Best for Arts and Crafts in Brussels

It’s a well-known fact: behind every great design, or designer, lies a great craftsman. We visit 15 of the most specialized, and secret, studios and ateliers in Brussels – everything from a master blacksmith and enamel specialist to a unique furniture-maker and obsessive woodworker – and find out what, exactly, their craft is made of.

1. Sabine Herman

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Nestled in a quiet street in the Brussels neighbourhood of Ixelles, jewelry designer Sabine Herman’s tiny but elegant shop also boasts an attached studio at the back. The space, which this Antwerp Royal Academy graduate has been occupying for over two decades now, allows her to showcase both creations of her own and of others. With an approach that champions the recycled, Herman never shies away from using unusual materials such as wood and textile. Her own pieces are mainly made out of metal, using traditional goldsmith techniques. “It’s all a bit archaic,” she explains, adding: “I want to combine this fascinating ancestral way of working with contemporary shapes, adding a touch of the past to my work.”

86, Rue Faider (1050)
 

2. Emaillerie Belge

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While most enamel firms have fizzled out over the years, Emaillerie Belge, founded in 1923, has managed to adapt to modern times. Instead of manufacturing urinals and bathtubs, the company’s highly skilled craftsmen now make everything from logos and street signs to art installations, religiously using traditional techniques such as silkscreen printing, colour gradation and four-colour printing in their endeavors. The company’s enamel creations, which are entirely ecological as all colours are of mineral origin, can be found in the Paris metro, but also as part of private designer kitchens. “We’re the Rolls Royce of enamel,” CEO Benoit d’Ydewalle proudly declares.

7, Rue Verheyden (1080)
 

3. Niyona

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After having designed bags for several big Belgian brands, leather passionate Nina teamed up with advertising professional Jon to launch their very own label. Frustrated by the lack of transparency and foreign outsourcing of the big players, they decided to create a leather atelier advocating local craftsmanship and knowledge sharing. “We regularly organize workshops to make sure the craft is kept alive,” Jon explains. The duo is able to fulfill even the most complicated demands such as fashion imprint Superpieceofchic’s iconic French fries bag, and makes everything from aprons to knife cases, all handcrafted in a small basement studio downstairs from their beautiful store, Hello James, which offers products by like-minded modern-day craftsmen.

86, Rue de Laeken (1000)
 

4. Vervloet

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Stepping into the majestic showroom of the family firm, you instantly get a feeling of the place’s history. Since 1905, Vervloet has become a household name for hand-made door handles and window knobs, with clients all over the world. The magnificent showroom displays an impressive selection of 1,200 unique pieces, which are part of a collection of 45,000. “Every single creation, no matter if part of our annual collections or a one-time custom-order, is catalogued,” says Isabelle Hamburger, who followed in her great-grandfathers footsteps and took over the business. While building on the extraordinary craftsmanship of about a dozen artisans, she is now set on breaking with tradition by creating very modern and minimal collections, collaborating with Belgium’s finest designers, from Nedda El-Asmar to Jean Francois d’Or.

78, Rue de la Borne (1080)
 

5. Atelier 365

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When 365 founder Laura Greindl, a trained designer, got tired of having to hand over her drawings to a carpenter, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Having inherited a few woodworking machines from her mother, a cabinetmaker, she soon decided to launch her own project, a fresh, innovative mix of designing, teaching and manufacturing. Indeed, 365 not only designs and builds furniture, but also offers workshops for laymen. Located in a sun-filled, loft-like space, Laura has teamed up with three other wood aficionados who combine decades-long experience with technical know-how. “It’s very trendy to do digital 3D printing these days, but here everything is still done by hand”, she explains. Just the way we like it.

