The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

William Hakelbrecht

William Hakelbrecht

Founder, Wøti (1986)

Can you describe what you do?

Wøti designs and builds bespoke, free-standing and fitted furniture with a unique contemporary aesthetic centred around functionality. My current, rather small workshop is based in an old printing factory – perhaps that makes it sound more romantic than it really is. In reality, it’s a shared workspace with two music studios, Tangram Records and Maverick. That being said, I’m constantly surrounded by musicians and their music, journeys, and lifestyles; which all inspire me strongly. My day starts early, usually getting to my workshop at 7AM. Around 3PM, around the time I usually start to get a little tired, the music guys start to come in and we have a quick chat. I normally work until 5PM. That’s when I pick up my daughter from day-care and we go home to play and prep dinner. After 8PM I usually try to answer some e-mails, make orders, do some paperwork or go back to my workshop if necessary to get stuff done.

How do you perceive Leuven? What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city?

Leuven is definitely a small city, with a wide variety of must-see spots and cultural heritage, all in walking distance from one another. Its locals say that everyone knows everybody, and this is what makes for a cosy and social community – but also a real student city that sort of functions like a harbour where people just stop for a short time before passing through. For the short (or long) time that students spend here, their presence always brings and adds a part of their own heritage to the cultural landscape. This in a way has always intrigued me, making it kind of unique compared to other similarly sized cities.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

The city (quite literally) gave me several opportunities which helped me kick-start my own business. For instance, I entered a design and execution competition together with friends from ONKRUID for the up-and-coming Vaartkom neighbourhood. As a result, I was granted a chance to build a temporary installation at the recently named Hugo Broos Plein. This opportunity really helped get my name out there, and still functions as a great reference of the type of work that I do.

It still hurts to see a lot of old buildings being demolished and replaced.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I think a lot has changed for the better over these last five years. But it still hurts to see a lot of old buildings being demolished and replaced. A lot of those buildings really shaped the landscape – and while I’m not saying that I don’t like all the new facilities that are being built, it’s also sad to see a lot of the “Stella heritage sites” disappear or be sold off. I wish the City would have stepped up earlier to prevent them from being demolished completely.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would definitely take them to the Vaartkom area, as Leuven is famous for its beer – and the AB InBev brewery is hands down a sight not to be missed. It also shows how a former industrial area can become a modern-day, vibrant and pleasant place. From there I would walk them through Mechelsestraat, which proves that the real heart of the city is no longer centred around the Church, but has moved towards the outskirts. From Koffie en Staal to Optimist, Surlie to Baracca or MOK; I would recommend visitors to take some time to enjoy the vast variety of gastronomical facilities Leuven has to offer.