Tag Archives: shopping

American style in Brussels

Confession: I’m obsessed with home decor magazines. They are truly my guilty pleasure. I have stacks of them around the house and buy one every time I’m in a newsagent. There’s something about slowing scanning the photo spreads of incredible homes that fills me with inspiration and simply makes me happy. I can’t get enough of them. So when I travel for work, which has been often lately, I always buy a couple to read during the journey.

While running to catch the Eurostar back from London last week I picked up a copy of the US edition of Elle Decor (one of my favs). I was quietly flipping through the magazine on the train and nearly shouted out with delight when I came across a feature on an apartment in Brussels!

Elle Decor - An Eclectic Home in Brussels

The home of Melañio Gomez and Chris Kangas, an American couple who moved here from New York seven years ago, is a beautiful and unique space in an Art Deco building in Ixelles. (Maybe we’re neighbors??) I love the subtle mix of high and low end furnishings, which somehow is a perfect combination of American and Belgian sensibilities.

Elle Decor - An Eclectic Home in Brussels

The apartment features some great designer pieces like the vintage Knoll leather sofa and Eames dining room chairs, but I’m most impressed with all of their flea market finds. Can we please be friends and go shopping together?!

Elle Decor - An Eclectic Home in Brussels

How cool is that metal bench that they found in a dumpster and topped with a mohair cushion?! And I love the DIY creations in the office. The desk is an Ikea tabletop with legs from a brocant. Right up my alley! (Flea market trolling and IKEA hacking are my two favorite past times :))

Elle Decor - An Eclectic Home in Brussels

I’m also digging the blue walls in the guest room, a lovely blend of moody and cozy, perfect for Brussels.

Elle Decor - An Eclectic Home in Brussels

Melañio and Chris, like many of us, have ended up staying in Brussels much longer than planned and say “we’re still not ready to leave”. This city just sort of grows on you, and with an amazing apartment like that, why would anyone ever want to move?

All photos by Richard Powers for Elle Decor.

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Change of view

Someone sent me a link to an interesting website the other day – Bettery Magazine – an online magazine about urban spaces. It’s actually sponsored by smart, the car manufacturer, but has an interesting aim to provide a “collection of insights and inspirations from smart cities around the world”. It includes a series called “Change of View” which pairs two photographers–one local, one visiting–to share their portraits of world cities. The latest feature was on Brussels. Reading through the answers from the two photographers, I thought I’d take a stab at the questions myself. So here we go…

1. What makes you happy in this city?

I guess I’m pretty easy to please. What makes me happy is to go for a walk through the Flagey market on a Saturday morning with my dog Charlie, pass by the Etangs d’Ixelles, stop by the Parc du Roi to let him play with other doggie friends, and then finish at Natural Caffe with a cappuccino and a pain au chocolate. It’s a great way to start the weekend on my own or with a friend (a shout out to my friend Jen and her dog Kali who we miss at the park!)

Etangs d'Ixelles

2. What inspires you in this city?

I find the unexpected, low-key nature of Brussels inspiring. At first glance, it can seem dull and quiet, but if you start the scratch the surface, it can show a whole other side. There are so many creative boutiques like Hunting & Collecting and small art galleries like Harlan Levey Projects scattered around the city. They’re not always in the most obvious locations but there are some tools out there to help, such as Shop in Brussels and Design September, and of course just exploring new areas of town. I recommend starting with the Dansaert / Sainte Catherine neighborhood.

Hunting and Collecting

3. What works well for you in the city?

I’d have to say what works best in Brussels are the restaurants. We are truly spoiled for choice and quality. It may not always be the cheapest, but man we have some good food here. One of my absolute favorites, Chez Marie, sadly closed recently, but there are still loads of great choices including La Canne en Ville, Les Brassins, Britxos, Gaudron, La Cuisine, O-Liban. Need I go on?

La Canne en Ville

4. What would you do better?

If you’re a regular reader, you know I always try to focus on the positive aspects of this city, but I’m going to make an exception today. One of my gripes about this city is the metro. I recently changed jobs and have started taking public transport to work (instead of the car), and while it’s great to skip the traffic and road rage in the mornings, I must say that the metro seems worse than when I used to take it regularly a few years ago. So many of the stops are under what seems like permanent construction or crumbling, there aren’t enough of the new trains running and what is with the infrequent times during rush-hour? I’m not sure if the background music and strange artwork make up for it. Follow @STIB_Fail on Twitter if you want some more views on the subject. 🙂

Brussels Metro

5. How would you do it better?

Now this is a tricky one. It’s easy to complain about aspects of life in Brussels, but not as easy to suggest solutions. One idea on my list would be to do away with “priorité de droite”, the traffic law which basically means that you must give way to traffic coming from your right (but not all the time, very confusing). More often than not, this rule drives me crazy and has made me think seriously about donating a stop sign to a corner in my neighbourhood. Maybe I could start a stop sign campaign? Just kidding, sort of. This is one of the things that makes Brussels a special place after all.

