Architect and designer Vincent Van Duysen talks taste
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My personal style signifier for many, many years has been a midnight-blue crewneck jumper. It’s a kind of uniform. I wear cashmere ones by Prada and Loro Piana, and then cotton ones in summer, from either Maison Margiela or Italian brand Aspesi. I love wearing cashmere on my naked body, to feel the warmth against my skin.
The last thing I bought and loved was a small sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. I’m a big admirer of his work. It’s an edition called Kaki Persimmons, in hot-dipped galvanised steel. I bought it from White Cube in London, but I also love The Noguchi Museum on Long Island. For me, it’s an escape from New York City; it’s very contemplative. noguchi.org
The place that means a lot to me is Melides in Portugal. Alentejo is a beautiful region, with protected nature reserves. I have created the ultimate house there, Casa M. It’s my sanctuary, in total synergy with the nature around it – sitting in rolling dunes, and surrounded by beautiful umbrella pines, which are more than 100 years old. Most of it is concrete – the same colour as the dunes – mixed up with Brazilian wood. I don’t have any art on the walls; the views through the windows are like living paintings. In the summer, the windows slide into the walls, so it’s like an open-air pavilion.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is a charcoal-grey blazer from Prada. I’ve worn the Prada Classic line for many years, and I picked this up in Milan. I go to Milan at least once a month; I studied there for two years as a young architect in the ’80s, and it’s like home.
The grooming staples I’m never without are a razor and shaving cream to shave my head on a daily basis. It’s a ritual, every single morning. The fragrance I wear is Original Vétiver by Creed. And I’m a little bit addicted to Awake & Lift Eye Patches by German brand MBR. I take good care of my skin, and use a toner and facial moisturiser. Right now it’s a mixture of Environ and iS Clinical, because recently I consulted a very good facialist in New York, Fabricio Ormonde. Julianne Moore tipped me off about him. Creed Original Vétiver, £185 for 50ml. MBR Awake & Lift Eye Patches, $161. Fabricio Ormonde, from $600, fabricioormonde.com
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a crystal stone from Uruguay. I was visiting a good friend of mine, Eva Claessens – a Belgian painter who has an atelier in Garzón, a lovely little pueblo near José Ignacio. Eva collects the local crystal and gave me a beautiful amethyst. I believe in the holistic side of crystals; it’s about energy. But it’s also a beautiful stone and a reminder of my friend, which sits on a table behind the sofa in my living room in Antwerp. I’ve got a whole collection of objects here: beautiful pieces by [New York designer and jeweller] Ted Muehling, a pair of ’20s bookends with dachshunds on them – even the ashes of my dogs Georges, Loulou and Gaston are there, in three ceramic urns.
The best gift I’ve given recently is the Gustave table lamp I designed for Flos. It’s a multifunctional object – it’s battery-powered, so you can move it around, put it on the table when you eat. The other day I was at a friend’s house, and she had her little Gustave on top of her piano, between piles of books.
And the best gift I’ve received was an Indian lingam stone, given to me by one of my dearest friends, a couple of years ago for my birthday. It’s greyish with dark-red touches in it, and comes from a sacred river in India. It’s next to my bed in my home in Antwerp. And I now have two more on top of the low table in my Portugal living room; these ones are almost black, and were a present I gave to myself.
In my fridge you’ll always find blueberries, and berries in general; goat’s milk yoghurt and rice milk; and lots of fresh veggies. It’s very simple. I’m always aware of what I’m eating. I’ll eat meat but not that much. A little bit of chicken. Some sea bass. And always a bottle of white wine; there’s one particular Pinot Grigio that I drink almost daily – Kornell Florian Brigl from Alto Adige in Italy. kornell.it
My personal style icon is the French decorator Jean-Michel Frank. He was a Parisian dandy and created an exclusive style of interiors in a very restrained way. It was all about the essence of space and getting rid of the excess. This guy is the undisputed genius of modernist French design. He worked with beautiful parchment on the walls, used compact white armchairs, straw marquetry side tables, beautiful bronze doors. And his style as a decorator was reflected in the way that he dressed. Also elegant: a white shirt and a blazer, a cigarette in his hand.
