In October 2007, House Beautiful featured a pared-down, traditional, serene and sensible style (music to my ears!) they called Belgian Style. I saw photos of this style a few months prior when designer Kay Douglass' own home was featured in the magazine. Apparently Axel Vervoordt, the famous Belgian antiques dealer and collector, launched this eclectic style when he assembled the key elements in decorating his Antwerp castle!
When I think of Belgium, I regret to say that nothing stands out distinctly in terms of style. I know I should be rapped across the knuckles for saying so, but it's true. Of course there is famous Flemish art and literature, but I cannot separate Belgium from France in my head, I'm afraid, when it comes to decor! I've travelled in Belgium twice (albeit as a starving but stylish student), and do recall very grand cities with weathered but stunning historical architecture, broad boulevards, wonderful small restaurants, and lots of pigeons in the train stations! I also recall a lot of un-approachable boutiques, which I was not well-dressed enough to step foot in.
My favorite experiences in Belgium were watching a live chess game (played with human-sized pieces!) in a square in Brussels, and visiting the Atomium, a giant molecule you can go inside! Hey, I was an engineering student after all. Naturally, I also enjoyed the complex and plentiful Belgian ales and the delightful waffles (not to be consumed in a single sitting).
But style...I can only think of french things when I picture Belgium. Axel would be disappointed in me. I guess I was not prescient enough to know that I should file more mental images, to fulfill my needs as a future student of decoration!
So with this frenchness to my Belgium thinking, I was not surprised to discover that Belgian style resembles traditional French style(!!), except it's a lot more laid back. In Belgian style, things are very simple, with only a complicated piece or two (like a single curvy chair).
Rustic, worn elements are welcome and cherished in this style. It has a practical sensibility, Belgian style, and it's un-cluttered!
Belgian style is about raw materials....reclaimed wood, stone, and natural fabrics like linen.
And best of all, it features a serene colour palate, with whites and subtle, muted neutrals. Some of the colours (those grayed-out slate blues and red roses) remind me of faded jewel tones!
Chair backs are notably high and narrow...I am not sure of the origin of this look, but find it quite regal. A character piece of furniture, made from reclaimed wood, or old doors, or weathered boards, is vital to this style. Elegant iron lanterns, like in Italian and French country styles, are omni-present.
Hey, Belgian style is perfect to freshen up your dreary old castle with all that dusty stuff you have rattling around in there! Just think what you could do with some linen, some old boards, and a gallon of Farrow & Ball's Slipper Satin?
But seriously, this is a solid style and every element delivers:
It is clean, pared-down, has traditional roots, and uses salvaged and reclaimed wood and natural fabrics. There is humble craftsmanship present in the ironwork, stone-work, and woodwork. It has a soft, serene palate which looks very suitable for naps and long baths. What, I implore you, is not to love?
The following books were recommended by House Beautiful as primers in the style. My neighborhood library will be seeing more of me soon....
All photos courtesy of House Beautiful.