, he is about to fly to Tokyo, where he is un­veil­ing a store de­sign and a new fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion for Molteni & C, the Ital­ian fur­ni­ture com­pany that he has col­lab­o­rated with since 2015, and of which he be­came cre­ative di­rec­tor the fol­low­ing year. With his own com­pany, he is work­ing on res­i­den­tial projects around the world and is de­sign­ing his first ho­tel in his home town of An­twerp. His il­lus­tri­ous fan base in­cludes Hol­ly­wood ac­tress Ju­lianne Moore (who in­ter­viewed him in 2014 for Amer­i­can de­sign web­site Re­mod­elista) and fash­ion de­signer Alexan­der Wang, with whom Van Duy­sen de­signed a Lon­don store to re­flect Wang’s pas­sion for sporty grey-and-black sim­plic­ity.

To un­der­stand what makes Van Duy­sen a vi­sion­ary, you have to see what makes him dif­fer­ent. At first glance, his aes­thetic seems typ­i­cal of his na­tive Bel­gium: earthy colours bor­rowed from na­ture in its more som­bre as­pect, or­ganic ma­te­ri­als and lit­tle to no or­na­men­ta­tion ( Van Duy­sen pro­fesses a loathing of any­thing os­ten­ta­tious, or, to use his word, ‘screamy’). But in con­ver­sa­tion, it be­comes clear that he also sees him­self as part of a Mi­lanese tra­di­tion, one where ar­chi­tects have re­spect for in­te­ri­ors and place as much value on the de­sign of a sin­gle

water glass as they do on the struc­ture of their build­ings. Achille Castiglioni and Gio Ponti are among the names that he cites in this con­text. ‘ North­ern Ital­ians are not typ­i­cal Ital­ians,’ he muses. ‘They are pas­sion­ate work­ers, driven and fo­cused, like me. I in­her­ited some Mediter­ranean flair from my mother, who has Spanish blood, but I also have very Calvin­is­tic north­ern Euro­pean traits.’

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, Van Duy­sen lived and worked in Mi­lan for sev­eral years, not un­like the Flem­ish painters of the Re­nais­sance – whose colour sense he so ad­mires. ‘I went to Italy be­cause I wanted to learn about the art of liv­ing,’ he ex­plains, stat­ing that he seeks to com­bine ‘the very ar­chi­tec­tural with the very ac­ces­si­ble, the very hu­man, the very touch­able.’ Ital­ian brands like Molteni & C ap­pre­ci­ate his ‘ un­der­stated el­e­gance’, and in turn he ap­pre­ci­ates their time­less style and re­fusal to kow­tow to trends.

There’s cer­tainly a holis­tic feel to Van Duy­sen’s re­la­tion­ship with Molteni & C, for which he’s cre­ated ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns as well as fur­ni­ture col­lec­tions and store de­signs; he is one of a grow­ing num­ber of starry cre­ative di­rec­tors that big brands are em­ploy­ing to en­er­gise their iden­ti­ties. ➤

Van Duy­sen sees him­self as part of a Mi­lanese de­sign tra­di­tion, where ar­chi­tects place as much value on a sin­gle glass as they do on the struc­ture of their build­ings


Van Duy­sen’s lat­est three pieces for Molteni & C al­lude to Flem­ish art: the ‘Paul’ sofa is named af­ter pain­ter Pi­eter Paul Rubens; the ‘Jan’ cof­fee ta­ble af­ter Jan Van Eyck; and the ‘Quin­ten’ cabi­net af­ter Quin­ten Massys. Like many of Van Duy­sen’s de­signs, in pho­to­graphs they look ir­re­proach­ably taste­ful, but it’s only close up that you ap­pre­ci­ate how beau­ti­ful they are: the dis­tinc­tive dou­ble seams and ta­per­ing legs of the ‘Paul’ sofa, for in­stance, en­sure that it looks flaw­less from any an­gle; the mix of matt and glossy lac­quers and met­als on the ‘Quin­ten’ cre­ate a stealthy glam­our.

Van Duy­sen’s pal­ette may be pared down, but he comes alive when talk­ing about colour. He rhap­sodises about the ‘radish pink’ and ‘oxblood red’ of new vel­vet edi­tions of the ‘Paul’ sofa, and the celadon greens he saw at Mi­lanese landmark Villa Nec­chi that cur­rently in­spire him. ‘I love most greens, as well as smoky greys and browns: the colours of earth,’ he says. ‘But my favourite shade right now is a bone colour – I’m do­ing lots of re­search into it.’ This is the hue that he’s used in his own An­twerp home, along­side lots of black and white, wood and stone. His soften­ing of this colour scheme with beaten- up an­tique chairs, tribal fab­rics and tex­tured rugs ren­ders the space wel­com­ing rather than cold. ‘For me, home is about feel­ing dis­con­nected from the world; it’s about seren­ity, con­tem­pla­tion and un­wind­ing in a warm en­vi­ron­ment with a sense of com­fort, where you feel pro­tected and safe,’ he says.

En­cour­ag­ingly, Van Duy­sen’s com­mit­ment to these ideals isn’t just for clients with the deep­est pock­ets: one of his cur­rent projects is a devel­op­ment of ser­viced flats for the el­derly in An­twerp. That’s one re­tire­ment home we’d look for­ward to mov­ing into. vin­cent­van­duy­;

This page, from left Alexan­der Wang store, Lon­don. ‘Quin­ten’ cabi­net for Molteni & C. ‘Gas­ton’ chair for Po­liform. ‘Oskar’ ta­ble for B&B Italia Op­po­site, clock­wise from top Villa Nec­chi, Van Duy­sen’s cur­rent in­spi­ra­tion. ‘In­fra-struc­ture’ light for...

Van Duy­sen’s pal­ette may be pared down, but he comes alive when talk­ing about colour. He rhap­sodises about the ‘oxblood red’ of new vel­vet edi­tions of the ‘Paul’ sofa, and the celadon greens at Villa Nec­chi that cur­rently in­spire him

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