Coffeeklatch

creative chit-chat

Antoine Vandewoude

Furniture maker

A green oasis in the city. The sound of a babbling brook and the view on lush greenery makes you wonder where you are. Furniture maker Antoine Vandewoude found a home with a garden and atelier in an old candy factory in Antwerp. When admiring the abundance of beautiful roses, bonsais, ferns, cypresses and all sorts of wisteria’s, you sense the owner has a love for plants and gardening is more than a hobby. To Antoine, enjoying greenery is a way of life. “This is truly my first garden. I guess that’s the reason why I spend so much time working on it. It’s constantly evolving and never finished.” Whilst sipping coffee he walks in and out of the house, showing us all sorts of books, cause that’s where he gets his inspiration and knowledge from. Antoine is a creative autodidact when it comes to gardening and furniture making. 

 

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How long have you been living here and above all: how did you find this wonderful gem? 

We’ve been living here since 2004. I came across the house in the local newspaper. The facade is very narrow and doesn’t show there’s a big building behind it. When we saw the ground plan, we didn’t hesitate a second. We bought it immediately. After all we had been looking for a place like this for so long and we almost gave up hope in finding it. It’s really difficult to find the combination of a home, atelier and garden, especially in Antwerp. Firstly I transformed my workspace. Secondly I dealt with the garden and thirdly I renovated the house. I decided to approach the garden first, for I didn’t want to use it as a dumping-ground. While we were renewing the house the garden had time to blossom and to grow. 

 

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When I hear the word renovation, a top-to-bottom-project comes to mind.

And that’s exactly what it was. The garden was made of concrete and I stripped the house down completely. I’ve been renovating this place for 7 years now and it’s still not completed. All windows, doors and pieces of furniture are made by me. Same goes for the Victorian terrace. I used to go and look for recovery material and when I saw these two old posts, I made a support out of concrete and that’s how I was able to add an extra terrace. It looks like it has always been there, right?

 

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Is that your trademark? To create authentic furniture?

Yes, I prefer to work in the atmosphere of the house.  Every piece of furniture I make, should give the impression it has always been here and should add tranquility to a space. My point of view used to be quite different. When I was younger I wanted to design chairs no one ever designed before. Truly ridiculous when I think of it now. (Laughs.) A chair is an object within a space and the context doesn’t really matter. You can put it anywhere. Now I work the other way around. I make made-to measure pieces and by looking for solutions, I come up with new designs. 

 

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Where did you learn to make furniture?

I worked in the opera. It was cool for a short period, since I don’t function well within a big organization. A friend suggested to go and work in a restoration atelier. When I was working there, I told myself: why restoring, when I prefer creating? I’ve learnt the art of furniture making by reading lots of books and dismantling pieces. Finally it’s all about repeating joints and adapting the proportions. As soon as you know the basics, you can vary endlessly. 

 

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I’ve been told Dries Van Noten was one of your first clients.

Yes and he still is. At first I made pieces for the shop and created multiple desks for his warehouse on the Godefriduskaai. But now I mostly do interior assignments for him. Almost all fixed furniture in his private home is made by me. Most clients are regulars, but because I work for them  exclusively, the word of mouth doesn’t work. I am a well-kept secret. (Laughs.) Clients who save money to be able to buy one piece, promote my work, however they only place orders once in a long while. My pieces of furniture are unique. It takes me a long time to finish off one piece and that’s why it’s not cheap. I make a living from clients who are able to afford the luxury products I create and who want to invest in their homes. I also have the impression people wait longer to place an order.

 

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And you do ceramics too?

I had a bonsai tree, but didn’t have the proper pot for it. So I decided to create one myself. Now I’m making ceramic pots and vases with acanthus leaves, inspired by the English wallpaper and textile designer William Morris. 

 
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Vases with leave motifs. In everything you do, there seems to be a link with nature and your garden.

I love to work in my garden and learn new things every day. In the beginning I had 36 different types of roses. But my garden is quite enclosed  and some roses got sick, so only the strong survived. It also took me a while to learn how to grow wisteria. There’s no need in fertilizing it, but constant trimming makes it grow stronger. And when it comes to bonsais: the branches of young trees grow straight. But if you want to create the illusion of an old tree, you have to direct the branches downwards, as I do with aluminum wire. Some trees you see here are 30 to 40 years old.

 

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The plant selection in your garden is very impressive! It’s lush, wild and colorful. But what about the surface? What sort of material is it?

These are natural stones called ‘Naams zwart’. Ten years are ago they changed the sewerage in the street and I saw these big rocks lying around. When the contractor told me he was going to grind them, I asked if I could buy them. Recuperating material is something I do quite often. The bath, the sink and the mirror in the bathroom are from a home nearby that got demolished and the old Raymond Loewy kitchen was bought from a collector. I gave it a stainless steel worktop and painted it mint green. Assembling and recuperating old material is an art, you have to know when to stop. It easily looks like a mess and you want to give the impression it looks authentic, right? 

 

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www.antoinevandewoude.com

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About Coffeeklatch

Coffeeklatch stands for ‘Slow journalism using a fast medium.’ Magali Elali and Bart Kiggen created the blog as a creative chitchat featuring creative entrepreneurs in their homes over coffee, including interesting people telling intriguing stories. It celebrates storytelling and creativity in all its forms, from fashion design to architecture. Read More

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