At the end of November, Axel Vervoordt, renowned antiquary and aesthete, is unveiling the latest addition to Kanaal, a visionary architectural complex created in his own image. Flamboyancy has never been the house style, which adheres instead to the elegant and erudite sobriety for which Antwerp is famous. Don’t bother looking for signposts on the Albert Canal, because there aren’t any. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for the silos, which were exactly what caught Vervoordt’s attention in 1998, when was looking for a warehouse to stock the 16,000 antiques piled up at ’s-Gravenwezel, his 12th-century castle. Instead of a mere warehouse, the former 19th-century malt house turned into a much more ambitious project, christened Kanaal. One by one, every piece in the immense Vervoordt machine has arrived – retailers, architects, artisans, art historians –, all the departments needed to manage two galleries, art fairs, interior-design projects, furniture collections, the foundation, and now real estate, since the complex includes 100 or so apartments. Future inhabitants have the choice between contemporary bay windows by Bogdan & Van Broeck, circular rooms inserted in the silos by Stéphane Beel or new structures built over the old brick buildings by Cousée & Goris. Prissy flowerpots are forbidden on the balconies: the landscape architect Michel Desvigne has been given sole responsibility for greening Kanaal, so that everything appears studiedly natural, including the roof.
“Deep down I’m still the art dealer I was when I started out, a beachcomber who only wants to make people happy in their homes.”