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 apartment is located in a condominium designed by Brussels architect Marc Corbiau from the 1980s. âIt wasn’t a very interesting decade in the history of architecture,â 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 – some Jean RoyÃ¨re here, a little Charlotte Perriand there, topped off with a healthy serving from Pierre Jeanneret.
Typically with seasonal pied-Ã -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. âOur mission was essentially a conservation mission,â explains Dwek. âThe 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.
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 âcreate a dialogueâ with vintage and contemporary furniture and objects he had acquired. âI wanted to study art history before I thought about becoming an architect,â says Dwek. âFor art lovers, having an architect who understands the work is essential.
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.
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