At the end of the 1980s, architect Vincent Van Duysen (Lokeren, Belgium, 60 years old) renovated the living room of his house in an old warehouse in Antwerp. He brushed the hardwood floors, reupholstered the furniture with bleached linen, and left others the original color of the wood. He painted the walls and ceiling an off-white and applied raw canvas to the old windows. Released at the height of the maximalist boil in the early 1990s, its monastic sheen fell on the sector like rain in May. A star was born. “I know it’s a very iconic salon because that’s where my career started,” he explains now of this project, which will take place in 2019 New York Times is considered one of the most influential interiors of all time. “I’m very proud,” he admits, “because thirty years later, this space still feels very precise and contemporary to me.” He’s not the only one thinking about it. His vision of design and decoration, committed to natural materials, warm tones and a certain fondness for domesticated geometry thanks to a patina of lively comfort, is fundamental to understanding today’s decorative luxury. The home he now resides in, a 19th-century dwelling converted into an oasis of calm, has upped the ante once again, as has the home built on the coast of Portugal before the pandemic and his Pure appreciation for line architecture and almost shows naked.
For this interview, however, we did not travel to one of their residences, but to Zara Home’s headquarters in Arteixo (A Coruña). Van Duysen has traveled to the heart of Inditex to officially unveil an unprecedented project for both parties: for Zara Home, it is an important collaboration with a leading designer and his first collection of designer furniture. For him it is an opportunity to democratize his designs and, quite incidentally, to take stock. The first was imposed, but the second was chosen. “For me, this collaboration was an incredible introspection,” he explains. “I’m 60 years old and it’s an opportune moment to look back and reflect on these three decades of career.” In this sense, his proposal is not without risk: together with the Zara Home team, he decided to design a furniture collection that reminiscent of pieces from his own projects – including his two living rooms – through high-quality materials and manufacture in Spain, of course cheaper prices than usual in their designs. “Before committing to this, I had the opportunity to meet Marta Ortega [presidenta no ejecutiva de Inditex, la empresa a la que pertenece Zara Home], who came to visit me in Antwerp and got to know my world. Our meeting was wonderful. She is very interested in the aesthetics I work with.” He affirms that the proposal to collaborate was unexpected. “Of course I know the brand well,” he explains. “It has a very attractive story and, above all, an admirable coherence. For example, that they don’t compromise on quality and that they put so much care into their products.” Therein, he explains, the key to this collaboration lies: being able to develop a commercial collection without the principles of durability and timelessness to give up the things that have shaped his career. “I’m a democrat through and through and I’ve always wanted to reach the whole world,” he confesses. “Zara Home has given me the opportunity to achieve this without sacrificing quality. I never give up. And the craftsmanship that goes into these Spanish-made pieces is incredible. It’s a gift for me.”
Van Duysen’s career has taken off at an almost dizzying pace in recent years. From his Antwerp studio, he has become a representative of an elegant, sober and atmospheric style, oscillating between the assumptions of modernism, the reduced luxury of Belgian roots and today’s high-end furniture. He has experience in all these areas: as the creative director of the collections of the Italian company Molteni&C and as an integral part of the novelties presented every year by several brands at the Salone del Mobile, but also as an interior designer for famous clients – e.g. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, whose house she helped build in 2020 — whose names she doesn’t usually pronounce. “Most of my projects have been done for my clients, which sets them apart. My clients are people and my work is about people. I don’t care where they’re from, I treat them all the same because they’re human,” he replies when asked about it. “And I think about it a lot because at the end of the day, my mission is to make sure what I do for them brings them joy. Of course I work with celebrities or people from the art world, very cosmopolitan people, and they inspire me a lot, but I don’t discriminate. There is the beauty of Zara Home. My goal is to make people happy with my designs. And now many people who love my work can have a piece of my world. For me, that is the core message of this collaboration.”
One of the novelties of the project lies precisely in this opening character. In his interiors, Van Duysen is famous for an extreme perfectionism that leads him to carefully select every little detail of every piece of furniture, every application or every object. However, the global audience this collection is intended for will reveal new ways of using each piece. Even if they are the opposite of your taste. “I’m sure there will be two types of customers,” he explains. “Some who know my style will try to evoke my aesthetic in their homes, playing with compositions inspired by my work. But there will also be people who fall in love with certain furniture because it is a very versatile collection. And many pieces will end up in environments that have nothing to do with my world.”
For this reason, he explains, he produced photo sessions in different spaces, from a modern house in Portugal to a baroque palace. There are pieces as magnificent as a large sofa with a stately flair. “There is no sofa more comfortable than an English armchair,” he says. “And what I did was rethink it in my own way and make it as pure as possible, with a touch of warmth on the cushions that you can play freely with.” Combinatorial freedom coexists with versatility here deployable furniture whose combination of softness – in upholstery, fabrics and objects – and geometry – in most pieces of furniture – is an almost spiritual harmony of opposites. “I wanted to create a pure, calm, zen and warm atmosphere at the same time,” says the architect, who began meditating during the pandemic. This practice strengthened his principles. “I have always been very focused on housing projects because the house is very important to me. It has to do with our heart, our soul. At home we should feel calm and be able to disconnect from the rhythm of the outside world. I often say that my home is my sanctuary. And I applied that idea to this collaboration.”