We talk shop with powerhouse designer and creative director, Vincent Van Duysen
Established Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen has long been feted for his serene, pared-down, monastic- looking, albeit comfortable interiors. After graduating in 1985 from the Higher Institute of Architecture Sint-Lucas in Ghent, he worked for practices in Brussels and Milan, then founded his studio in 1990. Over the years, he has designed high-end showrooms and homes in Europe, the US and Middle East as well as furniture for Molteni&C, B&B Italia, among others, and lighting for Flos.
Today, he feels the need for calm interiors is greater than ever: ‘We lead such fast-track, digitalised lives. Our requirements are met immediately,’ he asserts as we chat on his sprawling sofa Gregor — his new clean-lined design for Molteni&C, launched this year. ‘I want my interiors to help slow things down.’ The youthful-looking Van Duysen, dressed in a baseball cap, jeans and trainers, has been art director of the Molteni Group’s Molteni&C furniture company and Dada kitchen brand since 2016; he recently designed its Knightsbridge showroom where we meet.
I want my interiors to help slow things down
‘We don’t call it a showroom but a home,’ he hastens to point out. No matter that many of us are glued to our computers at home, he equates homes with ‘calm and contemplation’. To this end, the showroom is filled with contemporary Italian art and tactile fabrics. ‘Fabrics soften architecture,’ he states, adding that his passion for fabrics stems from his Flanders roots: ‘My family were in the carpet industry.’
Aptly, he is also art director of fabric brand Sahco, owned by textiles company Kvadrat. He recently designed Kvadrat’s first showroom focusing on domestic fabrics in London. It’s inspired by libraries and swatches are displayed on shelves like books.
We don’t call it a showroom but a home
The Molteni&C/ Dada showroom itself — formerly the Skandium store, for years a mecca for Scandi fans — has a strong visual link to the street, its full-height ground-floor windows facing such hallowed Knightsbridge landmarks as the neo-baroque London Oratory church. Yet Van Duysen wanted the store to feel ‘anarchic’ since he perceives London as ‘avant-garde and progressive’. ‘I chose dark wall colours to reflect this. There were restrictions on what I could do but I stripped away details.’
One intervention is a new wooden staircase with recessed handrails softly lit by LED lighting. This leads to an almost nightclub-like basement with charcoal grey walls and spot lighting, also furnished with pieces by other designers, from Gio Ponti to young designer Francesco Meda. Van Duysen likes to place furniture in clean-lined, almost neutral spaces, so I’m curious to know what his specific architectural influences are. ‘Ancient Greek architecture, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn…’ he replies. He is a fan, too, of Tadao Ando, known for his love of simplicity, judging by a thumping monograph on the Japanese architect on a nearby coffee table. Given that this would take an age to read, it seems to tally with Van Duysen’s vision of leading slower lives.