How Belgian Designer Gert Voorjans Mastered the Art of Collecting—and Letting Go
See why the Antwerp tastemaker recently unloaded his extensive trove of high-design objects, furnishings, and art
The color-soaked spaces conjured by Belgian interior architect Gert Voorjans always brim with eclectic treasures from around the world, like a Caprese majolica vase decorated with sunflowers or an early-20th-century Persian mafrash. Last October, however, the Antwerp tastemaker unloaded his extensive personal trove of high-design objects, furnishings, and art—all of which are captured in the book Gert Voorjans Collectibles (Lannoo).
Less catalogue, more travelogue, the volume allowed Voorjans to document the rooms where each piece has lived during his stewardship and also celebrate favorite artists like Kati Heck and Didier Mathieu. “After 25 years of collecting, now is the time to leave the skin of the snake behind me,” says Voorjans. “I wanted to have the challenge of clear walls.”
See below for Galerie’s full interview with Voorjans.
Galerie: Why hold the auction of your collection?
Voorjans: I wanted to clear out my storage from 25 years of collecting. The auction was October 13, and I only have three pieces left out of 400—and that was my major goal. It’s nice to have a fresh, white canvas. I wanted every single element to be in the sale, otherwise the energy would be taken out of it. I consider it a success that everything was available, and I’m very glad that even all the little objects and vases sold. I find it very refreshing to have a new flow—I advise it to everyone.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to color?
Color is vital! I like especially entrances, or small rooms to be in full color, to make a statement on the walls and ceiling.
Does being an interior designer make it harder to let go?
No, I’m used to letting things go. Major projects are always full of furnishings that I have to leave behind. There’s a popular opinion that interior designers can be materialistic—but it’s not true. Every day we leave things behind. It’s very nice that we have them as ambassadors, but then we set them free. I like knowing where it all went, and it’s comforting to know that people wanted to have everything.
What draws you to any given object?
When working on a specific project one sees through those eyes of that period… For instance, when working on a Bavarian Castle one encounters those objects for that kind of spirit of interior, same with an Art Deco project, one sees what one knows….
How do you begin your design process?
I really like to start with beautiful bronze sculpture or modern painting or a piece from client, something authentic or original to the home and not too commercial. I really believe that you need to start from something authentic in order to create something original. A chandelier or a beautiful object from families and generations can be beginning of dining room. I believe in that kind of authenticity, rather than doing decoration for the sake of decoration. It comes very easy for me. One of the advantages of getting older is that you have lots of experience.
How has the pandemic impacted work?
Travel is obviously difficult now, and everything is being done by email. We are working on a wonderful private residence in Singapore. We can’t complain, because nobody cancelled in the pandemic and everybody wants to go on, which has been very reassuming. People want to redo their library or garden room—there are so many more ideas now because everyone is in their house more, which is not that bad for us.
What do you have coming up next?
Now we are doing a wonderful resort called Shangri-La in China, located south of Shanghai on a protected site. It will be done in 2022, and it’s like a merchant house residence. We are approaching it more like a private house than an ultra-luxury hotel. I’m very glad that this is the first major hotel project that I’m involved in.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2020 Winter issue under the headline “Collector’s Edition.” Subscribe to the magazine.