Stunning Belgian Retreat and Blue-Chip Art Gallery



At the northernmost point of Belgium lies 40 miles of coastline sandwiched between the Hauts-de-France region in France and the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Directly above the Dutch border, within a leisure cycling distance, is Knokke (pronounced as Canuck, not hit Where gnochhi), a picturesque seaside town where wealthy Brussels families have spent their summers since the 1800s. For those lacking in imagination, Knokke could easily be understood as the Flemish equivalent of the Hamptons. This is where the architect Olivier Dwek designed a seaside retreat for Fabienne and Paul Thiers, a couple of art collectors.

The René Drouet sofa, the Pierre Jeanneret chair and the Charlotte Perriand stools in one of the apartment’s bright living rooms are vintage. On the Vincenzo De Cotiis coffee table, a Congolese statuette and two ceramic objects by Takuro Kuwata.

Philippe Garcia

The apartment is located in a condominium designed by Brussels architect Marc Corbiau from the 1980s. “It wasn’t a very interesting decade in the history of architecture,” says Dwek, whose book In the light of modernity (Rizzoli) was released earlier this year. Stans of postmodernism will likely dispute this statement, but Dwek takes a few steps back to note that Corbiau’s work here is remarkable for the decade.

Dwek is admittedly more sensitive to the western design of the 1950s, a fact immediately evident upon entering the Thiers residence. All of the mid-century modern European food groups are represented Рsome Jean Roy̬re here, a little Charlotte Perriand there, topped off with a healthy serving from Pierre Jeanneret.

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In the kitchen, two vintage Pierre Jeanneret high stools placed under a vase and a vintage pitcher by Roger Capron; the candlestick is by Richard Texier. On the wall, two prints by Brice Marden.

Philippe Garcia.

Typically with seasonal pied-à-terre like this, owners are loath to pack them full of valuable works of art. Why not keep them around the main residence to take advantage of them? The Thiers are not that typical. “Our mission was essentially a conservation mission,” explains Dwek. “The guidelines were very clear: art first.

For an architect, there was very little or no actual structural intervention required. Instead, Dwek was commissioned to create interiors that looked more like a gallery of white cubes than a private house, walls devoid of any color or pattern.

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In another lounge area, the Jean Royère sofa, chair and coffee table as well as the Charlotte Perriand chair and stool are vintage. The floor lamp is by Richard Texier.

Philippe Garcia

The Thiers collection is larger than what is on display here, and the selections were deliberate. Dwek worked with them to choose the right top notch pieces from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Carl Andre and Tracey Emin to “create a dialogue” with vintage and contemporary furniture and objects he had acquired. “I wanted to study art history before I thought about becoming an architect,” says Dwek. “For art lovers, having an architect who understands the work is essential.

olive tree dwek knokke
Towards the balcony door, the neon light sculpture is by Tracey Emin, the floor sculpture is by Carl Andre, the stool is by Rick Owens.

Philippe Garcia

In Belgium, when summer recedes, slate gray nimbus clouds float in position, blocking the sun for most of the year. The dark can be a deterrent for most Belgians, but thanks to Dwek, floor-to-ceiling windows and a well-positioned neon sculpture, the Thiers can handle a few weekend visits until the sun returns.

olive tree dwek knokke
On shelves flanked by a vintage Sergio Rodrigues stool and a Richard Texier floor lamp, works by Tracey Emin, Francis Alÿs, Raymond Pettibon, Robert Longon, Michaël Borremans, Willem Cole, Wolfgang Laib and Tom Molloy.

Philippe Garcia

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