As the holiday season approaches, I have the privilege of being able to stay in a private mansion right in the centre of Antwerp. This is my first time to spend a few days in the capital of Belgian Flanders and staying at Boulevard Leopold Bed & Breakfast was the fulfilment of one of my dreams. Whilst in the taxi taking me to the Jewish Quarter, I observe the typical Flemish stepped gables.
We drive along an avenue generously planted with trees, in the centre of which is a tramway line. From far away, I can already recognize the off-white façade of the building erected in 1890 in the neoclassical style. The bow window adds an ornamental and elegant touch to the ascetic lines of the place. Wrought ironwork like lace was chosen to decorate the balcony, the balustrades and the large entrance door. The corniche and the soberly sculpted mouldings on the capitals oblige you to lift your head and fully appreciate the beauty of the house.
At the end of November, under a leaden and melancholy sky, I couldn’t have dreamt of a more cosy, warm and divine place for my next few days. Martin comes to greet me on the porch, all welcoming smiles. We proceed with the introductions in the large indoor hall and then on the rooftop suite that they reserved for me.
Boulevard Leopold has five rooms, of which two suites, each of which are reached by a central staircase with soft, almost austere light reminiscent of Flemish paintings. Wrought ironwork, rail and steps in wood painted calk green, with a landing on every floor and a return in between, interspersed with antiques and historical objects, curiosities, serious or more humorous portraits and photographs all set the tone. A place that is alive, that I would love to see more often, which extends the past and honours its former residents, perpetuating their memory yet firmly set in the present. A house with a strong personality, warm lighting and the quintessential Flemish art of fine living.
Boulevard Leopold was owned by the same family until the early 2000’s. It was thanks to a couple of friends that Martin discovered the house and helped them with managing this newly-created bed and breakfast, without realising at the time that he would buy the property several years later.
The rooms have a personal and distinct aura, whilst in keeping with the general style of the house. The size of the rooms is impressive indeed compared with a lot of establishments. With the exception of Room #2, they all have a bathtub and even an Italian shower. After each return from visiting the city, a warm comforting bath was my reward.
I’ll share some of the things I really love about the house. First of all, Room #3: a sunny room with a golden patina, blessed with a stove for winter – a well-lit room thanks to the generous windows. The bathroom is a royal cocoon, hidden behind a double Haussmann-style door, with a bathtub on feet and a sculpted oak mirror, also with linen curtains for more discretion – the lacquered white floor just crowns the royal impression conveyed by the room.
However, I really fell in love with the master suite. I preferred this apartment with a surface area of over two hundred square metres, where superlatives are really no exaggeration. I had always dreamed of living in a huge apartment in the city centre. Now I’ve done it. It occupies the whole first floor of the house, where the beauty and harmony of the 20’s and 30’s reign. A mix of the roaring 20’s and vintage back in fashion.
A double reception room with a marble fireplace, an enormous sweeping chandelier, an original parquet and impressive ceiling heights, a golden velvet sofa, a period diplomat’s desk and precious antiques and family souvenirs complete an amazing atmosphere. Hunting trophies on the walls, frames, travelling cases and old books on the floor, a cowhide rug, Chinese screen, pampas grass – each detail increases the fairy-tale dimension of this really spectacular suite.
This suite is a succession of rooms, with a bedroom overlooking the garden. It’s décor doesn’t appear to have changed since it was built and houses a collection of family furniture from various periods – an Empire-style commode with columns, topped with a religious-themed painting. Refined panelling on the doors. And there, used as a headboard for the bed is a triptych painting of cherubs, leading you to sweet dreams, sweet and useful.
The apotheosis of all this is the sublime bathroom in Art Nouveau tiles and its listel faience friezes. A large window sublimely lights the central freestanding bathtub.
The rooftop suite is on the last floor, created in the former attic of the house. I always love sleeping right up in the roof. It has a terrace that overlooks the garden and provides a view of the neighbouring roofs and this very particular Flemish sky that I have always loved.
This suite makes me think of an artist’s studio, a large all-in-one living space. An ingenious home-made bookcase reminiscent of a flea market is tucked away beneath the staircase. At the extremity of this room is the open plan bathroom, intimate and hidden away behind a screen. The room is in the mezzanine part of the suite, which lends a cathedral effect to the whole.
Guests can only access the ground floor of the house at breakfast time. So it is in the gloomy morning that I go down and find a space that resonates with the majesty of the house. I’m completely taken in with the warm and intimate atmosphere, coupled with the impressive scale of this double reception room.
The candlestick and numerous large candles spread around the room bathe the room in light and shadow – a “Rembrandtesque”type of lighting, an effect accentuated by the nascent daylight. One is almost intimidated by the height of the ceilings. An old wooden floor and its assortment of period creaking, a Chesterfield couch, majestic mantlepiece, with books and magazines posing as a coffee table all occupy the space overlooking the street.
The other end of the space houses a central oak table, on which there is a curiosity cabinet and other precious decorations under glass covers, and where some modern art creations are offered for sale. Everything is beautiful. There is a heady perfume from the scented candles. The décor is laced with Martin’s personal souvenirs.