How would you answer the questionnaire? Be sure to share your thoughts!

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Foodie Fridays – Food Gifts

Every year when I head home to the US I’m always sure to take some good Belgian treats with me. This of course includes the obligatory box of chocolates, but there are a few other things I like to share with family and friends. Here are my picks for some of the best.

Let’s start with the most indulgent – foie gras. My preferred place in Brussels to find foie gras and its accompaniments, like onion confit, is Upignac. I know some people may have moral objections to how foie gras is made, but I can’t think of a more special and delicious treat to share during the holidays. When I lived near Flagey, it was a little too convenient to stop by their shop (47 Rue Antoine Labarre). They have two other locations in Brussels in the EU district (17 Rue du Commerce) and in Woluwe (57 Avenue L.Gribaumont).

Upignac

Since I first moved to Brussels, I have taken a box of Neuhaus pralines with me every time I have gone back to the US. People always love the little booklet describing each of the flavors and have fun exploring what’s in the box. There are loads of other options like truffles and bars, in all sorts of sizes and special gift boxes. I find that the best, and easiest, place to buy Neuhaus is at the airport. The husband is partial to Marcolini (so some compromise is required), which you have to buy in town or the at Midi train station. Another good option if you don’t need anything too fancy is to buy Côte d’Or bars at the supermarket. These make good stocking stuffers and gifts for kids.

Neuhaus

If you’re looking for more sweet delicacies, cookies (biscuits), especially speculoos, are always a safe bet. And one of the best places in Brussels to find speculoos cookies is Maison Dandoy. Set up in 1829 by Jean-Baptiste Dandoy, the original shop is still located near the Grand Place (31 Rue au Beurre) and filled to the brim with different flavor speculoos and other types of cookies. There are six other locations around the city, including Brugmann, Sablon and Uccle. Another good biscuit brand is Jules Destrooper, which you can also find at the airport.

Dandoy

Finally, you can’t leave Belgium without taking some beer with you to share. I’m definitely no beer expert, so I asked the husband for his recommendation and he suggested Westmalle Tripel. A trappist beer made in the Abbey of Westmalle, it has a complex, fruity aroma and is relatively strong (9.5% alcohol). It’s known as the “mother of all tripels” and was first brewed in 1934, making it a unique gift to take home. You can find it at numerous stores and supermarkets around town.

Westmalle Tripel

What do you like to take with from Belgium when visiting home or friends?

For more foodie gifts, check out my previous post on kitchenware shops in Brussels which includes some of my favorite places to shop for kitchen items and gourmet products.

Images via Pleasure Blog, Alternavox, New York Serious Eats and BelgianBeerCafe.

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Nationa(a)l Pop Up Store

The pop-up store concept is slowly making its way to Brussels. There are more and more these days, including a clever IKEA pop-up atelier back in October, as well as other temporary shops by major brands and collective fairs like the Brunch Affair and Brussels Vintage Market.

Now two Belgians, Alex and Adeline, have gotten together to open the Nationa(al) Pop Up Store on Place Chatelain in Brussels to help promote Belgian creative entrepreneurs.

National Pop up store Brussels

The creative economy (visual arts, cinema, fashion, publishing, design, music, etc.) has gained a lot of attention in recent years, with exports of creative products from the EU to the rest of the world growing rapidly. Some even rank Belgium as the 7th exporter worldwide of creative products. Pretty impressive for this little country! However, there is still a lack of awareness locally of such artists and the work they produce.

With the aim to help Belgian creativity develop further and gain better visibility nationally and internationally, Alex and Adeline decided to launch the Nationa(a)l Pop-Up Store to offer a platform for exhibition and sale of both emerging and established Belgian creators.

National Pop up store Brussels

Set in loft space in an old building, the store includes 425 square meters of exhibition space and all sorts of products for sale, including clothing, accessories and furniture. The designers showcased are a mix of established names and their selected protégés. See the full list of designers and contributors.

The store is also hosting events such as concerts, brunches and film screenings. There is a restaurant space set up by Kamilou, which is focused on organic farming and fair trade products. If you visit this weekend, you can enjoy a special brunch on both Saturday and Sunday hosted by two different artists. See the full schedule and Facebook page for more details.

National Pop up store Brussels

The shop is located at 18 Place du Chatelain (just next to Le Chatelain bar) and open daily until 16 December, from 10:30 to 8pm. There is an entrance fee of €6 (€3 for students), which is deducted from any purchase you make. Or wait until the last day of the exhibition when entry will be free!

Images via Nationa(a)l Pop Up Store.

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