Jules Wabbes

By John Ike

If you're in SoHo east of Broadway, before you head to Torrisi Italian Specialties at 250 Mulberry to sample their incomparable eggplant parmigiana, check out E.R. Butler Company, the hardware showroom at 55 Prince Street, just east of Lafayette. In addition to their impressive selection of hardware, their windows are currently filled with fittings and furniture designed by Jules Wabbes (1919-1974).  I met Jean Marie Wabbes, wife of the late Belgian designer, at the reception hosted by Rhett Butler, owner of E.R. Butler, and chatted about the resurgence in popularity of her late husband's designs.  A recent auction at Christie's in London featured several of his pieces and collections by three Belgian manufacturers; Vervloet (hardware), Bulo Home (furniture), and Souveraine (textiles) have gained interest.

Photos above: Torrisi Italian Specialties, eggplant parmigiana, E.R. Butler

Wabbes, whose work included important institutional and residential commissions on the Continent in the 60s and 70s, also designed fittings and fixtures for Sabena Airlines and several American embassies of the era.  Vervloet, one of Butler's mainstays, is a Belgian family owned hardware manufacturer and is well known for their 18th century French and Belgian Art Nouveau designs.  In the early 70s, Vervloet owner, Louis Hamburger, added modern designs to the line and produced a collection for his friend Wabbes, that include palatial scaled door handles that are organically shaped, sand cast, and hand chased, along with boldly scaled bathroom fittings, all with rounded corners, on display in the Butler windows.

Also on view from Bulo is a pair of upholstered black lacquered wood dining chairs with eased corners, and a stool upholstered in black leather, supported by exquisitely joined cherry and wenge cruciform shaped legs and X shaped stretcher. 

Hanging inside the Bulter showroom is a collection of jacquard panels woven with bold geometric designs and based on carpets designed by Jules Wabbes.  These fabrics are produced in either linen, or for Contract in Trevira, by Nicolai Swinnen of Souveraine, a Belgian weaver.  As is typical with Jacquards, both sides of the fabric are equally beautiful and are available in four colors.

Wabbes softened geometry resonates today as it did nearly forty years ago. Together these sophisticated designs possess both heft and weight while beckoning to be touched.  Designed during the seventies when plastic was king, Wabbes employed a classic palette of beautiful woods, textured bronze, leather and linen to render his contemporary vision.

The photos depict window displays at E.R. Butler: (1) Vervloet Bath Accessories (2) Vervloet Architectural Hardware (3) Souveraine (4) Bulo Dining Chair and Stool