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The visionary

What do Bill Gates, Robert DeNiro, Calvin Klein, Sting, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Ellen DeGeneres have in common? Quite simply: they all trust in the exquisite taste of AXEL VERVOORDT! This stylish Belgian, born on June 29, 1947 in Antwerp, is one of the most renowned interior designers in the world. And for many years. The "Hollywood Reporter" describes the designer, antiques expert and book author, as a "lifestyle guru", others even as a "style pope". Vervoordt is active all over the world.

Axel Vervoordt also left his mark in various locations in Germany, lately in the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich: He designed the Garden and Atelier restaurants, the Cinema Lounge, the Palaishalle, the entire south and north wing with 28 rooms and the 350th sqm Penthouse Garden Suite, plus the Palais Keller restaurant and most recently the event rooms in the Palais Montgelas! Here we met with the master, also a member of the "AD 100 Hall of Fame" of the Architectural Digest, for an exclusive interview.

RIZE: Mr. Vervoordt, do you view your work not only as an artist, but also as a kind of service provider?

Vervoordt: Absolutely, because I like to help and make myself useful. If I can't do that, life has no meaning for me anymore.

In times of the corona pandemic and the lockdowns, home has taken on a completely different meaning for many. Your business must be booming.

That is true. However, I also suffer from the quaintness of travelling. But not everything in my job can be done via Zoom call. I have to travel to meet with my customers, see their homes and get a personal impression in order to then be able to act appropriately. I often bring artworks or furniture with me to these appointments. That's not possible in the current situation and makes my job a bit complicated.

Do you interview your customers at the beginning of a collaboration or do you come up with suggestions right away?

No, I first talk to my customers in detail. I don't want to impose my style or my ideas on anyone. They are not about to live in "my" house, I will more so help to improve their home. I feel like a portrait painter. I first have to get to know my counterpart and correspond with it before I can start to act. During these discussions, I usually get to know my customers even better. In the end, they have to feel comfortable with the result of my work. That is my top priority. Art in a house, like a mirror, is yours and represents you.

How long does it take to really get to know a customer?

It varies, but most of it is relatively quick. My clients are often quite wealthy and many are real geniuses in their field. Some have very specific ideas. My style is rather reserved, subtle. I always imagine old friends of my clients coming to visit, which they knew way before they became rich and famous. They, too, should feel comfortable in the houses. I don't want to create magnificent castles. Customers who value tons of gold and glitter would never hire me.


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By the way: you surely have seen Donald Trump's New York residence on 5th Avenue?

Yes, I have. In my opinion this is the ugliest home imaginable. It is a real symbol of ugliness. I think Trump would never call and hire me.

Your father was a professional horse dealer. Didn't he want you to follow in his footsteps?

Yeah. And since I love horses, I really considered that, too. I sat in the saddle for the first time when I was about three years old and later assisted my father in the job. He was a real “horse whisperer“. He raised a lot of horses, but when the animals were sold, I had a problem with that. I've had grown fond of horses and didn't want to part with them. For my father, it was just a business. I then became an art dealer, but I still find it difficult to part with certain things, special works of art. I have to learn to let go. Sometimes I'm already quite good at it. But even if the art pieces then find another home - the works remain in my heart.

When did you become aware of your sense of art?

My mother was very artistic and quite creative. A few artists frequented my parents' house. Many of my father's clients, very different people, from royal princes to farmers, had an affinity for art. There was a lot of talk about art and I listened, completely spellbound. I got the best of both worlds - artistic talent from my mother, business acumen from my father.


Have you always wanted to be an interior designer?


No, I really just wanted to be an art collector. I went to university, majoring in math, because I thought it was important for business. When I was studying in Rome, I always brought home lots of antiques. I was interested in them from an early age. I became increasingly bored with my studies and at the age of 21 my interest in art grew. The art world was much more exciting. I then had to do military service in Belgium, and since I am a convinced pacifist, I was soon transferred to the field pharmacy. I then converted it into an aperitif bar (laughs). I also started dealing in silver cutlery and art. I bought my first painting by the Belgian surrealist Magritte. That was my start.

Do you remember your first client as an interior designer?

Yes, it was a friend of my parents. She came from a coffee merchant family and had bought a large house in Belgium from the Heinz family, the Ketchup dynasty. There were countless rooms in this house and she asked me to fill them with art. That was great fun. My father smiled at my job, he thought of it as a nice hobby, but for me it was much more. When he saw what the woman paid me, he was flabbergasted. It was quite a lucrative business.

At some point your customers became more and more prominent...

I think the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev was the first celebrity I got the chance to work for. That was around 1982. I was friends with him. He had bought an apartment in the Dakota Building in New York, where Leonard Bernstein and John Lennon once lived. I lived there for some time myself and designed his apartment. At that time I bought many works of art from the impoverished English nobility, noble families who were in financial difficulties. I always paid my bills on time, I learned that from my old man. He said: Pay the bills quickly, then you'll be the first one they call when they have something to sell again (laughs). My father sometimes lent me money, but I had to pay him back on time with interest. He was very meticulous about it. I am grateful to him for that, because I learned from that.


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Robert DeNiro has also been one of your customers for years!


A very nice person, very sociable and now a good friend. We met through mutual acquaintances. “Bob“, as his friends call him, visited me at home in Belgium one day and looked at our castle. He liked what he saw and so we decided to work together.



And then, at some point, rap superstar Kanye West also wanted advice from you regarding his mansion in Hidden Hills near Los Angeles...

He has great talent himself when it comes to design and I experienced him very differently than he is often portrayed in the media. This also applies to Kim, his wife, by the way. Kanye is an interesting guy, I immediately noticed the gold chains and the diamonds in his teeth (laughs). He calls me "Professor" and sometimes calls every day, then not for a month or two. At first I wasn't sure if I should accept his assignment since his world was so alien to me. I didn't know him or his music at all. We then met at an art fair in Maastricht and talked longer. He said: I saw your photo books and I immediately fired my interior designer. You're the best. I want you to work for me. I accepted because he's a good guy and didn't want everything to be gilded. We have more in common than you might think. I only advised him against his plans to become US President (laughs).


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You have an impressive client base that includes Calvin Klein, Bill Gates and Sting. Do you still take other contracts at all?

No, hardly. The remaining time that I have in my job I use for my personal artist friends, who don't have such a large budget at their disposal. I am happy to help them design their home. These people are just as important to me as world famous customers. With them, I can show that one can create great interiors even with little money.

Do you ever feel a project is totally finished?

No, never. The work goes on, there are always changes to the objects I work on for my clients. These are all long-term relationships. And there's a lot of truth in an old Chinese saying - it says that once a house is finished, you're ready to die.


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