At the other end of this space, overlooking the garden, I am drawn by a large shaft of light coming down from a skylight, where some abundant plants are obviously enjoying themselves. This is where breakfast is set up every day, installed on several red-patinaed retro-style tables.
This makes for a café type ambiance, with a view of and access to a bucolic and old-fashioned garden, festooned with baroque antiques and religious sculptures, with mirrors on the ground and armchairs. It’s just so romantic. A refuge in the city for those long summer evenings. The kitchen is located in a later extension to the house; covered in Art Nouveau tiles, it is in the same style as the bathroom immediately overhead. There are other references to religious art there. I avail of these pleasant moments to enjoy the location and also my breakfast, served on period porcelain. A perfect blend between a location and its environment.
I am discovering Antwerp for the first time during this collaboration at the Boulevard Leopold, where Martin has generously invited me. I already know that I’m going to have to come back. Antwerp is a city rich in history, art, culture and taste – I’m already getting quite attached to the place. My visit coincides with another encounter – in fact I came to see paintings exhibited for the first time by Sophie de la Pépinière at the M van Blerk gallery at Antwerp.
I discovered Sophie on Instagram and was instantly touched by her universe and her sensitivity. Little by little, we got to know one another through our various communications. Sophie is not only a talented artist but a woman resplendent with a particular alchemy of personality, humanity and humanism. Her exhibition of paintings, sketches, gouaches and watercolours is an ode to joy, childhood and the circus, full of humour, poetry and joy. A universe that really speaks to me and connects with my own sensitive side.
Antwerp and fashion go back a long way together. It’s a pool of work-renowned talent. Fashion in Antwerp is very difficult to pin down to any particular type. I’m off to the MoMu or Mode/Fashion Museum, founded in 2012 and which hosts, conserves, studies and presents Belgian fashion.
The collection amounts to more than thirty-five thousand items. The building is a total success, allying futuristic architecture ingeniously integrated into a more historic building. It also hosts the fashion collection of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Flanders DC. Martin Margiela, Dries van Noten, Anne Demeulemeester; Walter Von Beierendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs are exhibited there, the most renowned of the famous Antwerp Six. The museum currently has three different exhibitions which are all very good, technical and interesting, where I really enjoyed the scenography and the richness of the items displayed to the public.
I particularly enjoyed the exhibition on lace.
It’s impossible to talk about Antwerp without mentioning its culinary heritage. When I was there, Christmas magic had invaded the streets of the city and the decorations in the shops, bakeries and pastry displays. I was all eyes for their cakes, speculoos and almond paste. I discovered an address that all people in Antwerp “in the know” already know: “Philips Biscuits”, a craft shop that you just have to discover – full of unique scents and joys.
A multi-brand store also drew my attention. “Renaissance”, a boutique with a design whose lines are perfect and clean, an immense space dedicated to fashion, well presented and minimalist where the clothes say it all – ready to wear pieces and accessories ranging from Jacquemus to Acne Studios. A really nice place to go shopping.
Following Martin’s insistent advice, I walk several minutes from Boulevard Leopold and find a completely unique and improbable place – PAKT was founded by two brothers, Ismail and Yusuf Yaman, and Stefan Bostoen.
In 2006, they fell in love with the disused warehouses located between the centre of Antwerp and the military hospital (today the “Groen Kwartier”). Before carrying out the renovation works, they decided to make the premises available to various artists and musicians. A new coloured and animated atmosphere was born!
Inspired by similar locations in Berlin and New York, they created a unique ecosystem where work is combined with sport, leisure and eco-responsible city agriculture. In 2017, nearly 25 companies were located on the new PAKT site. Chefs, brewers, baristas, coffee roasters, models, sports enthusiasts and IT firms made their mark on the site. An incredible universe.
Dear Martin, many, many thanks for allowing me to discover your unique location just overflowing with inspiration. I was dreaming for such a long time to stay in your house. Thanks to you, I fulfilled that dream and am so grateful to you. Thank you for every minute spent in your house and the many pleasant discussions that I really enjoyed. Please don’t change a thing and stay as you are. Please convey my thanks to your partner – I ran into her several times during my stay. Thanks again!
- Translation by : Ross Winters-Nicholl – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Photos : David Deslux – https://www.instagram.com/david_deslux/
- Photos : Lionel Desruelles – https://www.instagram.com/lionel_desruelles/
- Adresses et lieux cités dans cet article :
- Boulevard Leopold Bed & Breakfast – Belgiëlei 135, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgique – www.boulevard-leopold.be/ – Instagram : @boulevardleopold
- MoMu Antwerpen – Le Musée de la Mode Anvers – Nationalestraat 28, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgique – www.momu.be/ – Instagram : @momuantwerp
- Sophie de la Pépinière Antwerpen – Artiste – www.sophiedelapepiniere.com/ – Instagram : @sophie.de.la.pepiniere
- PAKT- Antwerpen – https://www.pakt-antwerpen.be/
- Renaissance Concept Store Antwerpen – Lange Gasthuisstraat 16, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgique – www.princess.eu/store/renaissance/ – Instagram : @renaissance_antwerp
- Philip’s Biscuits – Korte Gasthuisstraat 39, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgique – www.philipsbiscuits.online/ – Instagram : @philipsbiscuits