His work includes home accessories, leathergoods, and even jewelry. They have a deep, elemental beauty, born out of a love and respect for materials and an abiding love of essential forms. The combination transcends beautiful. They’re actually moving.
Verheyden is one of those rare souls who knows how to coax sublime beauty out of a wide range of materials, while seeing the possibilities for great design therein, working across the spectrum from leather to glass, metal to marble.
This breadth and appreciation of both form and craft may be due to the way in which he came to design. It wasn’t exactly the traditional route: he studied Industrial Design at the Media and Design Academy in Genk, Belgium, graduating in 2001 with a concentration in fashion. From there, he was a runway model for fashion designer Raf Simons, turning that into an internship and going on to design a successful accessories collection for Simons.
Inspired by the sculptural qualities of handbags, but chafing at the restrictions of the form and its conventions, he started designing goods for the home. The move was also a matter of necessity. As he says, “We bought a house and needed objects and furniture. But we couldn’t find the things we liked, so we made them ourselves.” Of course, that’s not an uncommon thing: we all have that conversation with ourselves. However, few of us have the imagination, skill, talent or guts to actually do it.
From these “necessity is the mother of invention” roots, he’s turned into an in-demand designer, collaborating with companies and luminaries such as Rick Owens. But it’s still a very small business – just and with his wife/business partner Saartje Vereecke.
In many ways it’s his respect for the material that shapes his aesthetic. It’s the interplay of the two and his seemingly innate ability to bring out the essence and beauty of the material in the simple form.
“Natural materials age in a beautiful way, and are pleasing for the eye and hands. There is so much happening in those materials on which a designer has no influence on. That’s why I prefer to intervene as less as possible, and keep the shapes simple, without being too minimalist or boring.”
He both makes and works with craftsmen to produce his designs. Unlike some designers, though, he is actively involved in the making process. “I have a lot of respect for craftsmen, and try to work as local as possible to preserve the tradition and knowledge. We also have our own workshop where we make bespoke leather items. There is also a lot of sanding involved in the bronze and marble pieces, which we finish, one by one. So every piece goes through our hands.”
One of his latest collaborations – with Avenue Road – is a perfect example of his work. A collection of beautiful vessels and tables It centers on marble, a material he’s fallen in love with for its ancientness, its meaning in history and culture.
Verheyden believes in working without compromise. At the same time, he creates beautiful, profound objects to which people respond. With his commitment to quality, his flexibility, and his innate eye for beauty in form, Michael Verheyden is going to remain a long term force in craft-driven design movement. Lucky us.