Here’s our edit of five top books out this month. As Demeter – goddess of harvests and fertility – is happily reunited with her daughter Persephone, death is banished and all is life and joy again. So goes the ancients’ colourful explanation of Spring after the long dark months of winter. With gardens and travel on our minds, we revue TASCHEN’s latest offering on the vibrant colours and sculptural forms of the decorous gardens of France. The maximalism of these gardens that explode with colour and form are contrasted with the minimalism and monochrome schemes of many of April 2015’s top books on interior design. Proving that the curious phenomenon that is ‘Belgian style’ is still going strong, a chic selection of Belgian architects and designers is presented with their latest cool, clean lined, light-filled and monochrome projects. We look at the ongoing popularity of Scandinavian design, not only for tips on this classic regional style, but also for hidden clues to the famous Scandinavian feeling of contentment. Can stripping your environment of colour make you both happier and more stylish? A talented stylist explores the benefits of the monochrome home with some extremely smart interiors. Meanwhile we return to one of our favourite themes of upcycling, which is also here paired with ‘hacking’ in the pursuit of sustainable interiors that are also creative and unique.
By Wim Pauwels, Published by Beta Plus, RRP £39.95
Scandinavian countries are not the only ones to have a distinctive national style that has evolved to produce a popular contemporary incarnation, that is much in demand internationally. The very distinctive and easily identifiable interior architecture and design coming out of Belgium is fast becoming the bees knees around the world.
Belgian style exploded onto the international scene some four decades ago with the enthusiastic reactions to the work of interior designer and art and antiques dealer Axel Vervoordt. A favourite among fashion designers like Rick Owens and Hollywood stars including Robert de Niro, his East meet West style arises out of his long standing preoccupation with the ancient Eastern Philosophy of Wabi Sabi. This belief system that rejects the superfluous and artificial, embracing simplicity and humility, provides a guiding framework for interior design and is rapidly enjoying a wider popularity because of the work of designers like Vervoordt.
The latter’s fame and the vast reams of publicity he (and one should not forget his compatriot Walda Pairon) has generated as a pioneer, has led many Belgian designers to faithfully replicate this style. ‘Belgian style’ – which by rights should really be ‘Vervoordt style’ – is now successfully being exported internationally and its influence is everywhere. The trickle down impact of the style is now evident in the decoration of many hotels, the work of international interior designers and even in furniture designs and room sets of the hugely successful American company Restoration Hardware, that has successfully made ‘Belgian style’ or ‘Vervoordt style’ very much its own.
The publishing house that is best associated with ‘Belgian style’ has been Beta Plus. Their latest offering showcases about twenty or so projects by various Belgian architects and designers who are the next generation of ambassadors of this much sought after design style.
So what are the identifiable elements that make up this phenomenon? ‘Belgian style’ is about unfussy, light-filled, monochrome interiors of clean lines and natural materials. An East meets West minimalism underlines the whole mood. The palette tends to be neutral, muted and monochrome. There are few patterned fabrics, and furniture is often upholstered in natural linens or jute. Walls are often plain limed wood or putty coloured plaster. Floors are often reclaimed stone or untreated timber. The Wabi Sabi respect for the signs of age and patina in materials is much in evidence. The design scheme tends to be minimalist and clean-lined with many surfaces left unadorned. There are frequent juxtapositions of contrasting textures and objects: of rough with smooth, old with new, smart with rustic. The free flow of light is also favoured with the universal use of simple and rectilinear glazed iron/bronze doors, windows and room dividers.
Notable among the featured architects is Hans Verstuyft Architects that was founded in 1992, who describe their approach to architecture as ‘traditional’ in that they reject fads and fashion. Their view is that architecture must be farsighted if it is to speak to succeeding generations. They are also keen to invest their buildings with both ‘soul’ and inspiration. Many of the projects of this architectural firm are historic buildings that have been sensitively renovated in the spirit of the ‘contextual modernism’ of Carlo Scarpa. Their impressive interventions are both subtly harmonious and artfully sculptural.
This latest collection of projects by Beta Plus clearly shows that ‘Belgian style’ is not only still going strong some forty years on, but also becoming the hottest trend on both sides of the Atlantic.