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‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’: the wonderful world of Belgian dealer Didier Abbeloos

“I was only 14 or 15 years old when I bought my first item at an antiques market,” recalls Belgian antique dealer Didier Abbeloos. “It was a crystal bowl for €3. I started collecting from an early age and it moved very quickly – like bacteria! It became a real passion and has turned out to be the passion of my life.”

This enthusiasm for collecting exudes from Abbeloos as he goes over his journey to date, with the stories and provenance behind unique items being a constant fascination to him. “At 18, my room was already stuffed with old things, antiques and curiosities,” he laughs. “I was very interested in art, archaeology and history at school, so from a young age it was obvious art and antiques would somehow determine my life. And they did.”

Showcasing his finds between a former mayor residence in Schellebelle and his shop in Bruges, Abbeloos is keen to portray the role of antiques within interior design. His collection includes pieces from far-flung corners of the world, representing different cultures, eras, and styles which he says is a result of buying with his heart: “I have one golden rule – I buy what I like but only when my heart and my feelings say yes. It is good to work with this attitude as I am happy when I buy something I like.”

Didier Abbeloos

From a young age it was obvious art and antiques would somehow determine my life. And they did.

Didier Abbeloos

This approach has resulted in a wonderfully eclectic mix of curiosities and collectibles such as marble Chinese lions dating back to the Ming period, or a copy of an Egyptian head made for the Louvre; and both of Abbeloos’ venues transport visitors to different worlds through the antiquities displayed. For those seeking to bring that charm into their own home, Abbeloos also offers interior design advice and suggestions on the best ways to incorporate such pieces into contemporary homes.

Looking back over the pieces he has collected, Abbeloos recalls some of the most captivating: “I once bought the walking stick of Agatha Christie.” Another favourite object was “the Elephant Bird‘s egg – or Aepyornis egg, as it is known. The bird went extinct in the 17th century and its egg has a volume 160 times bigger than a chicken egg.” He adds: “I love a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities‘ with out-of-the-ordinary treasures.”

Having spent years travelling all over the world to find these rare objects, the pandemic restrictions have been challenging for Abbeloos. “However,” he says, “thanks to digitisation, our shops are now open to the whole world. I recently sold to a client as far away as New Zealand!” This digitalisation of the antiques world has been the biggest change the industry has witnessed in recent years, Abbeloos feels – “I adapted slowly because our industry moves at a slower pace.”

Looking at the pressing need of circularity in response to the effects of climate change, Abbeloos says incorporating antiques into homes and interiors fits perfectly with this ethos. “I am always happy when I can give an object or piece of furniture a second life,” he says. “I look at it as if I have saved the object.”

Restoration plays a big part within the work he undertakes, enabling items to find a new home or destination. “For instance, when you reupholster a sofa with a new fabric it can often look much better than a sofa bought off the shelf. My clients are happy when they can reuse an item which belonged to their family.”

I am always happy when I can give an object or piece of furniture a second life. I look at it as if I have saved the object.

Didier Abbeloos

Abbeloos is passionate about introducing antiques to a younger audience, and there are ways in which pieces can be altered or repurposed to suit more contemporary aesthetics. And with the rise of conscious consumerism, the notion of restoration is now resonating with a much wider audience.

As younger buyers discover the beauty behind antiques and the joy of finding one-off items, many are also becoming drawn to buy and sell themselves. Thanks to figures such as Abbeloos, a new generation of dealers can draw from their experience and, through learning, will carry forward the industry for decades to come. In offering advice to dealers just starting out, Abbeloos says it is about the pieces you select. “Go for quality,” he says. “It is often better to pay a bit more – but if you have your doubts about a piece, don’t do it. Always follow your heart.” Indeed, for those at the beginning of their journey, witnessing the undimmed enthusiasm of industry leaders such as Abbeloos is vital, ensuring that this love and intrigue for the antiques world is passed down with equal vigour and vivacity.

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto