Over coffee before work this morning, P and I were discussing Kanye West’s most recent mad twitter rants, in which he also shared a few photos of his Hidden Hills home that he designed with Belgian collector, curator, designer and antiquarian Axel Vervoordt. And while the tweets themselves were of no interest to me, the thing that really caught my attention was the seemingly very strange pairing of West and Vervoordt. How did they ever meet? I wondered.
As it turns out, the two met when in 2013 when West attended the The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, Netherlands, and passed a booth featuring a very low coffee table with rounded edges. His recollection of the moment was that there was a “very soulful, emotional feeling to the space.” He ask, “Who is responsible for this?” to the man who turned out to be Vervoordt, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Vervoordt himself, reminisces about the meeting to West in an interview published in The Hollywood Reporter, “It was an immediate connection. I could feel that you were really in love with things. Even if people think we come out of two different worlds, the act of meeting makes one another stronger. You were so spontaneous, totally true and intense. Now we’re working on a house together, and I’ve learned from you because you have great taste. We talk about things, we change things. That’s what I like so much about you — I’m the same way — you’ve never arrived, you never are the best and you always want to do your best. You always want to learn and serve people.”
A sitting room in Belgium; Vervoordt designed the cocktail table, slipcovered sofa and club chairs; photo by Jean Pierre Gabriel via Architectural Digest
Belgium-born Vervoordt, 70, who prefers to be known as an “art dealer, curator and designer” runs his namesake business with his son, Boris, just outside Antwerp, overseeing over 100 employees. He has been a much-celebrated part of the art, antiques and design communities since 1968, participating in Art Cologne, Art Brussels, Art Basel Hong Kong, The European Fine Art Fair, and more. In fact, Axel Vervoordt Gallery was founded in Antwerp in 2011 (and in Hong Kong in 2014), as an extension of his design business, and to show his support for two specific movements in the history of art: Post WWII’s German group Zero, and the Japanese artists organized under Gutai. So perhaps the connection between the two may be art.
But what is Kanye’s connection with art? The 40-year-old American rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, fashion designer, and entrepreneur never completed his degree in English at Chicago State University where his late mother, Dr. Donda West, was chair of the department). He titled his first three albums: The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. He also mentioned in The Hollywood Reporter that he went to college on an art scholarship at the American Academy of Art, but that his “… education comes from being passionate about objects, spaces, colors and the way they affect your senses.”
In the spring of 2015, the rapper received an honorary PhD from the Art Institute of Chicago. Not everyone was pleased with the school’s decision, however. More than 1,500 people signed a Change.org petition to ask the school to reverse the decision, stating, “The holder of an honorary doctorate should embody the values of an institution, and elevate the prestige, dignity and character it represents to its student body, alumni and staff.” … “If SAIC wants to share the honour with a musician, there are an infinite number of more deserving hip hop artists.” The school’s response was that those honoured had created work that was “imaginative and aesthetically rich, and sometimes also provocative and controversial, shifting the cultural landscape in significant ways”. Past honorary doctorates from the Art Institute of Chicago were awarded to Jeff Koons and Patti Smith.
In 1984, Axel and his wife May bought a 12th century castle on the outskirts of Antwerp. Two years later, in 1986, both the family (the couple and their two sons) and the company moved into the 50-room Kasteel van ‘s-Gravenwezel (Castle ‘s-Gravenwezel), as it came to be known. These new premises with its pronounced, historical character allowed art to be shown in a completely different way. s-Gravenwezel began to attract new clients from all over the world, and the company’s interior design services were expanded at this time. Above and below are glimpses of the castle.
In 2017, Vervoordt embarked on his most ambitious project, Kanaal, also in Belgium. Kanaal is an entire cultural and residential complex, and home to the new company headquarters. A former malting factory, the space was transformed into showrooms, workshops and art galleries, as well as 100 apartments, a restaurant, bakery and fresh market.
Known for his wealth of knowledge, distinctive aesthetic and expert mixing of old and new, Eastern and Western, rich and poor, Axel Vervoordt is thought to be the most-often emulated designer. His striking, intelligently compiled spaces — along with the play of light and shadow with natural elements — is infused with history and yet filled with a sense of timelessness. The salvaged beams and pale-washed walls, slab tables and linen-slipcovered sofas and armchairs, rich antiques blending with abstract paintings has become synonymous with an elegance that surpasses time and space.
Below are three glimpses given by Kanye West on his twitter account of the rooms in his home that he designed with Vervoordt. It is reported that West and his wife Kim Kardashian have already spent $20 million on renovations since purchasing the 15,000-square-foot mansion for $20 million in 2014; a recent appraisal reportedly valued the renovated estate at $60 million. As for Vervoordt, alongside rockstars and royalty, artists, financiers, and tech tycoons, past clients also include Mick Jagger, Givenchy, Robert De Niro, Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, and Calvin Klein.
And just for fun, here is a glimpse of Calvin Klein’s former Miami Beach house that was designed by Axel Vervoordt. Built in 1929, the summer home had five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, an infinity pool and a private dock on the harbour. The designer owned the house since 1999, putting it on the market in the summer of 2015. It sold two years later for just over 12.8 million.