I couldn’t live without my two dachshunds, Flora, who’s Italian, and Pablo, a Mexican dachshund. I’m a big dog lover in general, but I particularly love standard short-haired dachshunds. They have incredible character. They’re stubborn and very intelligent, but also very loving and caring. I’ve had this type of dog for more than 20 years.
I have a collection of vintage furniture, ranging from Brazilian designers like José Zanine Caldas to a lot of pieces by Pierre Jeanneret. I’m proud of my latest purchase, a couple of c1929 armchairs by Eyre de Lanux. They’re stunning, made of mahogany and woven straw; the style is pure, timeless. They’re very hard to get. I bought them from Sotheby’s. De Lanux’s life story is interesting: she was designing furniture and rugs in Paris in the ’20s, and she died in New York at the age of 102. Her designs are radical but so beautiful.
The work of art that changed everything for me is the art of transcendental meditation, which I practise every day. Three years ago, I came across a personal teacher here in Antwerp, Joachim Claes, who has recently moved to the US. It’s the ultimate way to reset my body and my mind. It energises me. And it solves a lot of stress knots. A lot. For me, 20 minutes of meditation is equivalent to six hours of sleep.
The best book I’ve read in the past year was On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. It’s a beautiful letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. It spoke to me because my mother passed away a year and a half ago, and I had a very strong relationship with her, being an only child.
My favourite building is the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut in Egypt, located opposite the city of Luxor. I fell in love with it when I first went to Egypt in my 20s. It’s a masterpiece of ancient architecture, and yet it’s actually super-modern in the way it almost blends into the landscape, its rhythm, the colonnades. It was one of the influences on my house in Portugal.
Twice a year I do a 10-day detox. I’m 61, and I’ve been doing it since I turned 50. Most recently I went to the Lanserhof Sylt, but I’ve also been to Sha in Spain, Palace Merano in Italy and Kamalaya in Koh Samui, Thailand. I do it to unplug and disconnect, and I prefer to do it on my own. In the beginning it’s hard but once it’s done, I come back reborn.
An object I would never part with is my reading glasses from Oliver Peoples. The older I get, the less I can see. But, you know, I’m a bald guy. I’m an architect. I didn’t want reading glasses that would be too prominent, or which had any direct relationship with my profession. It can look great, like Le Corbusier; his glasses were one of a kind. Mine are very subtle and minimal, with a metal frame.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Kazimir Malevich, specifically his Black Square and White on White paintings. They’re museum pieces, impossible to buy. But I’ve loved the work of the Russian suprematists – Malevich, El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko – ever since I was studying architecture, at the peak of postmodernism. Their exquisite, minimal works also inspired deconstructivist architects in the ’80s – like Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind – to create drawings at the beginning of their careers.
My favourite room in my home is the living room in Antwerp. It’s a huge space – 10m by 10m, and over 4m high – with a big fireplace and furniture placed in an asymmetrical way. There are very comfortable British countryside-lookalike armchairs, with pelmets, mixed with pieces by Eyre de Lanux and José Zanine Caldas, a lot of books and some own-design furniture. It’s a world in itself, but it’s very calming, very serene; there is air and I can breathe.
The podcast I’m listening to is not so much a podcast, but audio versions of newspaper articles. Most recently I listened to someone reading a feature about the artist Mark Bradford in The New York Times. I’m a person who lives on a fast track, and to be honest, sometimes I lack the concentration to read because I’m always multitasking, jumping from one thing to another. So this was a new discovery for me.
In another life, I would have been a photographer or a garment designer. I want to say fashion designer, but I don’t like that term too much. And I love photography; I have lots of digital images that I collect in albums. I might do something with them one day.
The last music I downloaded was by Ryuichi Sakamoto – his final album, 12. He died this year, so it’s his farewell album, but I’ve listened to his music for many years. It goes from pure instrumental piano to collaborations with Brazilian vocal artists and film scores.
The best bit of advice I ever received was from my mother, who always said to me, “Vincent, you have to take everything in moderation. There are limits.” It is still something that I find very hard to fulfil. We are living in a world that’s all about consumption, and we want everything immediately. But I think about this regularly, and it’s true.