look inside the penthouse of Ann Demeulemeester’s creative right hand


Mirjam van den Akker worked as Ann Demeulemeester’s creative right hand for 33 years. Her Antwerp penthouse, designed by Nathalie Van Reeth, is a parade of contrasting textures, warm colors and well-chosen vintage.

When Mirjam van den Akker opens the curtains of her Antwerp penthouse in her bedroom in the morning, the sun rises behind the tower of the St. Laurentius Church, a beautiful neo-Byzantine building from the late 1930s. She walks to her living space, then it looks as if she lives in a tree house: so close are the crowns of the deciduous trees in the adjacent Hof van Leysen neighborhood park. ‘Our terrace is a wonderful extra living space. As soon as possible, we live outside,’ says Van den Akker. ‘The sunsets are beautiful here. The shades from orange to red bathe our apartment in a warm glow.’

The bohemian carpets and cushions blend beautifully with the travertine floor. To the right of the set of Eames lounge chairs is chunky outdoor furniture, designed by the Brazilian architect Carlos Motta. The roof terrace has a view of the treetops of the adjacent Hof van Leysen park. © Jan Verlinde
Mirjam wanted a compact kitchen that looked like a piece of furniture. At the front an armchair by Bas Van Pelt and a side table by Eames. Above the table hangs a Pac-Man lamp from Superstudio for Poltronova. On the ground a sultry work by Floris Jespers from his ‘Africanist’ period. © Jan Verlinde

There is certainly no shortage of warmth at Mirjam van den Akker’s home. Thanks to interior architect Nathalie Van Reeth, her entire interior is a feast of sultry colors and sensual materials that invite you to be touched. ‘Brazilian atmosphere, but with less sun,’ says Van Reeth. ‘Contrasting textures are very important in this apartment.’

Around the vintage 70’s coffee table are Soriana sofas by Afra & Tobia Scarpa for Cassina. The walls are finished in scraped plaster. © Jan Verlinde

For example, the ceilings are made of exposed concrete and the walls are made of scraped plaster. The black lacquered cabinets and the bathrooms in Mortex are smooth. The travertine floor – which continues on the XL terrace – beautifully balances the custom work in walnut. And the Soriana sofa in deep orange velvet begs to be caressed. ‘Our house is a kind of hotel suite, where we like to retreat to just the two of us. It is our private retreat,” says Van den Akker.

Right hand of Ann

Whether loose carpets, fitted carpets, curtains or upholstery fabrics: textiles are very present in the apartment. Perhaps a professional deformity, because Mirjam van den Akker worked for 33 years as the creative right hand of fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester. ‘I studied fashion in Amsterdam, but I came to Antwerp to look for an internship because the Antwerp Six were making waves here at the time.’

With a travertine floor, glossy lacquer, custom work in walnut, raw concrete and velvet seats, interior architect Nathalie Van Reeth opted for very daring material contrasts. © Jan Verlinde

Six fashion designers, all graduates of the Antwerp Fashion Academy, turned international fashion upside down in the early 1980s with their revolutionary, radical fashion. Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, Marina Yee and Dirk Van Saene built international careers, each in their recognizable style. ‘When I applied to Ann Demeulemeester, I didn’t even have to show my portfolio. She looked at me and said intuitively, “You can start Monday morning.” After my internship, I worked briefly at Li Edelkoort’s trend agency in Paris, but Ann called me if I wanted to come back to Antwerp. These were the pioneering years of her brand. With our small team we did everything, from developing collections to choosing fabrics, keeping showrooms open to visiting manufacturers.

Sliding doors provide privacy in the cozy master bedroom with adjoining bathroom. © Jan Verlinde

When Ann announced her retirement with a handwritten letter at the end of 2013, Mirjam’s story with the label also came to an end. The brand is now in Italian hands, but the team has been completely renewed. Ann, together with her partner Patrick Robyn, has focused on design, ceramics and her own perfume line, Mirjam is a fashion stylist and consultant. ‘Starting my own fashion brand was not an option for me. I never cherished that dream either,” she says. ‘As a child it quickly became clear that I would end up in fashion. I was six and already at the sewing machine. I met an older lady, a coquettish lady, who allowed me to visit every Friday to learn how to sew. We always drank tea together and ate a cookie. She was a seamstress. She brought pieces of fabric from the market, which I had to put together. A wonderful learning experience.’

Good taste

Her career in Belgian avant-garde fashion already reveals it: Mirjam van den Akker has a distinct vision on aesthetics. And you can also feel her taste in her penthouse, where sensual feminine and sturdy masculine elements balance each other well. Vintage furniture gives the apartment a lived-in look, while well-balanced ethnic accessories provide a holiday feeling.

Thanks to her experience in the fashion world, Mirjam van den Akker has a great feeling for colors, fabrics and textures. She chose custom-made walnut furniture as the bed head. The light switches are from Berker. The vintage tapestry is by the Finnish artist Impi Sotavalta. © Jan Verlinde

One of the eye-catchers in the interior is the painting by the Antwerp artist Floris Jespers (1889–1965). “It’s still on the floor for now, because I don’t dare knock a hole in the wall,” she laughs. The work is not an églomisé or a typical Jespers from the interwar period. An ‘Africanist’ painting from the 1950s, when Jespers went to Congo three times to visit his son Marc, who was a doctor there. Jespers often painted sultry market scenes full of color and movement. And that is exactly the vibe of Van den Akker’s penthouse.

Wall-to-wall carpet even extends into the bathroom, where the wall unit in honed travertine immediately catches the eye. In the mirror you see a vintage wall lamp, a module from a much larger ceiling lamp. The tap work is by Piet Boon. © Jan Verlinde

“I gave Mirjam the freedom to decorate the house according to her own feelings,” says interior architect Nathalie Van Reeth. ‘But if it was really ugly, I would have intervened. There are interior designers who prefer to determine everything themselves, including the seats, crockery and glasses. I prefer to let people decide for themselves how far they will go. Mirjam and Bruno have good taste and already had beautiful objects that fit perfectly here. An ideal collaboration, as far as I’m concerned.’

© Jan Verlinde

The article is in Dutch

Tags: penthouse Ann Demeulemeesters creative hand


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