EXPLORED_ Koffie en Staal in Leuven

EXPLORED_ Koffie en Staal in Leuven - by hannelore veelaert for au pays des merveilles

When I was invited to spend a weekend in Leuven, there was one place on the top of my to do list: Koffie en Staal.  This coffee bar with its beautiful interior had popped up on my radar a while ago, but I hadn’t managed to visit it yet.  With delicious coffee from other Leuven favorite Mok and a focus on biological and local food, it’s not that hard to make it onto my to do list, but that wasn’t the main reason for my visit.  Creative couple Nouchka Nemes and Lino Van Molle have created a gem of a coffee bar that offers quite a bit more than your regular flat white, as the name Koffie en Staal – coffee and steel – implies.  Not only your taste buds will be satisfied by coming here, but so will your eyes!

Nouchka (graduated as an interior architect and furniture designer) and Lino (skilled at steel welding and wood working) prove that sometimes one plus one really does equal three, as they are combining their forces to create beautiful furniture under the name of Nono.  Their creations are not only shining in their own bar, but before I ever heard of Koffie & Staal,  they already caught my eye at several other places, including Bar Stan and even my favorite Lisbon hangout Café Tati. (It seems like we’ve got a past in my favorite Portuguese city in common.)  Their furniture is for sale in the bar, but if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you still don’t have to leave empty handed.  That’s right, Koffie en Staal not only sells beautiful pieces of furniture but also carries Nusj, Nouchka’s jewelry collection.  Reasons enough to put Koffie en Staal on your to do list, I’d say.  With the combination of running an eco-friendly coffee house and designing, making and selling both furniture and jewelry, they’ve not only managed to create a lovely hangout, but my dream job as well.  Jealous, who?  Me?

Koffie & Staal, Mechelsestraat 140, 3000 Leuven - website - facebook  
Nono - website - facebook
Nusj - facebook

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INSIGHTS_ Sofie Vertongen

INSIGHTS_ sofie vertongen - by hannelore veelaert for au pays des merveilles-43

Lately, everyone in our little country of Belgium has been falling for the epiphyte, and there’s only one person to blame. A few months ago, Sofie Vertongen started Phyt. a webshop for air plants, and it has been taking Belgium by storm.   After having seen a few pictures of Sofie’s beautiful apartment on instagram, I asked her if she wanted to share some thoughts on her home and let me photograph it. As it turns out, her interior was even more impressive in real life than what I had seen on instagram so far. No surprise, if you know that Sofie studied to be an interior designer.

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collectio_ design via au pays des merveilles

Even though at the moment I have forbidden myself to buy anything interior related, I can’t stop dreaming about a place of my own filled with beautiful design.   I currently have no more space left in my interior, but there’s no harm in dreaming, right? So today I’m sharing my current favorites with you, from affordable to… not so affordable.  As long as I’m wishful thinking… For more good stuff you can take a look at my pinterest board here.

  1. Hoop chair from SonadoraInLove, get it here.
  2. Ceramic french press from Yielddesignco, available here.
  3. Monte monochrome rug from Pampa, buy it here.
  4. Admiral’s tray by KatySkelton, find it here.
  5. The Link Shelf by Studio Hausen, unfortunately sold out here.
  6. Ring dish from Julia Kostreva, for sale here.
  7. Foldwork clothing rack and wall piece by Studio Berg, more info here.
  8. A4 Lightbox, unfortunately sold out here.
  9. The Coleman barcart by GretadeParryDesign, purchase it here.

FRAGMENTS_ The Sahara of Lommel

lommelse sahara - by hannelore veelaert via au pays des merveilles-7There’s a little piece of paradise in the east of Belgium: the Sahara of Lommel.  After a short walk through the forest, the pine trees reveal a breathtaking view on ponds surrounded by a sand plain, making it hard to believe you’re still in Belgium.  Surprisingly, this nature reserve was formed by the remnants of sand mining and pollution from a former zinc factory.  Its fumes caused the old vegetation to disappear and revealed a sand plain instead.  The current pine forest was planted to ensure that the sand plain wouldn’t expand and the old sand pits were filled with water, completing the stunning picture that is the Lommelse Sahara.

Although this location is often used as a background for photo shoots or movies, when my friend Lies and I visited, it was a particularly quiet day on the Sahara.  Combined with the moody weather (that later cut our visit short with a hail storm), the desolate plain and forest made for quite a photogenic walk.  If you’re still deciding on what to do this wonderful Sunday, I think I’ve made the decision a little easier for you… Lommel calling!

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EXPLORED_ Bitte! in Berlin

bitte berlin - by hannelore veelaert via au pays des merveilles-8

When my friend and I walked by Bitte! during our stay in Berlin, I immediately fell for the cute sign outside (which I sadly forgot to photograph but you already caught an impression of the logo if you’re following me on instagram) but we already made plans for the day and decided to put this tiny coffee bar on the to do list for another day.  The next morning we went back to indulge in their delicious coffee and greek inspired breakfast (Bitte! offers a small menu of greek specialties) and see their cute interior up close.  The adorable logo outside already predicted good things for this café’s interior and we were not disappointed!  Dressed in a nautical theme, Bitte! is filled with more cute illustrations and a good atmosphere.  Bitte still be there when I return to Berlin, Bitte!   I’d love to stop by again and try the rest of the menu …

Bitte!, Glogauer Strasse 6, 10999 Berlin - facebook

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FRAGMENTS_ a weekend in Leuven

fragments_ leuven - by hannelore veelaert for au pays des merveilles-32

When Accor hotels invited me to spend the weekend in Leuven, it felt like the perfect opportunity to rediscover my former hometown.  I’ve lived in Leuven for five years during my architecture studies and even though it felt too small after my return from Lisbon, I’ve always loved living there.    While Leuven really is small, it also has a lot of things to offer.  There’s a lively creative scene with talented musicians and artists, each year the architecture students of the first master turn an abandoned building upside down for Existenz, while the students from Loko do the same for Ithaka, you’ll find lots of beautiful architecture – both old and new – in the streets of Leuven and (not unimportant) food and drinks are quite affordable thanks to  the many students here.

