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Unearth hidden treasures at Brussels' flea markets and vintage stores

23:26 09/04/2018
In search of some vintage glam for your apartment or wardrobe? Look no further than Brussels’ flea markets and second-hand emporiums

Many of us inevitably turn to chain stores when it comes to fitting out a new home or updating our wardrobes, but it’s pleasing to mix it up with vintage, upcycled, secondhand and antique touches. Brussels is a treasure trove of flea markets, boutique shops and sprawling Aladdin’s caves packed to the gills with pre-loved pieces. If you love to poke around for gems that’ll put a bit of personality into your home, you’re in the right place.

You can tick just about every vintage box with a wander through the Marolles district of the capital, home to the well-trodden quirky shopping streets of Rue Blaes and Rue Haute. At the neighbourhood’s heart is Brussels’ most renowned antiques and flea market in Place du Jeu de Balle. It’s been in the area since 1873 and even featured in a 1940s Tintin comic series. It’s the only one of its kind to operate every day, from 6.00 to early afternoon. Vendors hawk everything from antiques to African carvings, clothes and jewellery, crockery, books, records and piles of bric-a-brac for keen rummagers.

Flea markets – known as brocantes or rommelmarkten – are a staple of Brussels life, all year round. Look out for local posters or check online listings for upcoming events. Auderghem is known for its regular fixtures, with its Sunday morning market rotating between the Herrmann-Debroux viaduct, the Carrefour car park and Boulevard du Souverain. Anderlecht’s Westland flea market has been running on Sunday mornings for nearly 30 years, and moves indoors from the shopping centre car park in winter. The more diminutive Place Saint-Denis flea market, in Forest, is another Sunday option.

Brussels Vintage Market sets up in the restored 19th-century Saint-Géry market halls, near the Bourse, on the first Sunday of each month, selling vintage, designer and second-hand fashion, as well as some furniture. It also organises pop-up events in various venues. In addition, they have a presence at the twice-yearly Brussels Design Market, near Gare du Nord, which focuses on 20th-century vintage design furniture and objects.

The ongoing trend for mid-century modern furniture is well catered for, with shops like Dandelion in Saint-Gilles (187 Rue de la Victoire). Atelier Belvedere (14 Rue du Belvédère) and Au Gray du Temps (230 Rue Gray), both near Flagey, also specialise. Vintage Items, near Place Brugmann (33 Rue Darwin) does a line in colourful wallart letters alongside furniture. Many objects from the 1940s-60s era can be found in the shops and markets already listed.

If you’re after more old-school antiques, head to the long-established Sablon Antiques Market – in the shadow of the Notre-Dame church – where around 100 dealers operate stalls each weekend.

Antique hunters will also have fun in the Marolles with shops like Galerie des Minimes (23 Rue des Minimes), the cavernous multivendor Passage 125 Blaes (125 Rue Blaes) and its neighbour Le Volle Blaes. Antiques and design pieces combine at Haute Antiques (207 Rue Haute) and Via Antica (40 Rue Blaes). Down the road, Stefantiek (6 Place de la Chapelle) has a more rustic slant, with nearly 1,000 square metres of antiques and brocante that’s easy to get lost in. They have a smaller shop on Rue Blaes and a vast warehouse in Mechelen which includes renovation materials like vintage radiators, doors and flooring.

If you enjoy the thrill of the bid, there’s a thriving auction house scene – search auctions-in-belgium. be for a sale near you. One of the more established houses is Hotel de Ventes Horta, which sells a wide range of art, antiques and fine wines, and is found inside a classic Art Deco-style building in Schaerbeek.

For fashionistas, as well as the market scene there’s a fine selection of shops selling much-in-demand vintage wear. Foxhole, in the Marolles (6 Rue des Renards) and Saint-Géry (4 Rue des Riches Claires) has earned full hipster credentials, with its neatly displayed range of 1960s-90s clothes, shoes and accessories and retro touches.

Got your arms full of potential purchases and not sure what to pick? At Melting Pot Kilo, again in the Marolles (154 Rue Haute), throw the lot on the scales and pay by weight, at €15 per kilo. Think Twice has been doing the second-hand thing for a decade and has a couple of central Brussels branches (57 Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains, 71 Rue des Eperonniers). For a cut above, Isabelle Bajart (25 Rue des Chartreux) does a select range of more exclusive vintage pieces, and right next door Gabriele Vintage offers ‘clothes with stories’ which are cleaned and altered to update them.

For doing good while you shop, the Brussels-based charity Les Petits Riens – which supports vulnerable people back into work and society – has shops all over. Next to its flagship Ixelles store (101 Rue Americaine) there’s Retro Paradise, which houses a selection of their best vintage and designer stuff. The international charity Oxfam also has a presence, including a specialist Oxfam Vintage clothing outlet near Place Saint Catherine (104 Rue de Flandre).

Got something to sell? The Troc chain buys and sells second-hand household items, including plenty of vintage, and has five Brussels shops. And, of course, there’s an active online market for buying and selling used and vintage goods. Facebook has several groups including Vintage Freaks (Brussels), Brussels Sell/swap/buy/want or give it away, and Brussels 2hand Online. The website is also widely used.

Photos: Paula Dear. This article first appeared in The Bulletin winter 2017

Written by Paula Dear