Surrounded by a moat and set in a wooded landscape, Kasteel van’s-Gravenwezel Castle is located about six miles north-east of Antwerp.The castle, the earliest documented evidence of which dates back to the twelfth century, shows an unusual mixture of fifteenth- and eighteenth-century architecture,’ explains Axel Vervoordt, the noted antiques dealer who lives there with his wife, May. History permeates the building. Its medieval porch and eighteenth-century facade, turrets and moat are all familiar to the people of Antwerp. This is one example of the commercial architecture.
Vervoordt, who has owned the castle for decades, has given it the character of a comfortable, lived-in noble house. It is his bustling enclave, but shows no signs of being either a showroom or a museum. Every room appears to be lovingly cared for and to carry the Vervoordts’ personal imprint. Directly through the entrance hall is the library, which May Vervoordt refers to as their ‘evening room’. This is the place to which the couple gravitate to relax at the end of a work-day. This favorite room is filled with a constantly changing collection of fine works of art and furniture. Our interest in architecture is reflected in our love of architectural furniture and masterpieces,’ says Axel Vervoordt. Cushions covered with Oriental carpeting give the room a casual atmosphere; the Vervoordts’ hunting dog usually joins them in the library on his own cushion before the fireplace. One wall of bookshelves displays a pair of anatomical engravings, scaled plaster casts from an artist’s studio and wooden armatures, old books, marquetry boxes and spheres made from rock crystal,wood and marble. Oriental pieces include a Korean bronze vase, Thai and Chinese celadon bowls, Chou-Dynasty jades and stone landscapes.
Each of the castle’s tall, rectangular, mullioned windows looks out towards the balustraded terraces and stairs or directly towards the moat, which is filled with lotus during the spring and summer and with ducks and swans year-round. Interior shutters frame many of the views, although some windows in the main rooms are draped with velvet or billowing waterfall-satin draperies. The orangery, where the staff eat lunch, has especially tall windows which provide excellent water views. On a practical note, they are used to hoist in objects, furniture and even boisserie and antique parquet floors for the ever-changing collection.
‘In the ideal house, a symbiotic relationship develops between architecture and its dwellers by means of the furniture and objects in it,’ says Axel Vervoordt. ‘A man’s house is to be his favorite place of being, a privileged site with myriad paths he can walk, in an effort to rediscover himself There has also to be an essential balance between nature and architecture. Windows thus become paintings and create a perspective, an opening on to new possibilities.’ Axel Vervoordt’s corner study has numerous windows looking out to the water view.
It is a charming, cozy space despite its lofty ceilings and practically bare eighteenth-century parquet floor. A fireplace provides warmth. ‘Living near the water gives a feeling of security, of living protected on an island, like being on an eternal boat,’ says Vervoordt of his fairy-tale castle