Ilse Cornelissens and Tim van Geloven’s sense- stimulating house, where you can dine, look at art, shop and stay overnight, is located in the heart of Antwerp. Since moving to a greener part of the city, their business has embarked on a greener path as well.
photography Frederik Vercruysse text Roos Stalpers
Sometimes I envy our guests – I never get to experience Graanmarkt 13 for the first time. That’s what happens when something’s really close to you and develops along with you. A er ten years, I would go as far as to say that the place is infectious. The quiet in this urban apartment is so bene cial that some guests forget that there’s a wonderful city outside, waiting for them.’ Ilse Cornelissens tells us about the business she and her partner Tim van Geloven thought up as they sat on a sun- ny terrace. ‘We‘d just graduated and we fantasized about a place that would be a podium for all of our personal favourites, a shop, to share our love of home accessories, fashion, art, beautiful fashion accessories and jewellery. And our ideas about good food initiated the restaurant. We were 27 and had no business experience at all. But really, it’s best to just start!’
In the beginning, their inexperience thwarted the young couple’s plans. Estate agents and architects were afraid to take the beginners too seriously. Until Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen crossed their path – there was an instant spark. ‘Finally the ball got rolling.’ They involved art director Bob Verhelst in the project and he in turn knew of a very young, very talented chef. That was Seppe Nobels and fortunately he was interested in having his own kitchen. ‘Think about it: our house – apart from the attractive façade – still had to be completely rebuilt. We
had no alternative: our predecessors had ruined everything that had once been beautiful. It was
a haunted house that had been for sale for ten years. The fact this it’s number 13 certainly won’t have helped, either.’
While the excavators were digging a base- ment Ilse, Tim and the dream team made their plans concrete. As the construction continued, their impatience incre- ased. ‘Get a move on! I’d think. But Vincent can’t be rushed by anyone. He taught us that the devil is in the details and that’s how we developed an eye for his minimalist luxury.’ His sophisticated signature is re ected
by the custom-made furniture in the basement restaurant, in the harmonious proportions of the inviting mixed shop on the ground oor and the rst oor. He drew his pièce de résistance especially for Tim and Ilse: a minimalistic city apartment on the second and third oors overlooking the roo ops of Antwerp.
Van Duysen lled the apartment with good vibes by coun- terpointing its severe architectural lines with a lively patina that’s largely created by painting the walls and doors with a matte whitewash. A painting knife
was used to apply the paint, a er which a brush was used to work it into the walls. They look so and inviting to the touch. Touching is allowed, because handprints and other signs of use give the apartment its time-tested character. ‘The bright rooms are so beautiful by themselves that it took only a couple of works of art by friends, lovely wooden pieces, a seat by Axel Vervoordt and of course linen to make it our own. When we exchanged the apartment a er four years for a family home with a garden for our young children, we again found that less is more. It’s as if this tranquil oasis was always meant to be a haven for travellers.’
The basement is the domain of chef cook Seppe Nobels, who a er years of experience in starred restaurants em- barked on an adventure with Ilse and Tim. ‘He was only 22 years old at the time and still had to nd his own signature. But I noticed right away that his avour combinations were always spot-on. In 2013, we changed course and replaced the à la carte menu with seasonal dishes, with
a star role for vegetables. The underlying principles are also green. The suppliers are local and the guests share their dishes, so hardly anything is wasted. This way, the products are treated with the respect they deserve. At rst, we had a lot of explaining to do. Some patrons were upset because they could only choose between meat, sh or vegetarian and had to share an entrée and the side dishes. By now, the green method is fully accepted. Seppe has really made a success of it – the sky is his limit. He’s given us a good reason to trigger the same change in the shop.’
In fashion, brands are now expected to produce six collections per year: a rat race against which Ilse and Tim developed a growing aversion. ‘“Here we all go again,” I’d think, knowing that this approach comes with a lot of waste, which is diametrically opposed to everything we stand for.’ So following the restaurant, the shop was put under the microscope and since the spring of 2017 it’s not only season-less, but in some cases also gender-less and size-less. You can spot real collector’s items here, clothing for her and him from young, small, sustainable labels that make physical shopping worth while. ‘These are garments that you have to touch, that you fall in love with and hopefully get a lot of use out of. If not, you can let some other enthusiast have them. We’ve abolished the sale; on the rst days of the clearance we sell the most beautiful pieces from our patrons’ wardro- bes. In return, they receive a discount at the shop.’
It there still room for art, cosmetics and home accessories in the new concept? ‘Of course, we have plenty of space. The two shop windows are lled with our personal picks. Besides fashion, we currently also surround ourselves with works by artist friends such as Jasper Krabbé and Ysbrant van Wijngaarden, chairs by Michaël Verheyden and Santa Maria Novella’s artisanal cosmetics. When Fabienne, our manager, comes back from vacation, she always sighs
that we have the nest shop in the world. I can only agree, especially when our art director Bob has just been waving his wand through the racks and along the tables.