365, Chaussée de Boondael (1050)
 

6. Lilu

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Lilu is essentially a one-woman show. Emmanuelle Adam, the creative mind behind the bag label, takes care of everything from management and design to communication and finance. The lawyer-come-designer is entirely self-taught, getting occasional help from experienced leather craftsmen. “Depending on what leather is used, the very same drawing can result in countless different bags,” she explains, adding: “That’s why I don’t draw. I directly start working with the material which is so much more inspirational.” Lilu’s bags are practical but elegant, made out of soft and natural materials and handcrafted in her cozy studio directly behind the store.

9, Rue du Bailli (1000)
 

7. Isabelle de Borchgrave

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Hidden behind an unpretentious facade, Isabelle de Borchgrave’s gorgeous living and working space unfolds; a multistory, bright gallery, studio and home all in one spread out over 1,000 m2. At any given time, her colourful atelier buzzes with activity. “I love to work in an environment where we can inspire each other,” she explains. While de Borchgrave is mainly known for her mesmerizing paper costumes exploring fashion history, she also makes curtains, designs for tableware, shop window displays, jewelry and more, constantly redefining the medium. “I just love paper. There is so much you can do with it: the possibilities are endless,” she gushes. What’s more, the artist creates all the colours herself, working with pigments and acrylic. So far, she’s mixed over 1,500 different shades.

73a, Chaussée de Vleurgat (1050)
 

8. Cruso

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Cruso, which celebrates its first birthday this year, is a young Belgian furniture imprint launched by Olivier Stévenart, a true wood devotee: “I just love the material, to touch it, smell it. It has this energy to it,” he explains enthusiastically. After abandoning a career in marketing for carpentry and cabinetmaking, the twenty-something was set on starting his own project, one that only uses solid, high-quality and local materials and focuses on bringing together outstanding designers such as Jean Francois d’Or with exceptional craftsmen. Cruso regularly collaborates with local art schools to give young talents a place where they can produce their prototypes.

141, Boulevard Industriel (1070)
 

9. One to be

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Run by Ann Sevrin, Jean-François Bailleux and Olivier Vanhorenbeke, One to be makes everything from catwalk runways to shop interiors. Their masterpiece: the Jules Wabbes kitchen, thought up by the iconic Belgian designer in 1964. “It took years of research,” Olivier explains, adding: “Our strength is to find creative solutions. We always accept offers, and then figure out how to make them happen afterwards.” All pieces are crafted in One to be’s large-scaled Forest workshop, where experienced artisans and modern technology intertwine. “Our craftsmen are curious, passionate, love what they do and always have the final product in mind when taking decisions,” says Olivier.

55, Rue Marconi (1190)
 

10. Charles Schambourg by Nacarat

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Nacarat is the creative brainchild of Charles Schambourg, a former secret agent tied to a wheelchair who back in the 60s developed a leather weaving technique so unique that it has gone unparalleled until today. About a dozen Cambodians, some of them Khmer Rouge refugees, master the craft in an unassuming workshop in Forest’s industrial district, working both with their hands and decade-old machines which nowadays have become impossible to find. Although their delicate leather weaves grace the interior of yachts, hotels and luxury cars all over the globe, the business has always kept a very low profile. “We go for quality instead of quantity,” explains Nicolas Berryer, a former investment banker who successfully has been keeping Charles’ legacy alive since his passing in 2007. “In a way we’re one of fashion’s best-kept secret,” he adds with a wink. We believe him.

117, Rue Saint Denis (1190)
 

11. Feu et Fer

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Although Feu et Fer has set up its headquarters at Brussels’ beautiful La Fonderie in Molenbeek, the concept is at its core a nomadic project, travelling not only all across Belgium but also to other countries. Behind it all is Michel Mouton, a translator turned craftsman blacksmith. He got hooked on the ancient craft when accidentally meeting one of Europe’s best blacksmiths: “It was like a revelation to watch him work. I didn’t know that forging could be so contemporary,” he says. Since then Michel has made it his mission to transport this newfound passion out into the world with his mobile blacksmith studio, giving classes and promoting the craft. “Forging is dying out and I want to prevent that by showing there’s more to it than kitschy ornaments,” he concludes.

