INSIGHTS_ Jeroen Lemaitre

portrait of Jeroen by Eline Ros

Up until a few years ago, taxidermy was considered rather tacky and cruel.  If anyone is responsible for turning that image around, it would be Jeroen Lemaitre of Animaux Spéciaux.  He single-handedly updated taxidermy’s image by limiting himself to animals that died a natural death, combined with his impeccable taste and artistry.  Jeroen describes himself as a treasure hunter, someone who tracks down interesting collectables or makes them himself by hand, from colorful insects preserved under cloches or in frames, to taxidermy, intriguing accessories, exotic plants and even artworks.  These are all for sale in his beautiful shop Animaux Spéciaux in Leuven (which I blogged about earlier here) and his webshop.  Well… not all of them are for sale, as some of his most intriguing pieces ended up in his own home, which he was kind enough to show me.

 

Jeroen divides his time between Leuven, where he grew up and now owns a boutique, and Antwerp, where he moved a few years ago.  “After a break-up, I needed to get away from Leuven and longed for the anonymity of a bigger city.”  Antwerp, with its multicultural and metropolitan character seemed like the perfect choice.   He moved to a manor house in old Berchem, an area filled with beautiful houses and nice bars and restaurants, but quickly discovered he didn’t like to be alone.  “I considered finding a roommate, but as much as I love having my friends over, I’m always glad when they’re leaving again.  I was worried something might go wrong and a friendship would be ruined if I’d be living here with a friend.”  That’s why he decided to rent one of his spare bedrooms through airbnb, a decision he hasn’t regretted yet.  “My price isn’t that high, so I receive very diverse guests, who all enrich my life: from the business manager who stayed here every two weeks, to a fashion student who spent a couple of months here, or a perfume designer who had a meeting with famous chef Sergio Herman of nearby restaurant The Jane.  Every Monday evening, I cook for my guests and I always make time to show them around the city.”  Some of his favorite places are located close to his home.  “Bar Vert is one of my favorites but I also love Brel, where they offer an interesting selection of beer.  Sometimes I’ll go to Stanny, which is the go-to-place for a lot of artists, or I’ll head to the nearby neighborhood of Zurenborg, known for its many bars and restaurants.  I also love Bakker Aldo, where you can find traditional sourdough bread, and the cultural center of Berchem, which has an interesting program.”

Jeroen’s interior is a rather spontaneous combination of things he loves, often bought on a whim.  “I don’t think I have a specific style.  When I run into something that I love, I’ll buy it immediately without even thinking about where I’ll put it.  If later it doesn’t fit in my home, I’ll move it to my store and sell it there.  It goes the other way as well though: things I can’t sell anymore due to minor defects, I’ll try to introduce into my own interior.”  Combined with hand me downs from his great-aunt, exotic plants and a lot of vintage, this results in an eclectic mix, affordable for someone our age.  One word that describes his interior is cabinet de curiosité. “I do not want to turn my home into a freak show however!”  he laughs.

“The kitchen is my favorite place in the house, the dining table in particular.  This is where my friends gather when I’m cooking and when we open the windows during summer, it feels almost as if we’re outside.  It’s just two table tops and four trestles from Ikea.  However, I’m looking for another solution for the trestles as they take too much place for comfortable seating.”   When I recommend him a different solution, Jeroen proves he’s an impulsive decision maker and instantly orders my suggestion online.

Jeroen’s interior inspiration comes from pinterest, boutiques, holiday destinations, magazines and older friends with a more purified sense of style.  As far as shopping goes, he recommends second hand shop Spit in Leuven for affordable finds, and The recollection and the shops in the Kloosterstraat in Antwerp for interesting items that are a bit more costly.  “You should also keep an eye on Markt van Morgen in the Kloosterstraat.  Animal Speciaux started there, and a lot of other young designers do too, selling their handmade items at low prices.”  Sissy Boy is another favorite.  “I recently saw gorgeous pink chairs with a vintage feel there that I fell totally in love with.  Now that I’m thinking about it… I really should buy them!”  Lastly, Jeroen recommends the furniture by Lino from Koffie en Staal“His pieces are not that cheap, but these simple designs will last a lifetime!”  Much like his own store, Jeroen prefers boutiques that sell unique things with a soul and authenticity, items that instantly update an interior.

A perfect example is the caribou head in his living room, without a doubt the showstopper of his interior.  “It’s my Christmas decoration, but seeing as how difficult it was to hang such a heavy item and how much storage space it would require, it has to stay!” He bought it from an old lady who contacted Jeroen when she was ready to part with her late husband’s possessions.  The man was a hunter and shot the animal himself in Canada.  “Can’t you just imagine it in the forest, surrounded by snow, it’s breath evaporating when he exhales?  It’s such a graceful animal and a rather rare piece of taxidermy to come across.  Whenever I see it, I feel humble.  ”

When Jeroen Lemaitre moved to Antwerp, he intended to open his boutique there.   But destiny decided differently, as he came across an affordable shophouse in Leuven by accident, and instantly fell in love with its beautifully curved window.  At the time, the shop was equipped with fluorescent lights and vinyl flooring, but Jeroen immediately saw the potential of this 18th century fishermen bar turned lingerie store. Jeroen found the venue at the right place and the right time.  Leuven is quite an expensive city, but at the time this area was still affordable.  Since then, other shops and cafés opened up in his street, and chances are more will come, as the street will soon be car free.  “I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the city of Leuven, but I am trying to put it on the map.”  Jeroen says.  People come from far and wide to visit his shop, and take the time to discover the city while they’re here.  “With Bar Stan, Stuk Café, the merchants in the Parijstraat and the Mechelsestraat, the renewed area around de Vaart and the new Foodtruck festival, Leuven really has something to offer.”  (Just have a look at my city guide for proof!)

If I ask Jeroen about his dream home, he imagines a remote house with a fireplace, a bath tub, many windows and a big porch, surrounded by an overgrown garden filled with flowers.  “The most important thing is that I can have my friends over though!  Now that I’m thinking about it… I don’t know if I’d be happier in another home, I’d have to try it first!”  Seems like Jeroen has some thinking to do before he would leave his Antwerp home behind!

If you want to add that special “Animaux Spéciaux” touch to your own home, I’ve got good news for you: with the code AUPAYSDESMERVEILLES, you’ll receive a 5% discount in the Animaux Spéciaux webshop!

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Jeroen Lemaitre - instagram
Animaux Spéciaux, Mechelsestraat 73, 3000 Leuven - website - facebook - twitter - instagram

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1 Comment

  1. Angelina April 6, 2017

    Ohh heel tof! En prachtige foto’s heb je weer gemaakt. X

    Reply

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