It's that time of the year again where most of us will host family and friends for the annual end-of-year festivities. Some of us will end up in a run-of-the-mill Belgian interior while others will be stunned by the eccentric environments of their hosts. And yes, there is a reason why we talk about this: the new Luster's coffee table book Belgique Exentrique, a book about Belgians most daring and expressive interiors. We met up with author and journalist Thijs Demeulemeester and asked him how this book came into being!
Was it easy to get permission for shooting these eccentric interiors? The I Love Belgium team can imagine that these home-owners are not always keen on snoopers?
People who are living in an eccentric home are usually quite outgoing... so, no it was not really hard to convince them. The aim for the book was to gather 'like-minded' people, yet this does not mean that each property is similar. The houses in the book are totally unique. They have an extravagant mix of unusual furniture, bright colours, crazy objects, "wrong" design and finds from the flea market. These homes do not take themselves too seriously, just like the owners. They want to live in these surprising interiors, where every corner hides an unusual story.
Would you consider the average Belgian as eccentric?
Surrealism is perhaps inherent for Belgians. But when it comes to interiors, we are rather inclined to reach for safe choices: wooden furniture, neutral tones, a countryside touch or just puristic contemporary interiors. It seems like many people are afraid of decoration. But these interiors show the personality of the people who live in it. The book reads like an anti-architecture statement: in 'Belgique Excentrique' there are no sterile clean homes where everything is stashed in made-to-measure cabinets. The architecture of the published houses (going from bungalows, town houses, lofts and even fortified farms) is completely buried under a feast of baroque decoration. Maximizing power!
Where did you see the most eccentric Belgian interior (even if it's not in the book)?
I once visited an eccentric Brussels collector who lived with a man who obsessively bought art and curiosities. As a result her whole house was stuffed with objects, most of them still in wooden crates. You couldn't move around! Even she found it embarrassing to receive people in her fully-stuffed home. I still remember her kitchen, a real hidden gem. She collects plastic food which she displayed on big cake stands. This creates wonderful still lives with fake cheeses, fruits or bread. She also collected contemporary art revolving around money, eyes or chairs. She dreamt of her own museum where she could expose her quirky universe. And that would not be a bad thing as her house had become unliveable.
How do you live? What is the most eccentric element in you interior?
My girlfriend an I live in a late 19th century mansion in the outskirts of Ghent. We have quite some finds from flea markets and auction houses. It goes from colourful vases to stuffed animals and vintage ceramics. But also an 'Emanuelle' chair and a weathered workbench. I have a passion for the 17th century in Flanders and the Netherlands, especially paintings and tapestries from that period. Recently I bought a 17th century wall carpet with bizarre birds and a castle. I combine it with an Italian 70's Superstudio table surrounded by walls in old clay plaster.
Why do you love Belgium?
My girlfriend is Dutch, so she points out typical Belgian circumstances. The many strikes, our passion for construction, our strong work ethic, the many wild spread building styles, our convivial table manner, the quirkiness, the resourcefulness and the dislike of interference. It's a country full of contradiction, giving it the necessary creative sparks. Just have a look at our amazing internationally renowned contemporary artists or even the people portrayed in 'Belgique Excentrique'.
As Christmas is just around the corner, Belgique Excentrique is the perfect christmas gift for that one friend that has a love for flea-market discoveries! Enjoy the holidays from the I Love Belgium team.