27, Rue Ransfort (1080)
 

12. Tamawa

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The name says it all: Tamawa is Japanese for “ball on a steel ring.” Accordingly, all creations from coat hangers and watches to lamps and jewelry revolve around the so-called bakelite ball, which company founder and designer Hubert Verstraeten discovered through Belgian snooker ball manufacturer SALUC. The Tournai firm has been supplying Tamawa with the colorful, shiny and durable material ever since, which, despite being synthetic, is of very high quality and comfortable to wear. All objects are fully produced in Tamawa’s Brussels workshop, and the brand regularly collaborates with renowned Belgian designers such as Sylvain Willenz and Nedda El-Asmar to reveal their personal take on the unlikely material.

42, Rue des Vétérinaires (1070)
 

13. RVB

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“RVB is a bit of a forgotten classic,” says renowned Belgian designer Alain Berteau, who, together with the historic company’s new director, decided to give the brand a full-blown facelift. Over the last eight years the pair have managed to successfully bring the older craft of water tap manufacturing into the 21st century. Everything is still fully made in Belgium, using a production process that combines high-tech and know-how with handwork. “Polishing for example cannot be done by machines. And assembling the pieces is an art in itself,” explains Berteau. Due to its long history, RVB holds a vast collection of water taps in all conceivable styles, representing all eras. “If you’re renovating a house from the 50s, you’ll find the matching water tap here,” adds Berteau. Additionally, the company has a proven track record of innovation, not only paying attention to creating beautiful designs but also improving the system as such.

137, Boulevard Industriel (1070)
 

14. Mertens

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Walking into Mertens’ history-filled goldsmith studio feels a bit like a trip into the past. Shelves are packed with everything from antique candleholders to old-fashioned silverware, the big wooden workbenches having seen their share of craftsmanship, and certain machines date back a century. No wonder: the Mertens family has been soldering, welding, plating, gilding, carving and engraving precious metals for four generations now. Although they used to also manufacture objects, they now completely focus on restoration, an art that has become rare over the years. “It’s not easy to find people to hire,” explains Thierry Mertens, adding: “I hope my son will continue the family business.” By the way, even the Belgian Royal family regularly uses their services – quite the stamp of approval if you ask us.

133, Rue Berthelot (1190)
 

15. De Meuldre

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Although family business De Meuldre has stopped manufacturing porcelain, it remains a renowned reference for tableware, offering a hand-picked selection of famous brands and hard-to-find manually painted gems. The imposing, elegant shop is still located in the same building as 200 years ago, and the family’s extensive experience enables them to offer valuable advice regarding maintenance and decoration choices. What is more, clients can get their ancient pieces repaired: behind the impressive store lies the workshop of Atelier Coperta, where a few passionate craftsmen still master the art of restoring porcelain tableware, vases and statues. Working with repeated oven heating while using a secret color mixing process, they guarantee for the color to stay for another 40 years while the glue remains invisible.

141, Chaussée de Wavre (1050)
 
 
Sabine Herman
86, Rue Faider (1050)
 
Emaillerie Belge
7, Rue Verheyden (1080)
 
Niyona
86, Rue de Laeken (1000)
 
Vervloet
78, Rue de la Borne (1080)
 
Atelier 365
365, Chaussée de Boondael (1050)
 
Lilu
9, Rue du Bailli (1000)
 
Isabelle de Borchgrave
73a, Chaussée de Vleurgat (1050)
 
Cruso
141, Boulevard Industriel (1070)
 
One to be
55, Rue Marconi (1190)
 
Charles Schambourg by Nacarat
117, Rue Saint Denis (1190)
 
Feu et Fer
27, Rue Ransfort (1080)
 
Tamawa
42, Rue des Vétérinaires (1070)
 
RVB
137, Boulevard Industriel (1070)
 
Mertens
133, Rue Berthelot (1190)
 
De Meuldre
141, Chaussée de Wavre (1050)