Contemporary furniture meets beaux-arts interiors at Brussels gallery Objects with Narratives

Collectible design gallery Objects with Narratives has opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar outpost inside a historic 1920s fur atelier in Brussels.

The gallery occupies 2,000 square metres over three floors of a landmark beaux-arts building on the Place du Grand Sablon, originally constructed as the sales room and workshop of Belgian furrier Raymond Mallien.

Objects with Narratives has opened a gallery in a 1920s fur atelier

Over the following century, Grand Sablon 40 went on to house a museum and the auction house of Yves Saint Laurent co-founder Pierre Bergé before Objects with Narratives (OWN) took over the building.

“When we figured out that the space was available, we couldn’t say no,” said Nik Vandewyngaerde, who founded OWN with his brother Robbe and longtime friend Oskar Eryatmaz.

Seating and tables inside Grand Sablon 40 gallery by Objects with Narratives in Brussels
Pieces on show include a pillow-shaped coffee table by Ben Storms

Most of the ground level still features the original beaux-art interiors of Mallien’s fur boutique from 1921. The former shop floor with its gilded mouldings, wall frescoes and giant chandeliers now serves as the gallery’s front room.

Next door, a wood-panelled boardroom houses OWN’s library of material samples and catalogues and is used for meetings with clients and designers.

Grand Sablon 40 gallery by Objects with Narratives in Brussels
Mircea Anghel’s copper sideboard (right) was shaped with dynamite

“The light bulbs have been changed but all the rest is original,” Vandewyngaerde said of the interior.

In the back and on the upper two storeys, OWN worked with the existing whitewashed industrial spaces that once housed Mallien’s workshops.

Offering a dramatic contrast with the gilded splendour of the boutique, these now house a classic “white cube” gallery space, an open floor for exhibitions and a showroom styled to evoke a modern residence.

Translucent resin console table by Laurids Gallée
Laurids Gallée’s resin console picks up the colours of a nearby fresco

For the front room, OWN selected freestanding furniture that would leave the protected interior untouched and have the visual gravitas necessary to not be dwarfed by its surroundings.

“The room itself is so powerful, so it needs pieces that are very, very strong,” Robbe Vandewyngaerde told Dezeen. “If you just put a nice vase there, it’s going to be lost.”

Mirroring black-and-white photos of the original interior, OWN arranged the furniture into loose seating areas with standout pieces including a marble coffee table shaped like a giant pillow by Belgian designer Ben Storms and Mircea Anghel’s Lose Control sideboard, formed by exploding dynamite in a copper frame.

To complement the blue skies painted across the room’s frescoes and ceiling vaults, OWN introduced a translucent resin console table by Austrian designer Laurids Gallée and the flowing fibreglass Wave chaise by former surfboard maker Lukas Cober.

The furrier’s boardroom has largely maintained its former layout and is now centred on a circular charred-timber table surrounded by sculptural seating by German designer Lisa Ertel and British artist Alun Heslop.

The other gallery spaces will host a rotating roster of exhibitions and events with a particular focus on championing homegrown design talent.

Grand Sablon 40 gallery by Objects with Narratives in Brussels
The meeting room features seating by Alun Heslop (left) and Lisa Ertel (right)

For the gallery’s opening, which coincided with the Collectible design fair at the beginning of March, there were dedicated solo shows by Belgian designers Ben Storms and Lionel Jadot.

“We used to work more with international artists – and we still do,” Nik Vandewyngaerde said.

“But we’ve started to focus more on Belgian artists because we’re now here, to support the local economy. But also because it’s easier in a way to be closer, to give more direction, to visit their studios.”

Burnt timber bench by Lisa Ertel
The wood-panelled room also serves as a library of materials and catalogues

OWN started life in 2022 as a nomadic gallery for collectible design, highlighting work from a small roster of friends and acquaintances of the Vandewyngaerde brothers – both trained architects who cut their teeth at studios Herzog & de Meuron and OMA respectively.

Grand Sablon 40 marks OWN’s first investment in a brick-and-mortar gallery and will offer a more permanent home for its designers outside of fairs like Collectible, PAD or Art Brussels.

“It’s a lot of money but we had a very good last year and we believe in the space,” Robbe Vandewyngaerde said.

Ben Storms solo exhibition at Grand Sablon 40 gallery by Objects with Narratives in Brussels
Solo shows by Ben Storms (above) and Lionel Jadot are housed on the upper floors

Despite only one of the founders being based in Brussels, the trio says the capital of the European Union was an obvious choice for the gallery’s first outpost.

With the rebirth of the industrial area around the Brussels Canal – soon set to house various maker studios and an outpost of the Centre Pompidou inside a former Citroën factory – OWN believes the city is on track to be Europe’s next cultural capital.

“It doesn’t have the allure yet of Paris or London,” Robbe Vandewyngaerde said. “But a lot of artists are coming here to live because they cannot afford Paris, they cannot afford Amsterdam, they cannot afford London.”

Lionel Jadot solo show at Grand Sablon 40 gallery by Objects with Narratives in Brussels
The white cube spaces provide room for more customised displays

“Brussels is still a capital city that has a city feeling but it’s much more accessible,” he added. “It’s going to take five to 10 to 15 years. But I do feel like Brussels is a place that’s going to be competing with London or Paris.”

The city’s Collectible design fair hosted its seventh edition this month, with standout projects including a games room curated by OWN, a daybed upholstered in wet clay and a homeware collection that wears traces of its CNC fabrication as decoration.

This year will also mark the fair’s expansion into the US with the launch of its inaugural New York edition in September.

The photography is by Tijs Vervecken.

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