Paulien and I stayed in the Hotel ibis Budget Leuven centrum, which turned out to be the perfect starting point for our weekend as it is located next to the city’s train station and close to pretty much everything.  (And for architecture lovers: it has some pretty interesting concrete detailing on the facade!)   As the big draw was taking place in the city during that weekend, it was the perfect moment to stroll through the streets of Leuven and admire the many beautiful drawings in the shop windows, take numerous coffee breaks, explore the antique and artisan markets, devour delicious vegetarian hot dogs,  get a new haircut and enjoy the sun and beautiful plants in the botanical garden.

We discovered a lot of interesting new places that popped up since I left the city (I already blogged about one here), so I’ll soon share them here in a city guide and highlight my favorites in their own blogpost.  For now I already wanted to share a few fragments of the atmosphere in Leuven and inspire you to book your very own getaway to this lovely tiny city.

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COLLECTION_ packaging

collection_ packaging by au pays des merveilles

Beautiful packaging can always convince me to spend a few extra euros on a product.  It’s just such a delight to not only buy something useful, but something that’s easy on the eyes as well.  Here are few examples of stunning packaging designs, if you want to see more of them, you can take a look at my pinterest.

  1. Ice cream packaging by Natasha Chuvinova, see more here.
  2. “Wishbone brew” coffee packaging by Also known as and Christopher Williams,  more info here.
  3. Ecopal wood-free colour pencils by Kathrin Honesta, find out more here.
  4. Le Cord textile cables, buy them here.
  5. Classic soaps by & other stories, get them here.
  6. The patrimony by Object Matter, more images here.
  7. “Tear off a scoop” packaging by Yang Guo, Qiaoge Yang & Wenju Wu, get to know more here.
  8. Rice paper samples, more photos here.
  9. Moller Barkenow sandwich wrap by Tobias Moller and Rasmus Erixon, discover more here.


EXPLORED_ Animaux Spéciaux in Leuven

animaux speciaux in leuven - by hannelore veelaert for au pays des merveilles-7

During our weekend in Leuven, my friend Paulien and I stopped by Animaux Spéciaux.  This beautiful shop had only been open for two days and owner Jeroen Lemaitre was still getting used to his new surroundings, moving things around, asking my friend to hold a stuffed parrot so he could screw it into the wall and discussing possible future alterations to the shop with us.  At Animaux Speciaux you can get a peek into the fascinating world of taxidermy and see Jeroen’s work and work process up close.  While stuffed animals might be seen as creepy curiosa by some, Jeroen succeeds to take taxidermy to a higher level.  With the right frames, backgrounds and sometimes even a layer of gold paint, he turns animals that would otherwise have died an inglorious death into intriguing pieces of art.  That’s right, most of these animals are either roadkill or died from disease or age.

It’s not a craft that is easy to start with, and that is what makes Animaux Speciaux such a fascinating world of its own.  Intrigued with framed butterflies, Jeroen learned how to treat insects through youtube videos.  Thanks to enthusiastic reactions from friends and family, his newfound hobby soon turned into a passion and he was eager to learn how to stuff other animals as well.  After his job contract ended, Jeroen decided the time was right to follow his dreams and landed an internship in the Netherlands with an experienced taxidermist.

Fast forward to the present and it’s clear that Jeroen has found his calling.  Although he finds it hard sometimes to sell his creations, he doesn’t hesitate to share his craftsmanship with others: on Sundays he teaches how to stuff baby ostriches.  Curious yet?  Have a look at the pictures below to get pulled into the Animaux Speciaux atmosphere, or head to Leuven to experience his world (including jungle sounds) for yourself.

Animaux Speciaux, Mechelsestraat 73, 3000 Leuven - website - facebook - twitter - instagram

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EXPLORED_ Metafoor in Leuven

metafoor via au pays des merveilles-3

With all of its nooks and corners where you can hide from other bar guests, the Metafoor in Leuven easily makes you feel as if you’re visiting a friend’s place.  This pub is located around the corner of the busy Oude Markt, but feels much more laidback and relaxed than any place you’d find on Leuven’s most famous square.  The Metafoor is the perfect spot to gather your entire group of friends around a table, indulge in long conversations and try the wide variety of Belgian beers that they offer.  Locals love watching the people passing by from their terrace, spending a lazy afternoon playing boardgames or getting cosy into their sofa to read the newspaper.  It’s up to you how you want to spend your time here, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Metafoor, Parijsstraat 34, 3000 Leuven

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INSIGHTS_ Reinaart Vandersloten

insights_ reinaart vandersloten - hannelore veelaert for au pays des merveilles-31

Reinaart Vandersloten and I met during our architecture studies, but we only started talking when we were both at Interieur Kortrijk. At the time, I was an intern with Baroness O., while he was there to present his Space+ design, a multifunctional wall object that I was really impressed with. His beautiful design already implied that Reinaart had good taste, but I was still surprised when I first entered his apartment, which was filled with beautiful vintage design and interesting details. “Everthing you see has a story or a meaning.” Reinaart said, “It doesn’t exactly come together easily, as I’ll never just go to Ikea to buy a few lamps, but it’s a work in progress.” It might be a work in progress, but I just had to ask him to share his home in the Insights series.

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