Late last year, a new arts destination rose in Belgium. Conceived by Flemish art dealer and interior designer Axel Vervoordt, Kanaal is a cultural and residential complex housed in a converted malting distillery in Wijnegem, a small town a few miles east of Antwerp.
“From the start, it was my dream to turn this wasteland into a small city in the countryside,” says the designer (his clientele includes Kanye West and Calvin Klein), who started acquiring sections of the 13-acre site 20 years ago.
With its three commercial art spaces, permanent exhibitions, and various semipermanent installations by the likes of Marina Abramović, James Turrell, and Tatsuo Miyajima, Kanaal has become Belgium’s largest private gallery space.
Ninety-eight apartments were created throughout five separate buildings designed by local architecture firms, including Bogdan & Van Broeck, Stéphane Beel, and Jens Aerts. One of the largest properties on site is a 2,900-square-foot duplex transformed by the Gent-based office Coussée & Goris, perched on top of the development’s Pakhuizen (‘Warehouses’) with views of the canal.
“The architecture very much dictated the interiors,” says Boris Vervoordt, Axel’s eldest son, who runs the family-run business with his father (Dick, the youngest son, managed Kanaal’s development). “We left the entire structure visible,” he continues, pointing to the metal pillars that boldly frame the apartment’s modern, wooden lining while contrasting with the natural limestone surfaces.
In signature Vervoordtian style, the two-floor apartment enters a number of design, antique, and art objects into a dialogue between old and new: In the living room, a large sofa covered in an aubergine Belgian linen slipcover and a slate coffee table from the Axel Vervoordt Home Collection converse with a 1950s Pierre Jeanneret–designed cane office chair from Chandigarh and a 1968 sculpture by the Greek artist Takis.
“The owner travels a lot—he has an important and diverse art collection,” says Boris, who helped pick out some of the artworks. Significant Japanese paintings are dotted around the flat, including works by Sadaharu Horio and Tsuyoshi Maekawa, members of the midcentury, avant-garde Gutai group, which Axel Vervoordt helped introduce to Europe.
Exclusively for Surface, we take a look inside the property.