Decoration

THIS MINIMALIST BELGIAN HOME IS EQUAL PARTS RETREAT AND BLUE-CHIP ART GALLERY

elledecor– At the most northerly point of Belgium is 40 miles of coastline sandwiched between the Hauts-de-France region of France and the Zeeland province of the Netherlands. Directly over the Dutch border, within leisure cycling distance, is Knokke (pronounced like Canuck, not knock or gnochhi), a tony beachfront resort town where wealthy Bruxellois families have spent summers since the 1800s. For those lacking in imagination, Knokke could easily be understood as the Flemish equivalent to the Hamptons. It’s there that architect Olivier Dwek designed a beachside retreat for Fabienne and Paul Thiers, a couple of art collectors.

The apartment is located in a condo designed by Brussels architect Marc Corbiau dating to the 1980s. “It was not a very interesting decade in the history of architecture,” says Dwek, whose book In the Light of Modernity (Rizzoli) was published earlier this year. Postmodernism stans will likely take issue with that statement, but Dwek walks his general dismissal back a few paces to note that Corbiau’s work here is a standout for the decade.

Dwek is admittedly more partial to 1950s Occidental design, a fact that’s immediately obvious when stepping inside the Thiers residence. All the European midcentury modern food groups are represented—some Jean Royère here, a little Charlotte Perriand there, finished with a healthy serving of Pierre Jeanneret.

Typically with seasonal pieds-à-terre like this one, homeowners are loath to pack them full of precious artworks. Why not keep them around the primary residence to enjoy? The Thiers are not so typical. “Our mission was essentially a curatorial one,” Dwek says. “The guidelines were very clear: art first.”

For an architect, there was very little if any actual structural intervention required. Instead, Dwek was tasked with creating interiors more closely resembling a white cube gallery than a private home, walls bereft of any color or pattern.

The Thiers collection is more vast than what’s on display here, and the selections were deliberate. Dwek worked with them to choose the right blue-chip pieces by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Carl Andre, and Tracey Emin to “create a dialogue” with the vintage and contemporary furniture and objets he’d acquired. “I wanted to study art history before I thought about becoming an architect,” Dwek says. “For art lovers, it is essential to have an architect who understands the work.”

In Belgium, when the summer is in retreat, slate-gray nimbus clouds float into position, blocking out the sun for most of the year. The darkness might be a deterrent to most Belgians, but thanks to Dwek, some floor-to-ceiling windows, and one well-positioned neon-light sculpture, the Thiers can handle some weekend visits until the sun returns.

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