Since its opening in 2016, this little department store brings new luxury and flair to ‘het Zuid’, Antwerp South. Behind the wrought iron curls of the gate, owner Muriel Van Nieuwenhoven presents women’s clothing by small labels like Paul & Joe, or Carven and Iro. To match are sunglasses, vintage jewellery and watches, an excellent perfumery, home-wear, stationary, books and magazines. The shop exudes style and inspiration. Designer Gert Voorjans brought unity and surprise to the mix of styles that have marked the interior for the last 150 years, by using rich colours and strong emphasis.
Bright blue awnings contrast with a sand-coloured façade of brick and natural stone ornaments on the Volkstraat in Antwerp. It says ‘Enes’ in small lettering on the mirror windows. It looks like a surprise, and that’s exactly what it is.
Before the renovation, Muriel had one requirement at the top of her wish list: ‘In my former shop on the Lombardenvest I didn’t have a bar and I felt that was lacking. In the past 15 years I learned an important lesson: if the ladies wanted to shop in peace, then the gentlemen should also have their fun. So in the new shop I wanted a relaxed sitting area where people can grab a magazine. It’s in the back, next to the patio. In the summer, the terrace under our elm tree is a lovely, almost serene place.’ Towards the garden, Voorjans put a seat that can be used to try on shoes or to leaf through a book, on a dark carpet with a leaf pattern. The light comes through the skylight of frosted glass and steel profiles, which dates back to the 1920s when the building was given a different designation and part of the courtyard was covered
An old gateway from the former warehouse can still be seen in the background. ‘Goods were loaded and unloaded in the courtyard. In the eighteenth century, a horse and carriage could ride all the way through from the street-side gate.’ Placing mirror windows behind the wrought iron curls of this gate provides Enes with the élan of a Parisian fashion house.
It’s hard not to love Antwerp and as an interior designer, Gert Voorjans feels right at home. Enes is on the Volkstraat, which forms an axis with the Nationale Straat, running from the historical heart of the city to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. In the nineteenth century, mundane Antwerp grew in this direction, which is now called ‘Het Zuid’ or ’Museum quarter’. The middle class built new large buildings that reflected the pride of the port and of industry. Lined by linden trees, the big streets are a sample of the beaux arts, art deco and post-war modernism.
Voorjans upholstered the staircase from the ground floor to the piano nobile with carpet samples.
Gert Voorjans feels closest to the classical tradition, which he studied in Florence and Venice after graduating from the College of Interior Architecture in Hasselt. He first gained recognition as a designer for the decoration of the Fashion Palace, Dries van Noten’s Antwerp store. After that his fame spread very quickly. He presented a first book in 2012, and in October 2016 he published a second work on ten previously unseen projects, Daily Life.
From the outside, the nineteenth-century townhouse looks a bit like a Renaissance palazzo: rustic slabs of natural stone at street level, a pediment on little columns and hard-stone fanlights above. A dark mansard roof of blue slate rests like a heavy crown on the sand-coloured façade. There used to be a storehouse with an office and a warehouse on a courtyard behind the pretty façade. About 150 years of use have left their traces throughout the building. The last inhabitant put a barge’s wheelhouse on the roof, as an exclamation mark.
Second picture: The monumental oak wood nineteenth-century staircase that leads to the third floor is a real eye catcher. Voorjans accentuated the lines with framing in colour contrasts: dark and light blue, gold and beige.
This jumble of ornaments and visions has been logically integrated in the new Enes. To do this, the building wasn’t radically converted, but was given a new art direction. Voorjans paid attention to the nature of the building, and subsequently made a better version of it with colour and a few additions.
The old bathroom on the second floor was transformed into a beautiful setting for the new perfumery by adding luxurious brass and glass shelving units with an Art Deco vibe. The home-wear department has an old Cubex kitchen as its centrepiece. A lot of Belgians have fond memories of the modular kitchen furnishing of the 1950s.
An old kitchen remained in the rear building, now in use for the stylish guest rooms on the third and fourth floors.
In the near future Muriel van Nieuwenhoven plans to use the rooms on the top floors for a B&B. They’re currently in use as guest rooms and as a location for fashion and interior pictures. The interior is well suited for this: dark wooden closets, bathrooms, desks and high wainscoting. Voorjans limited himself to adding large fields of colour
Voorjans used elements from the vintage interior and combined them with new shelving units and cabinets. His most important instrument was the use of colour. All the panel doors were painted light brown. The framing above the monumental staircase was painted and became the starting point for the walls on the first floor. They were divided into colour planes and framed mirrors. The top floors, which will eventually be used as a B&B, are dominated by 1950s wooden wainscoting. The rooms have a completely different style, yet are connected to the rest of the interior by the strong red and blue of the panels.