BECOMING DEAR FRIENDS
is not a given for an interior designer and a client, nor is talking almost daily and after years coming close to reading each other’s minds. London-based interior designer Philip Vergeylen and his art collector client have that connection, so when she decided to move, naturally she asked Vergeylen to weigh in. “After living in a four-story London house, which I had designed about 10 years ago, she decided to switch to one-level living,” says Vergeylen. “She was considering an apartment redone by a developer that had zero personality and I was very discouraged. I couldn’t imagine my friend being happy there.” On the third visit, after some pressing, the real estate agent offered up one more property—a historic ground-floor, double-fronted apartment with two courtyards, a private entrance, and high ceilings. Though it was somewhat dated, the two “walked in, looked at each
THE DINING ROOM’S GOLD-LEAFING IS “KNOCKED BACK WITH SO MANY LAYERS OF GLAZE TO TEMPER IT, MAKING IT GLOW AT NIGHT.”
—INTERIOR DESIGNER PHILIP VERGEYLEN
other, and it was done!” he says with a laugh. “It had a feeling and a grandeur that I felt befitted my friend and, of course, the art that she loves.”
When COVID-19 hit in full force, his client decamped to her country home in Italy before making any firm decisions about the interiors. That’s when the pair’s synergetic decorating spark ignited, allowing every last detail of the project to play out almost entirely over the phone. The whole process down to hanging the artwork was accomplished in about 10 months (lightning speed in decorating circles).
The layered rooms brimming with creativity and bespoke finishes offer no hint of a compressed timeline. “These are not weak rooms; we made some very bold decisions,” says Vergeylen, noting that he couldn’t have necessarily pulled this off with any other client. “We have shared feelings and similar tastes,” says the homeowner, “so we understand each other right away.”
While her impressive art collection loomed large in the choices, it did not play a dictatorial role, as the designer explains: “When working with a notable collection, you can’t ignore it, of course, but it must work together with the interiors. I was very determined not to have this apartment feel like a gallery. It had to be a home with beautiful art.”
And it’s a beautiful home in every respect. Each space reveals a unique signature written by Vergeylen, and some almost need a cipher, given certain subtle appointments. In the dining room, for example, the walls are covered in gold leaf—not a straightforward application but rather crafted by decorative artist Henry van der Vijver. “The shiny gold is knocked back with so many layers of glaze to temper it, making it glow at night,” explains Vergeylen. Van der Vijver also brought new life to the original kitchen floors by sanding and staining them in a series of circles and squares.
Meanwhile the drawing room’s neutral distressed walls—accomplished by layering and scraping paint over and over—allow the significant art pieces to play host, including the client’s eternal favorite Alberto Burri against a patinaed canvas over the fireplace. “I fell in love with this painting the minute I saw it, and it came from the depth of my heart. This happened almost 50 years ago, and it’s still the case today,” she says.
On the opposite wall hangs another contemporary painting by Lucio Fontana flanked by religious iconography. “I like that type of contrast; religious works could feel too precious if not paired with something edgy,” says the designer. While calmer in palette, the room still fully engages. The designer mirrored a large archway and added acrylic pedestals to hold antique Greek terra-cotta figures lit by fiber optics that both
“THESE ARE NOT WEAK ROOMS; WE MADE SOME VERY BOLD DECISIONS.”
highlight the collection and create a beautiful reflection throughout.
The library is notably different. “It’s almost the complete opposite to the edited-withinan-inch-of-its-life drawing room,” notes Vergeylen. “This is where my client sits most often, and it’s the room that no one wants to leave—it’s very welcoming; honestly it hugs you.” The rather mad mash-up includes leopard-print wallpaper by Italian artist Idarica Gazzoni, Maison Jansen chairs in a Madeleine Castaing fabric, a richly hued Persian rug, 19th-century English bookcases, and even a Mickey Mouse side table. “I kept telling my client, ‘Buy whatever you like; you can throw anything at this room; it can take it.’ It’s true because there are so many layers and colors,” explains the designer.
A union of novelty and harmony dances throughout the home. And though the owner admits many of the combinations edged outside of her comfort zone, as a seasoned collector, she’s hardly a stranger to risk and reward. The latter, in this case, is richly decorated rooms animated by art—an environment, says Vergeylen, where a client’s dearest pieces look their very best.