Cereal: Vincent Van Duysen
Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen is a talker. Far from seeking to construct an aura of mystery around his work, Van Duysen is an open book, verbose on even the smallest details. Case in point: when I ask how long it took to establish the ivy-esque climber that covers an enormous wall in his back garden, he won’t rest until he’s tracked down the plant’s Latin name (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, or Virginia creeper) and detailed its seasonal trimming requirements. But for all this verbal abundance, Van Duysen’s work is an ode to simplicity. He funnels his broad knowledge of these tiny details into creating spaces and designs that are stripped back to the basics, yet still imbued with a warmth, elegance, and sensuality that’s become his signature — and which has clients flocking to him.
“For me,” he says, “architecture is about the elimination of excess, and creating serenity in essential forms and spaces.” We’re sitting in the living room of his Antwerp home, where his dachshunds Gaston and Lulu alternate between snoozing and scuttling to the front door to bark. “When I meet new clients, I want to understand who they are and how they live. I try and get under their skin, and read their minds. When I know exactly what I want, I transmit it verbally to my team, and from then, it’s a very interactive process.”
Though Van Duysen’s body of work is extraordinarily diverse, his ethos hasn’t changed since he completed his first residential project 25 years ago: to create serene spaces that calm the senses. The aesthetic sensibilities that define his designs today — balanced spaces, layers of rooms, interactions between the indoors and outdoors, hidden gardens, sophisticated interiors — have, he says, been there all along. Nowhere is his approach more evident than in the house where Van Duysen has lived for more than a decade. Despite its stately size of 10 by 11 m, and with ceilings nearly five metres high, the living room manages to feel intimate and warm thanks to bone coloured, textured walls, and furniture that’s strategically placed off centre. In the warmer months, he opens the back doors to reveal a quintessential Van Duysen secret garden, replete with a square pool and towering green wall. The curved cream staircase, perhaps the house’s pièce de résistence, leads to multiple floors and bedrooms, living spaces, a library, and finally up to the attic. This tactile space has exposed timber beams and a hidden stone bathtub. “I like hidden details,” Van Duysen explains, “not in-your-face details.”