When living abroad one of the first things you will probably need are DIY supplies, especially if like me, you like to do stuff with your hands, so here’s a short list of places where you can find your hammers and wrenches and wall paints. I come from a country dominated by local and German DIY chains, so it took a bit of digging and getting used to how things are done here. In fact, even after 6 years in Belgium, it’s still a work in progress, also because Belgians like to do to stuff with their hands too and therefore local and national shops that offer help in that department are a booming business.
I started as a single expat with no permanent plans for settling, so my first shopping trip was, unsurprisingly, to Ikea. The market specialist in flat-pack furniture also has a small selection of DIY tools that can help you with your basic needs. Since I didn’t bring anything with me, I bought their basic toolbox 10 years ago and still use it regularly, so definitely well spent 5 euro (at the time).
One place I always go to is Brico. It’s a chain and you can find it all over Belgium, including some city centres (in Ghent there’s one at the Vrijdagmarkt and open also on Sundays), plus they also have a budding online shop. I really like Brico, but I’m female, so maybe the fact that its logo has nice colours, its home decoration section is really big and their store layout follows my way of thinking, all have something to do with it. Also, they do these great annual catalogues, that are really mouthwatering for a home improver like me. But experience of other shoppers show you might not get all the advice and help you need. It is also the more expensive brand, however, it has the advantage of having large stores with plenty of basic items in stock.
If you’re looking for cheaper chains, there’s Hubo and Gamma, while Brico Plan-It looks like a much larger and somewhat cheaper version of Brico (in Ghent, you will find it next to the football stadium Ghelamco Arena). Some of these chains also provide additional services, like cutting wood bought at their store to your specifications (sometimes on the spot, sometimes on order).
Additionally, you can find in Belgium local, family-run shops that tend to specialise, such as construction materials company Van De Velde in Zwijnaarde (e.g. to get gravel for your driveway, but also terrace tiles). They have the advantage of being able to offer you expert advice and additional services. For example, the wood specialist Hanssens Hout also cuts wood pieces to your specifications and provides free delivery for orders over a certain sum, or can advise which oil or varnish to use with certain wood type, while paint shop (and a country-wide chain) Colora offers colour advice for your home (payable but then deducted from your order).
Another thing you might be looking for are some electric tools and DIY machinery, especially if you’re thinking of buying property. There are two big chains dealing in rentals of construction equipment (and I mean, you can really get anything there): Huurland and Boels. Boels also rents out smaller items through Brico. Both Boels and Huurland also offer advice.
For those into doing up their home in more natural materials, there’s a few places around Ghent. If you come from a country where lime paint is the cheapest options in the shop, get ready for a shock. Lime paint is considered posh and/or tree-hugging alternative here, so get ready to dish out for imported goods (although Belgium has no shortage of limestone). There’s one great advantage to “natural” shops – they offer good advice. See for yourself at the local pioneer in green business Ecostore (in Merelbeke, they also have workshops and rent out some tools to be used with their products), the more insulation oriented Eurabo, and the paint and plaster specialists: Tintelijn and newcomer Huus. Most of these shops will also happily give you a list of contractors that work with their products, and with some of them you can agree for a fairer price if they let you do half the work.