Following the D/A UK Brussels guide, it seems apt to highlight Belgium's other big city teeming with cool cafes, galleries and hotels for the design lover
Where to stay: Hotel Pilar
Interior architect Sam Peeters and Hotel Manager Christophe Ysewyn created a highly personal space when designing their boutique Hotel Pilar. The bright white facade hides 17 individually designed rooms which range from the brick-walled neutral attic to grey hued bedrooms and monochrome bathrooms jazzed up with coloured tiles. The finishing touch is an eclectic mix of artwork and a collection of homeware crafted by Peeters’ and Ysewyn’s own mothers, think bright wool bedspreads, cushions, and ceramics, whilst downstairs the concept store showcases the work of local designers and furniture from Peeters’ design studio, Context Interior Architects.
Where to eat: Blueness
After closing his lauded three Michelin star restaurant Oud Sluis in 2013, Dutch chef Sergio Herman embarked on a series of new projects which included opening Blueness in the heart of Antwerp’s fashion district. Herman joined creative forces once again with Space Copenhagen who reworked the restaurant’s 17th renaissance setting with a contemporary Scandinavian style. The result is a contrasting mix of historic design details such as high beamed ceilings and original mouldings, paired with newly bespoke furnishings like the futuristic aluminium bar and striking candle-topped brass chandelier. On the menu, Herman has taken inspiration from informal Japanese Izakaya bars to create a selection of seafood driven sharing plates using seasonal sustainable Belgian produce.
Where to browse art: Axel Vervoordt Gallery at Kanaal
In his transformation of a former 19th century gin distillery-turned-malting complex, Axel Vervoordt also found a permanent space for his collection of art and antiques. After acquiring the industrial site in the 90s, Vervoordt reimagined the space Kanaal, a mini village of residences and creative spaces which includes his eponymous gallery. Works by the likes of Anish Kapoor, Bosco Sodi, and Marina Abramovic sit against a backdrop designed by Vervoordt himself along with the Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki, and are complemented by an ever rotating programme of temporary exhibitions. A collection of antiques are also on display along with a selection of contemporary art, furniture, and design pieces. The gallery is open to the public every Saturday, by appointment during the week.
What to drink: Osaka
An unassuming facade hides the ultra minimalist interiors of Osaka, a natural wine bar from the team behind Asian street food restaurant Camino. Owners David Copmans and Lynn Schevelenbos called upon Petillon Ceuppens architects to create industrial interiors which combine neutral shades of stone and concrete with a stainless steel bar, neon lighting, and bright Bruno Rey chairs. Behind the bar sommelier Lynn Schevelenbos has curated the menu of wines and craft beers which are paired with a selection of seasonal sharing plates and sourdough bread from David and chef Kirsten Sprokkelenburg.
Where to find hidden architecture: Saint Anna's Tunnel
Whilst Antwerp is noted for its Art Nouveau style, not all of its architectural wonders sit above ground. Hidden underneath the city is the Sint-Annatunnel, or the St Anna’s Tunnel in English, a 1930s pedestrian walkway which runs underneath the river Scheldt. The decision to connect the right and left banks was made back in 1874 but after various ideas for a bridge were suggested – and later scrapped – it wasn’t until 1931 that the connection was finally built in the form of an underground tunnel. The walkway still sports its original 1931 design which includes the original fences, warning signs, and unusually, wooden escalators.
Where to shop for collectible design: St Vincents
After careers in finance and law, Geraldine Jackman and Henri Delbarre decided to take a more creative route and open St Vincents, a part- gallery and part- design store where everything you see is for sale. Inspired by their travels, love of craftsmanship, and desire to avoid over consumerism, the pair curate an ever evolving collection of beautiful objects which mix new design pieces with antiques and ranges from paintings and ceramics to lighting and furniture. Everything is on display as part of several permanent and temporary exhibitions a year and an event space is available to host private dinners, openings and collaborative gatherings.
Where to eat cake: Domestic
Former owners of restaurant Dôme Sophie and Julien Burlat took inspiration from traditional French baking when launching Domestic. Now comprising three addresses, Domestic serves simple breakfasts of crusty baguettes, buttery croissants and brioches through to lunch and afternoon treats of classic French madeleines, mille-feuilles and eclairs. The setting is equally sweet, with two elegant salons for high tea decorated in sugary pink shades and golden yellow, and accessories with marble and plush velvets.