In a quiet wooded grove in Minnesota, Belgian-born antique dealer, Claire Steyaert, has filled her Bauhaus-inspired Modernist home with a lifetime's worth of art and antiques. Taylor Hall O'Brien meets Claire for champagne, croissants and a conversation about the joy of collecting.




Approaching Claire Steyaert’s Bauhaus-inspired home in a quiet wooded grove by the University of Minnesota, you would never expect what lies behind the front door.

The Elliott House - named after the chair of the University's psychology department, Richard M. Elliott, for whom it was built in 1936 - is one of 103 architecturally distinct homes in the neighborhood, each showcasing the best of Midwestern residential architecture and built for University staff over a 60-year period.

At first glance, the modernist structure - designed by two architects affiliated with the University’s School of Architecture - is stark, rigid, and a bit intimidating. Inspired by the Bauhaus with a sequence of interlocking cubes of brick and steel, its walls are unadorned except for flush belt courses of contrasting colored brick running above the windows. Inside, it’s a different story altogether.



Behind the austere walls, you are greeted by a quaint entry foyer before curiosity shuffles you through a heavy velvet portiere into a living space teeming with 15th to 19th century antiques and art, all fastidiously collected by Claire, an antique dealer, and her husband, John, an art historian.

Among the couple’s treasures: an original Art Deco marble mantle; a French Louis XIV desk and Louis XIII settee; Flemish 16th century medieval religious sculptures; a massive 1959 John Anderson oil, and an 18th century marble sculpture by Flemish artist Jef Lambeaux. When you look closer, through the intricate layers of antiques, you see the original Bauhaus architectural details as a fittingly unique backdrop; the juxtaposition of a lifetime of collected antiques and restrained lines.

Claire and John Steyaert's home in Minnesota. All images © Taylor Hall O'Brien


The Belgian-born pair met at the University of Leuven - where both were studying art history - and moved to the US, where John completed a PhD at The University of Michigan, before taking a position at the University of Minnesota’s art history department. Over nearly four decades (1971-2009), John’s Minnesota-based career focused on medieval sculpture, which led him to publish numerous books and literature on the subject, while Claire - who began her career as an appraiser with renowned Rathburn Studio - helmed her reputable antique business.

A well respected figure in the US antiques community, Claire has relationships with clients all over the world. When we first met, she paged through shelter magazines, past and current, pointing out her friends’ properties and the pieces she had sold them over the years. Clients rely on Claire’s knowledge, expertise, and refined eye, but come back for her warm spirit, honesty, and kindness.

I asked Karl Steyaert, one of the couple’s two children, what life was like with such cultured, academically engaged parents. “School friends would visit our house and say it was like entering a museum or a portal to Europe,” he tells me.



“The thing I most remember my parents doing is spending hour after hour poring over antiques, museum catalogs, and photos of artifacts, discussing the quality of the workmanship, the likely origins of the work, and simply revelling in their fascination with art and style. Whenever I came home to visit, it was almost guaranteed that one of the first things my parents would share with me would be their latest acquisitions in their art and antique collection.”

He also fondly recalls evenings “with Papa lecturing at the table about Louis XIV's court, or any number of other historical periods”, and a trip, aged 14, to Notre Dame where his father gave him, “a detailed two-hour explanation of all the sculptures on the facade of the cathedral, with far more depth than the guided tours”.

I ask Claire why she chose antiques over art history. “Well, someone had to make money,” she says with a cheeky grin. As we talk further, Claire explains that she is drawn to antiques because they make her feel closer to her native Europe. Throughout decades of traveling, she has collected hundreds of pieces, some to sell, and others to hold on to as mementos of time spent with family and friends. Her most precious, evocative pieces are those that fill her home.



The day we photographed Claire’s home, she welcomed the entire team into her dining room for coffee, croissants and conversation. It was warm and real, and everyone felt at ease. While we worked, Claire sat quietly reading or watching contentedly, while classical music played quietly on the radio by the window. We ended the day with champagne, cheese, and plenty of laughs.

Before we left, I asked Claire to reveal her most prized possession. She paused for a moment before gesturing to a 19th century Venetian hand-painted cabinet brimming with books. “The books,” she said. John, who adored books, gifted many of them to Claire, and vice versa. Some are modern, but most are hundreds of years old, all with subject matter or stories that the two of them held dear.

So many of us drawn to this publication are collectors in one way or another. We love the way that unique and special objects make our homes feel, the memories they trigger, their ability to transport us, and the soul they inject into our space.

As humans, we are innately drawn to togetherness, connection, friendship, and family. It’s lovely to think of the generations our antiques have passed through, and all the life moments they have been, and will be, a part of.


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Taylor Hall O'Brien is a Minnesota-based photographer and writer and a regular contributor to Cabana | Follow Taylor on Instagram: @taylorhallobrien

Creative direction and styling by Liz Gardner | Production by Kelly Dorow

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