Delft Dreams

Framed soffit from dining room into kitchen

Four years ago, Delft ceramics celebrated its 400th anniversary. For centuries, the versatility of its designs has lent its charms to everything from tiles to dinnerware, vases and what became known as tulipieres, originally commissioned in the late 17th c. by Queen Mary II, who was married to the Dutch Prince, William of Orange (after his marriage becoming William III, who ruled England beside his wife). And today, the timeless appeal of Delft’s alluring blue and white designs continues to inspire legions of admirers, collectors and contemporary designers, including Belgian designer Gert Voorjans, whose home in Antwerp I filmed for our At Home With YouTube series. Fearlessly blending antiques, bold color and exotic influences, Gert shares his love of history, art and design throughout his work and in his exuberant fabric collection for Jim Thompson.

Gert Voorjans for Jim Thompson
Gert Voorjans Vermeer for Jim Thompson, photo courtesy Jim Thompson

One of his creations, Vermeer (the celebrated painter was born in Delft), above, is a charming and inventive take on traditional Dutch Delftware tiles, incorporating the imaginative and sophisticated juxtaposition of old and new, of heritage and avant-garde, that appears in all of Gert’s work. I was instantly enchanted and fantasized where I could someday incorporate it in my home.

Jim Thompson Vermeer wallpaper
Gert Voorjans for Jim Thompson Vermeer wallpaper

Several years later, after my move to Nantucket, I wanted to update our kitchen, which had last been touched in the 70’s. I live in a cottage that was never meant for year round living and will, at some point, need renovation, so it was important to me that any current improvements that couldn’t be reused (ie – appliances, curtains, furniture) were not grandiose and in keeping with the home’s character and location.

Gert Voorjans for Jim Thompson Vermeer as wallpaper
Gert Voorjans for Jim Thompson Vermeer as wallpaper

The first step last year was improved functionality with a new refrigerator and stove. While these certainly enhanced the aesthetics, the outdated space still needed something more. It dawned on me that Gert’s Vermeer would make the perfect wallcovering. Like Holland, Nantucket found its early glory as a maritime center based on trade, with a culture including imagery culled from journeys in the open seas.  I loved the idea of infusing my space with the feeling of Delft tiles and its Nantucket-worthy blue and white schemes, yet without the complicated installation of ceramic tiles on my wonky walls. 

Stacey Bewkes of Quintessence kitchen with Vermeer wallpaper-1
My Nantucket kitchen with Vermeer wallpaper

So I did what any nonsensical design editor would do. I took a long shot and wrote to my friends at Jim Thompson to see if they could translate Vermeer into a wallpaper. Miraculously, they agreed and the process began. Now knowing the fantasy was becoming a reality, the limited space between my cabinets and countertop somehow didn’t seem to offer enough of a statement for Gert’s whimsical scenes of mythical creatures, floral and fauna.

Stacey Bewkes of Quintessence Nantucket kitchen with Jim Thompson Vermeer wallpaper-1
View into kitchen with covered soffit

The vision of a space more enveloped in Gert’s authentic shades of Delft Blue and deftly created mottled background emulating the crazing and irregularities of Delft tiles became embedded in my mind’s eye. I somehow knew it would up the charm factor and immediately wrote to Jim Thompson to increase the quantity.

Wallpaper covered soffit via Quintessence
Wallpaper covered soffit segueing from dining room to kitchen

The kitchen is open to the dining area and what had always been an awkward soffit separating the two spaces now frames the kitchen with visual aplomb.

Framed soffit from dining room into kitchen
Framed soffit from dining room into kitchen

Sourcing talented craftspeople is hard enough anywhere but especially on a tiny island 30 miles out to sea, so I was incredibly grateful to find Laetitia Mead, a young but expert wallpaper hanger who occasionally comes to do installations on island. Little did I know how exacting and talented she would be. A math major in college, she took hours calculating how all the tiles, corners and walls could perfectly converge, with a variety of vestige electrical plates and switches concealed flawlessly.

Jim Thompson Vermeer wallpaper details
Jim Thompson Vermeer wallpaper details

A few days after installation, I was having a conversation about inspiration with design journalist Rima Suqi. It got me thinking about the source of my inspiration for this project. What HAD inspired me and why did I think covering so much area with this pattern would work? And then I realized all the examples I had seen that triggered my confidence. I remembered visiting Howard Slatkin’s NYC apartment where his kitchen was covered with Delft tile he had produced.

Howard Slatkin's kitchen via Sotheby's International Realty
Howard Slatkin’s kitchen via Sotheby’s International Realty

There was the spectacular example of designer Juan Pablo Molyneux’s blue and white tiled entry at his 17th-century house in Paris. He had in turn been “ceramically inspired“ by the Trianon de Porcelaine at Versailles and a tiled palace in St. Petersburg built by a Russian Prince, Aleksandr Menshikov, in 1710, also an inspiration for Slatkin.

Juan Pablo Molyneux Paris house, photo Xavier Béjot for the New York Times
Juan Pablo Molyneux Paris house, photo Xavier Béjot for the New York Times

Architect Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal, a longtime favorite in my files, is a dramatic modern interpretation of classic blue and white ceramics.

Rem Koolhas Casa da Musica
Rem Koolhas Casa da Musica

I even remembered seeing, years ago at Decorex, Boca do Lobo’s Heritage cabinet, covered in hand painted Azulejos as a nod to their Portuguese heritage and culture.

Boca do Lobo's Heritage cabinet
Boca do Lobo Heritage cabinet, image courtesy of Boca do Lobo

A big thank you to my friend Lyn Schroeder who helped usher this fantasy to fruition, to Jim Thompson who saw the potential, to the magic math and hands of Laetitia Mead and of course to the brilliant Gert Voorjans, who seamlessly weaves a creative tapestry of travel, textiles and timeless design, bringing it all forward into an utterly contemporary and inspiring world. In perusing the world of design, whether by travel, in museums and galleries or in magazines and books, we each discover what resonates personally with us, so when we create our homes, we actually learn to become more of our own true selves. Clearly, for me, a little Delft was meant to be!

16 thoughts on “Delft Dreams

  1. Be still, my heart! I have loved delft tiles since I was very young. A neighbor had around the fireplace in the main bedroom of a hand built house. Collecting over the years. 💙💙💙

    • Thank you and me too! I grew up in a Dutch settled Hudson River town with loads of references!

  2. Wonderful article and video. Will be in Antwerp in three weeks and this is another shot in the arm! Will try to visit the shop; I love his fabrics!

  3. Gorgeous! Great minds think alike or I’m channeling blue delft, thinking of enhancing a fireplace by adding some of these gorgeous tiles! 😍

  4. Stacey
    Fantastic piece loved it.
    It was the stark solid boldness of the Bluestar refrigerator that quieted the room for me.
    Is it Capri Blue? And seeing the link to my friend Howard Slatkin’s previous visit made me, of course,
    watch that stellar video again! Paul

    • Thank you Paul! Yes, the BlueStar fridge definitely anchors the space. It is actually Steel Blue, a perfect inky blue with very little red. And I miss Howard. What an incredible talent!

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