If you’ve been following me on social media at all you might have seen that I went on a Bloggers Tour of Antwerp with Function & Form and eight lovely blogger pals. Set up by fellow bloggers – interior stylist Tiffany Grant-Riley and graphic designer Annie Kruse – Function & Form is a community of like-minded individuals who all share a love for interiors and handcrafted design. This was the first outing abroad to explore all things design, meeting designers and delving deeper into their process, touring furniture factories and getting a peek behind the scenes, and visiting design-led concept stores and galleries.
One of the highlights of the tour was Gallery Valerie Traan, an art gallery founded by Veerle Wenes. The modern, white interior, designed by Belgian practice LENS°ASS architecten, is split onto different levels and connected by a wide, black staircase.
The light space looks onto two courtyards and connects fluidly to Wenes own home, housed in an adjacent old convent. In fact, you don’t know where art gallery stops and home begins, both are a platform to display art and objects. There’s little definition between home and work, but the different disciplines of art, architecture and design also blend into a seamless whole.
As well as the gallery, Wenes also founded valerie_objects, a new design label together with Axel Van Den Bossche and Frank Lambert. The label works with contemporary architects, designers and artists to translate signature works into tangible objects. From the white spaces of the gallery to the cosier, private domain, they’re positioned as works of art that come into play in the home. Here are some of the designs that caught our eye during our visit…
Works by Muller Van Severen
valerie_objects holds a number of designs by duo Muller Van Severen. Founded in 2011 by artists Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen, the design practice creates sculpturally interesting furniture objects – items that are spontaneous and produced with apparent effortlessness.
Their pieces are designed to be used alone or grouped together, often with multifunctional possibilities, combining seating, storage, working and lighting into the same object. They are fascinated with materiality, proportions, colour and mobility – ‘We immediately want to see how a piece looks and get a sense of its proportions. We want to see how humans relate to the object. So most of the time, we work live,’ they say.
The Stackable Chair, below, is made of aluminium with colourful powdercoated seats.
‘We’ve been intrigued with the different ways of colouring and treating the surfaces of the aluminum. We like industrial references so we used hammer blow finishing paint. You often see this paint applied on mechanical equipment, machines or laboratory equipment. It’s textured and therefore ideal to cover up bumps in metal.’
Their lighting is stunning too. The Hanging Lamps and Standing Lamps are made of steel or brass tubes with a powdercoated finish in a variety of bold colours.
They’re perhaps best known for their playful modular furniture with fabric seats, such as the Rocking Chair below, which is reminiscent of beach-side deckchairs.
They’ve also designed smaller items, such as these Trivets for the kitchen. Made of laquered steel, they can be used to rest hot dishes or simply to create a dynamic display on the dining table.
Robbrecht en Daem architecten
Robbrecht en Daem architecten is a Gent-based practice founded in 1975 by Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem. The interplay between architectural design and the visual arts is a unifying theme in their body of work. I was already familiar with some of their architecture projects, but less so with their furniture.
Their Ta Tisch table and Joburg Stool for valerie_objects are foldable designs finished in dark polished wood and a minimal palette of colours. They were first shown in 2009, when Robbrecht en Daem had an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The expo travelled onto London and Johannesburg, so the architects came up with a clever solution for furniture that could be easily packed up and moved around. ‘This is micro architecture,’ they say.
The Cutlery project
valerie_objects tasked six international designers with each creating a set of cutlery. Netherlands-based Jinhjyun Jeon, Maarten Baas, Studio Simple and Studio Wieki Somers, Belgian designer Muller Van Severen and Japanese designer Koichi Futatsumata responded with six quirky sets of cutlery that surprise and delight.
‘When I approached the designers and design teams to create a set of cutlery for valerie_objects, I knew that they would each use their expertise, background and knowledge to come up with a completely divergent range of results. Some of them had already experimented with cutlery, others had been fascinated by the design for years, while for yet others it was their first foray into designing this modest eating tool. But whatever stage they were at, they all succeeded in delivering a surprise,’ said curator Veerle Wenes.
The designs of Maarten Baas and Koichi Futatsumata are the first to be put into production. Maarten Baas’ designs are intentionally wonky, their child-like irregular forms exaggerated as if modelled directly from a rough sketch. The zig-zags of the serrated edge of the knife for example are irregular, while the prongs of the fork are each a different shape.
‘There is often a great deal of beauty in a quick sketch, but those spontaneous lines usually get lost in the industrial process,’ says Baas.
Koichi Futatsumata’s cutlery set combines a flat surface with an octagonal section to create a weighty, chunky design. He says: ‘For this cutlery I was inspired by my favourite technical pencil.’
If you ever find yourself in Antwerp, step into this fascinating art gallery and be inspired by Veerle Wenes’ magical world where objects, architecture and art collide. I’ll be back shortly with more design from our trip to Antwerp, so keep your eyes peeled for a travel guide, Belgian brands to watch, and more…
Gallery Valerie Traan, 12 Reyndersstraat, 2000 Antwerp
All images of pieces courtesy Valerie Objects and Galerie Valerie Traan. Images of the gallery: Cate St Hill. Thank you to Function & Form for organising the Bloggers Tour Antwerp, and the Designcenter de Winkelhaak and City of Antwerp for hosting us