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March 2010

80 sweet dreams


Pop mart  It’s yesterday once more: each of the 29 rooms at the Vintage Hotel feature unique interiors and original furniture pieces

substance for form in their quest to surprise guests. Nina Lamparski checks in at Brussels’ newest B&B to find out if there’s some heart beneath its layers of fabulousness


ne person’s Egyptian linen is another’s lavender body lotion. Perhaps you like your pillow rock hard, while your partner’s head prefers a squishy soft support. Some people require high-tech gimmicks; some delight at the sight of fresh flowers. The criteria we judge a hotel room by are as personal as the three-digit security number on the back of your credit card. Which is what made it extremely tricky to assess the recently launched Vintage Hotel tucked away behind Place Stéphanie. The boutique address opened its black-framed glass doors last September under the ownership of Belgian pair Fabian Henrion and Bernard Wilmet. The former is an expert sommelier who used to work at the restaurant of five-star luxury temple Claridge’s in London; the latter a renowned Brussels entrepreneur with a good nose for smart business ventures. Add to that the skills of interior architect Michel Penneman, also involved in the design of the famous White

What lacks, in the end,

is an emphasis on small pleasures

Boutique this, design that... so-called concept hotels often forego

Hotel, and you get an explosive recipe for success. In theory, that is. The concept behind the Vintage certainly intrigues and has received much praise in the Belgian press. Inspired by the British chain Hotel du Vin, which has made wellstocked wine cellars an integral part of its hotel business, Henrion decided to import the idea into Brussels. Instead of a restaurant, his establishment boasts a funky wine bar – doubling up as breakfast area – with fine drops from Austria to California, and a bench that once stood inside JFK Airport. In fact, there’s no denying that art objects and furniture harmoniously assemble to strike a fun balance between vibrant 1960s kitsch and sober contemporary lines. Plus, in terms of location, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better spot. You’re seconds from the shopping miles of Louise and Toison d’Or, public transport lies just around the corner and the city centre is a ten-minute tram ride away. Last but not least, the street remains pretty calm despite its proximity to noisy Chaussée de Charleroi and the many surrounding restaurants. Hence, first impressions proved positive upon our arrival on a freezing Sunday evening, so much so that we were willing to ignore the rather glum, monosyllabic receptionist and out-of-order elevator. After all, everyone can have a bad day and technical devices are there to be broken. Two flights of narrow winding stairs later, we entered our room on the second floor in giddy anticipation of its phantasmagorical setting. Psychedelic mural? Check. Quirky vintage furniture? Check. Flat screen TV? Designer bath? Doublecheck. But after a few seconds of “Oh my god, look at this crazy [insert odd item]”, the space suddenly appeared to flatline. Somehow, amid all the flash and pop and fizz, something was amiss. We walked

around, paused, looked out the window, stroked the duvets, smelled the towels, sat down and got up again. Scanning the space, it struck me how naked the gaps looked in between the furniture pieces. There were no water bottles, no tiny squares of chocolates, no fridge, no bathrobes, no tacky shower caps or miniature shampoos. We searched in vain for a gentle human touch that said, “Hello stranger, good to see you, please make yourself at home”. To our probing eyes, the small, empty bookshelf hung forlorn in the middle of a frenzied pink wall pattern. The lamps on the bedside tables were über-cool but also über-bright. Their intergalactic beams sure have the power to turn loving partners into brutal enemies if one wants to sleep and the other read. Despite the bathroom’s perfect architecture and modern tub, it did not come across as inviting. Too white, too sterile, too executive apartment. The verdict is therefore one of mixed impressions. Objects like the red retro telephone, Jacques Tati film posters and old-school wooden desk truly enchant in this playground for grown-ups. The owners managed to create a gorgeous tongue-in-cheek interior bound to delight design addicts. In addition, Sunday night’s grumpy receptionist had been replaced by a different woman on Monday morning, a professional familiar with the art of greeting, smiling and using full sentences. The

Info Vintage Hotel, 45 Rue Dejoncker, Brussels, tel 02.533.99.80,, rates from €80

breakfast buffet was delicious too, and included freshly ground coffee, crunchy bread and good-quality charcuterie. What lacks, in the end, is an attention to detail, an emphasis on small pleasures. I’d suggest hiring an experienced hotelier who will ensure that the staff welcome people like hotel guests, not mere bar flies. And maybe add some flowers, dishevelled books, yellow slippers or big fluffy bathrobes. Make the space grin. At the moment, the address tastes slightly corked but with a bit more effort it could indeed become a great vintage. 

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Boutique this, design that... so-called concept hotels often forego substance for form in their quest to surprise guests. Nina Lamparski che...

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