Food for Thought
Sheila H. Pierce -- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
As an executiveatLe Pain Quotidien, the Belgian café chain where communal tables and bakery fare go hand in hand, Cédric Legein spent nearly 20 years helping to cook up business through design. But after launching a dozen outlets in and around Brussels, he was ready for a change. Steering away from the countrified look of Le Pain Quotidien, he imagined a contemporary venue centered around his two favorite indulgences, eating and reading.
Legein made that dream a reality at Cook and Book, the bookstore café he co-owns with his wife, Déborah Drion. Split between two buildings in Brussels, the supermarket-worthy 16,000 square feet feel surprisingly intimate. That's because the space is divided into nine rooms, each with decor reflecting the type of book on the shelves there. Visitors devour the titles featured, the food served, and the display of both.
In the travel section, customers can eat inside a vintage Airstream camper while reading guidebooks from the oak cases that fill it. English literature, a cross between a reading room and a gentlemen's club, is illuminated by table lamps with Union Jack shades. The room for books on gardening and landscape architecture features the iron frame of a greenhouse as well as Astroturf on one wall and cobblestones underfoot. Parked amongthe cookbooks in the Italian restaurant is Legein's own Fiat 500.
He and Drion draw inspiration from their journeys around the world. A side panel of a window in the art section replicates the kaleidoscopic windows of Ateliers Jean Nouvel's Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. French novels, 800 of them, dangle above the literature section like birds—an idea derived from an exhibition Legein saw at Istanbul's Contemporary Art Museum.
Some of the bookstore's quirkiest elements are overhead. Ingo Maurer's Campari chandeliers and Campbell's-inspired Canned Lights hang, respectively, in a dining room with a long communal table and in the travel section. In the music section, which sells CDs instead of books, a smoky-gray ceiling mural composed with the flames of cigarette lighters imparts a dash of urban grunge to an otherwise city-slick cocktail lounge.
During the recent seven-month period when Flemish and French-speaking Belgians refused to settle on a national government, an armchair placed at one of the shop's entries invited customers to contemplate the country's current political distress—the chair's leather upholstery had been painted in three broad stripes, like the Belgian flag. Cook and Book unquestionably epitomizes the quirky side of the European Union's capital city, where reading in style is not just for Eurocrats.