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Antique Shopping in Brussels

Vincent Colet

Photo: Ball & Albanese

Michel Lambrecht (18 Rue Watteau; 32-2/502-2729) exemplifies the Belgian talent for, in his words, “giving objects a new destiny.” American decorators haunt this place but downplay their reliance on his cleverness when furnishing their own shops or buying for clients. One who confesses with pleasure is New York’s Steven Gambrel, whose hauls from Brussels often include ceramic Korean vases, and lamps concocted by Lambrecht from pieces of an iron balustrade or an old wooden stool. “France has nicer objects, more luxury and luster, from its rich past,” says Lambrecht. “We Belgians never assume we are the best, but we try to be, so we must be much more inventive.”

It’s an ambition you see over and over again in Brussels’s antiques shops, and it can be traced back to Antwerp-based interior designer Axel Vervoordt, who was the first to so freely mix ancient and contemporary art and artifacts, and to fabricate what he could not find. Paul Jacobs, proprietor of Jacques Brol (202 Rue Haute; 32-476/250-253), admits, “Everyone is copying [Vervoordt], but we try and stay polite.” They also stay far more affordable than their model, who is “terribly eclectic, terribly expensive,” as Jacobs sees it. For all his exclusivity, Vervoordt “taught us that simple things can be so rich, rich things can be so poor.” At Brol, a round canvas tabletop stained from wine-tasting becomes, when hung on the wall, an abstract disc of lunar landscape, perfectly embodying the philosophy that “the thing which is done accidentally is a work of art.”

Rue Haute, like parallel Rue Blaes, traverses the Marolles district; both are dotted with antiquaires that grow more affordable the farther you travel away from the Place du Grand Sablon. Haute Antiques (207 Rue Haute; 32-2/548-9480) houses 40 dealers whose wares span the full range of styles and periods, from a fanciful iron birdcage and a mod trapezoidal fireplace, to a flat-bottomed skiff suspended from the ceiling in the basement. At Dune 234 (234 Rue Haute; 32-476/408-267), the multitalented Muriel Bardinet (dealer, interior designer, painter, photographer) puts the chic back into shabby. Behind the striking curved-glass façade of a former tailor shop, armoires both refined and worn rise above terra-cotta vessels of all shapes and sizes, Thai spirit houses, Bardinet’s own still lifes, tubular chrome stools at a well-worn oak table, and sundry artifacts from time spent in Africa. If the owner isn’t in, you may find her and her daughter Lou sharing a pizza at Easy Tempo (146 Rue Haute; 32-2/513-5440), a former bakery worth stopping in for both its old tiled mural of bakers at work and its antipasti, pizzas, and pasta.

Vincent Colet (15 Rue de la Régence; 32-2/512-0488) is a shop that appreciates the industrial, as in the Triplex Pendlar lamp, by Swedish inventor-designer Johan Petter Johansson. But every piece here has refinement and notable provenance. Colet has long specialized in designs by architects of the 20th century, and alongside a chair by Wormley and a stool by Perriand can be found remarkable pieces by mostly Belgian designers with refreshingly unfamiliar names: Willy Van der Meeren, Lucien Engels, André and Jean Polak, Marcel-Louis Baugniet, Jules Wabbes.

If you’re at Vincent Colet, on a boulevard that’s increasingly attracting interesting dealers, you’ve nearly circled back to the Place du Grand Sablon. It’s all downhill from here, but only in the nicest, gravitational sort of way. Treat yourself to a package of speculoos (traditional Belgian spice cookies) at Biscuiterie Dandoy (50 Rue de Rollebeek; 32-2/503-1949) to snack on as you descend back toward the Grand Place.

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