Belgian Boot Camp

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If it wasn’t for the long queue at the Victor Horta museum, I never would have noticed the lowly Brussels décrottoir or boot-scrape

A quick trip to Brussels combined with a New Yorker’s nosiness for checking out other people’s digs, had led me to this architect’s residence turned museum. Horta was an architect credited with making Belgium a center of the ornate Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century.

Art Nouveau wasn’t just a style where architecture and the decorative arts echoed natural forms—the curves and geometry of plants, vines and flowers—it was a way of life. If you could afford it, you could sit in your Art Nouveau house at your Art Nouveau desk, illuminated by a stained glass Art Nouveau lamp, working on your Art Nouveau poster.

Like Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona and Charles Rennie Macintosh in Glasgow, Horta designed his ornate buildings from the last knob and knocker right down to, as I discovered during my wait for the Museum, the lowly décrottoir.

Horta_details

The French for boot-scrape, décrottoir, takes the description of its function one step further than the English word. According to Urban Dictionary Décrottoir is an amalgam of the word for dog turd (crotte) and the word for pavement (trottoir). And even if this is rubbish (no pun intended), let’s go with décrottoir.

The décrottoir was a by-product of urbanization in the Victorian era. As streets were paved and urbanites decided to stroll rather than take a carriage, the need to clean one’s boots before entering a house lead to the birth of the décrottoir.

After visiting Horta’s house I followed an Art Nouveau walking tour of the area, taking in the facades, like the faded beauty below. Oddly enough although the gorgeous fresco/terrazzo on the top was crumbling, its exuberant and ornate décrottoir was perfectly intact.

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It didn’t take long to realize that irrespective of whether it was a fancy house or an ordinary house the décrottoir were EVERYWHERE. Like an architectural meme.

And so, as a slavish documenter of the mundane, I started photographing and wondering how much thought had gone into the design of these “pedestrian” details. Not all of them are fancy, but somehow these little details help create a unique look for these entrances.

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Did the owners have a choice—did they take what was available in the ironmonger’s, or were these bespoke boot-scrapes? Did they take a holistic design approach and match them to the window grills or iron railings? To the front door? What do you think?

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Ornate.”

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