Can you describe what you do?
I founded espoo. back in 2009, as the very first shop supplying “new Nordic” design brands in Belgium. As of today, that’s still what we specialise in, but now with a twist, and not exclusively Nordic anymore. We carefully select furniture, lighting and objects from around the globe. If we like it, we stock it! I used to live very close to the shop but I have moved a bit out of town recently with my family. It feels like I now enjoy being in the city more because I can escape from it at night. I need that balance between rush and retreat – it makes me more productive in a way. We work a lot with people from abroad of course, but always try to spot local design talents as well. Usually we get in touch through social media first, but then we’ll always arrange a coffee date! I feel closest to my young, fellow shopkeepers and entrepreneurs in town. I’m convinced we need each other.
How do you perceive Antwerp?
To me, Antwerp is like a metropolitan village: kind of big from the outside, but also seemingly quite small when you live and work in it. You’re connected to the rest of the world through this city, but you know so many people that it gives you the feeling of living in a village. Albeit a stylish one! With so many things going on everyday, it’s impossible to get bored.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives?
I guess it’s the diversity of its people, and the presence of great innovative art schools that give birth to all kinds of creatives for the city. Also the rich history of this city is still a huge inspiration to many people. And that, together with new upcoming trends and continuous urban renewal gives Antwerp its edge.
You do learn how to deal with the tram rails after a while. It quickly became a city sport when I was a student.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today?
I started studying here in 2000. I was raised in the countryside more up north, close to the Dutch border. When I sometimes came here as a kid, I was always intrigued by the energy of this city. Later I started studying here and graduated as a translator/interpreter in Italian and French. I studied in Milan for a while and after having worked for a Belgian furniture company, my passion for design pushed me to open our own shop in 2009. My wife and I felt that there was a gap in the Belgian design furniture market, both in terms of pricing as well as in showing something different. We found a spot in the southern part of town and it quickly became a popular shop where we still feel free to do what we love.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more in the city?
Smiling faces! I lived in Australia for one year and I think there is something to be learned from their common courtesy. Oh, and I think we can still improve and extend our cycling paths in the city, even if you do learn how to deal with the tram rails after a while. It quickly became a city sport when I was a student!
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? How would you guide tourists around?
Wake up somewhere near the Schelde to enjoy the morning mist over the water. Head into town for some shopping in the old part of town that carries the best shops. Go to the botanical garden near Mechelseplein and have a picnic. Walk through the fashion district to go south and hang around in museums before having diner. Kick off the night in one of the many bars at Marnixplaats. The next day, just hang around in Nachtegalenpark and Middelheim for some fresh air and to see great outdoor art. One place that truly symbolises the city to me is our Central Station, a unique piece of architecture and symbol of the hustle of the city. A place where people meet, eat and greet!
I admire Dries Van Noten for his stylish and eccentric work. He is one of those that introduced Antwerp to the world. And his window displays at his Modepaleis always look sharp! A big inspiration to many people in the city, as well as myself.