Area codes: Marina Bautier’s Brussels

With this year’s edition of Design September in full swing, we (belatedly) start the season with a series on women talking about their favourite neighbourhoods.  First up is Designer of the Year 2014 Marina Bautier. After having worked for several brands for almost a decade, the Brussels-based designer finally took the leap in May 2013 and launched her eponymous label, MA. In her bare space in Forest she not only sells her restrained, simple and well-crafted furniture pieces but also hosts lunches once a month to give the place a life and bring people together. Here, she opens up about the very local gems she is most fond of.

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I grew up in Brussels, moved to London for my studies and then came back to my hometown in 2002. Since then I’ve been living in the Forest/St. Gilles area. I like to live in St. Gilles because it’s not far from the centre and close to my studio and shop in Forest. A lot of my friends live there and it’s full of nice little cafés. I was happy to come back because my family and friends live here and it’s just my city. It’s not Paris or London but it has a human size, there’s a lot of space to live and work, a lot of greenery, and Ghent and Antwerp are not far. In London there’s definitely more freedom and I like that people don’t judge you. And maybe the artists and designers there dare to go a bit further.

But Brussels has been changing quite a lot, and in a good way: I really like that there are more and more small, personal and unique shops, restaurants and cafés popping up as opposed to the big chains. When it comes to design there is also much more happening than before. One of my favourite vintage design shops is Influence in Rue Darwin. Many of these shops sell pretty much the same things, but not this one. Of course they also have a few famous pieces, but overall the selection is very personal. I once bought a desk from the 70s there. Another shop I really like is just a few steps further. It’s called Scènes de Ménage and is located right at Place Brugmann. It has a really interesting universe, a mix of old and new, and the window is always nicely decorated. I buy a lot of my Christmas presents there. I like this whole neighbourhood and go a lot for walks there. It’s a beautiful area to stroll around. When I do that I usually stop at Chez Franz to have a salad. It’s a simple but pleasant café whose terrace gets a lot of sun. A little bit further but also still in Ixelles there’s Les Petits Riens, a big shop selling second hand items ranging from clothes to furniture. I’m a big fan of tableware and I always find something nice there.

One of my favourite places for food is the Buffet de l’Hotel de Ville in St. Gilles which is just a few steps from where I live. It’s right next to the Maison Communale. It’s quite small and the founder is also the cook and does everything on his own. Everything is bio, there are always a lot of fresh veggies on offer and I can really recommend the Pain de viande. There’s not really a menu, you just decide if you want a small or a big plate and then choose from the counter what you want. They also make really good sandwiches. It’s an intimate place with a quite sober interior, old tiles, white wooden tables and good music in the background. But the best restaurant in whole Brussels is without a doubt Henri in Rue de Flandre. It’s sober but cozy, rather sophisticated but relaxed, and the food is just amazing. It’s very hard to describe though. You get the old classics such as Américain but somehow they’re given a new special twist. If you want the proper traditional dishes, then Branche d’Olivier in Uccle is a good place to go to. I just love the area and my boyfriend lived there as a kid. It’s just ten minutes with the car but you really feel like you’re in the countryside. There’s also a nice terrace for sunny summer days.

314 Chaussée de Forest
1190 Brussels

As part of Design September’s Open Doors, Marina will be opening up her studio to the public on Saturday, 20 September. Here are a few photographs of the space which we can only strongly recommend you to go and see.

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Rue Darwin 44
Scènes de ménage
Place Georges Brugmann 4
Chez Franz
Av. du Haut-Pont 30
Les petits rien
Rue Américaine 101
Buffet de l’Hotel de Ville
33a, place Maurice Van Meenen
rue de Flandre 113
Branche d’Olivier
Rue Engeland 172
1180 Uccle