Antwerp’s most chic townhouse, Graanmarkt 13, hasn’t stopped impressing us since the day they opened doors in 2010. The remarkable home concept occupies an entire townhouse in the center of Antwerp with the traditional building being reworked by Vincent Van Duysen, one of Belgium’s most renowned architects.
Described as ‘their best kept secret’, Graanmarkt 13 is a passion project of utmost creativity and personal touch. From hand-picked pieces for retail to a sustainable restaurant and zen apartment rental, founders Tim Van Geloven and Ilse Cornelissens have created the ultimate shopping and dining destination for the modern traveler. We spoke to them about their organic creative process and expansion.
Graanmarkt 13 seems to be expanding quickly before our eyes. You just opened an apartment rental unit as well. Was that part of the original plan?
The initial idea was to make rooms upstairs for short-term rental, but since we started Graanmarkt 13 without any experience, we decided that it might be better to start with only the 3 first floors. Then we came up with the idea to live upstairs and create an apartment for ourselves above our business. We were living upstairs with our family for 4 years and I think this was also the key to the success of Graanmarkt 13 being a welcoming house for our clients.
It is definitely a plus to be in the building at all times. But does it become exhausting?
It is a very personal project, so it was good to be always in the building (we still are, but not at night). For us Graanmarkt 13 is not a concept store, but a house. After those 4 years, we decided to move and go somewhere else with a garden for the kids. This gave us the opportunity to go back to the initial idea and improve it. ‘The Apartment’ as it is now, is more special than the initial idea we had ( of renting out multiple rooms). I believe it is one of the best kept secrets of Antwerp. We have moved out, but since I (Ilse) am the host of our guests, I can still enjoy the beauty of the Apartment every day.
Did you have a concept space in mind when you found the building?
Our idea was to combine everything from food/fashion/interior/design/art and share with our clients ‘our’ lifestyle. As soon as the address was there we’ve fitted all our ideas in function of this building. We’ve only left the facade and therefore there was a total freedom in dividing all floors into what it is now. The building needed a serious renovation after being empty for 10 years.
What’s your relationship with Vincent van Duysen like? Your visions seem to align seamlessly.
We became friends and from the very first moment we have had a nice click together. For us he is a man with a great vision and style and he will always be an example for us. We’ve learned so much from him in the process of Graanmarkt 13. A great lifestyle is all in the details and Vincent never misses any detail. Besides that, working with him makes you happy, because he is a lovely person. Vincent also introduced us to Bob Verhelst, our art-director and Dimitri Jeurissen from Basedesign, marketing. These are people with a shared vision and without them Graanmarkt 13 would not have been what it is now.
Your curation of design objects and collectibles is impressive to say the least. Can you tell us about your selection process?
Our selection is a natural process. We select whatever we like. It can be a mix of everything. Life is not always perfect, so I don’t believe in having only the most precious pieces. We mix every day with not every day pieces. A mouth blown and handpainted glass from Lobmeyr, might be an object you have in a beautiful cabinet you’ve inherited from your grandparents. On special occasions you take them out and drink a very nice wine from it. During the normal days, you might prefer to drink from the glasses we use in our restaurant. There are so many good things to find and especially the stories or people behind those products are the most interesting.
Is most of what’s featured reflective of local culture or do you consider yourself globalized?
We consider ourselves globalized, but as much as we can we select and we support brands from our own countries (Ilse: Belgium, Tim: The Netherlands). Like Michaël Verheyden, Terre De Rêves, Marie-Stella-Maris, Sofie D’Hoore, Christian Wijnants, and so much more. In our restaurant we use only local and seasonal products.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the restaurant.
We’ve started working with Seppe Nobels as our chef from the very beginning. We’ve always believed in his talent. He had a great track-record and worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants before. When he catered our wedding, we knew that it would be a great collaboration! The idea was to bring a healthy and top level kitchen but in a more easy way then the restaurants that he used to work for. Working together for all these years brought us where we are now with the restaurant. The food fits our lifestyle (seasonal, local, healthy and good quality) and that’s what we want to share with others.
Can you tell us about the design of your new addition, the apartment?
The Apartment has a very zen feeling. The architecture of Vincent in the apartment is breathtaking. You are on top of a moving place in the middle of the city center, but it breathes calm. Our kids still miss this place.
We have left everything as it was, we only took our clothes, kids and dog. All the pieces in the Apartment are carefully selected by ourselves all over the world. But the Apartment doesn’t need much.