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Thinking of traditional Belgian décor, the mind (and apparently Pinterest) immediately reaches for farmhouse-style comfort. Take a quick glance at the country’s famed decorative movements and its popular interior shops, however, and a much more exciting design landscape reveals itself.
Statement floors were sort of Victor Horta’s thing, and Brussels is consequently full of them. While his own house and atelier got treated to colorful, popping tile displays, his design for a grand supermarket (now the capital’s Comic Strip Center) features subtle yet gorgeous patterns of swirling gray for the entrance hall floor. Bathrooms or kitchens are well served by taking a page from Horta’s Art Nouveau book.
It exudes authenticity and a certain cottage charm. Making a large wooden table the focal point of your kitchen tends to be a recipe for tons of unforced family moments and shared meals. A couple of natural cracks in the wood are welcomed as they are precious scars of a natural material cultivated by nature.
It’s not all rustic that meets the eye, however, as the nation’s contemporary designers are tapping into another one of Belgium’s steadfast inspirational art movements. Surrealist items such as Nora De Rudder’s mussel chandeliers, Saskia De Tollenaere’s bejeweled turtles, Hugo Meert’s Fuck T (a teapot that gives you the finger while you pour yourself a cup), and Weyers and Borms’s Bullsit (a polyester bullhead that looks as cool hanging from the wall as it does serving as a peculiar stool) make for fascinating Magritte echoes, not to mention dinner party conversation starters.
In the Kloosterstraat, Antwerp’s resident furniture haven The Recollection’s three founders—or should we call them curators?—offer a carefully selected menu of what they like to call “objects of desire.” These out-of-the-ordinary things range from hard-to-find plants and Australian beauty products to Antwerp-based clothing brands, unique furniture, including Piet Hein Eek’s tables and chairs created from salvaged materials, and Maison Martin Margiela’s stripped-down Line 13. Melancholy in mood and a bit mystical (think decorative skulls with golden teeth and light fixtures with feathered wings by the aforementioned Nora De Rudder), The Recollection is a treasure trove for seekers of the stylish and the rare.
The Recollection, Kloosterstraat 54, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 257 36 14
A former neighbor of The Recollection, Woodstock Antiques now calls the small Limburg town of Kortessem home. Due to their reputation for large-scale industrial furniture and curiosities, the shop had no trouble moving its business to a spacious old farm in the country. Anyone in the market for eye-catchers in the mode of old-time clocks, metal ship horns, wooden canoes, and mastodon spotlights has found their Belgian sanctuary.
Woodstock Antiques, Daaleindestraat 4, Kortessem, Belgium, +32 475 73 40 43
Another all-in-one stealing the show in Antwerp, Diane Keller and Brecht Baert’s Studio Helder is a testament to the creative force that emanates from a bunch of young designers working in tandem. As much an atelier as it is a fashion and design shop, number 13 on the cobbled Vrijdagmarkt square is usually abuzz with industrious creatives going about their day. Both Belgian and international talents showcase their designs in this colorful, cozy space.
Studio Helder, Vrijdagmarkt 13, Antwerp, Belgium, +32 3 289 43 18
When the much-traveled Kathryn Smith and Ike Udechuku settled down in Brussels, they did so in a 19th-century maison de maître off the posh Avenue Louise and filled its sunlit salons with handpicked classics from across the globe. The couple calls their constantly evolving gallery space home, and as lived in as it is, Ampersand House has become a treasured part of Brussels’s design landscape. Through appointments or organized events, guests get to see contemporary furniture in the kind of space they belong in (a home) and get to touch and try out rosewood tables or lounge chairs in the most suitable environment.
Ampersand House & Gallery, Rue de Suisse 33, Brussels, Belgium, +44 20 3239 2794
Depot09 in Ghent is 1,400 square meters (15,069 square feet) of industrial warehouse space overflowing with vintage design. The former flax factory features 20 international, permanent exhibitors who showcase their ‘20s to ‘80s treasures year-round. As befits any trendy concept store, a coffee bar is present. Its black gold helps shoppers regain energy after an afternoon of rummaging for classic Eames chairs, palm tree-shaped lamps, and a plethora of vintage oddities. Bram Notebaert’s space has become a go-to furnisher for bars, stores, and film sets, not to mention a good weekend scouring adventure.
Depot09, 118/B002, Nieuwevaart, Ghent, Belgium, +32 486 89 73 85