Seaside Retreat by Stef Claes

  • Seaside Retreat by Stef Claes

    An apartment overlooking Belgium’s North Sea receives a Mid-century inspired treatment from architect Stef Claes, who’s embraced the coastal terrain from all angles.

    Based in Switzerland, architect Stef Claes was approached to redesign an apartment for the summer months for a family in the Belgian beachside town of Knokke, close to The Netherlands border. Located in a 1970s banana-shaped building, the compact apartment is oriented towards the North Sea, with views of the salt marshes and mudflats on the other that make up a nature reserve.

    By pursuing natural light and the apartment’s scenic outlook Stef Claes has opened up the apartment to its surrounds, to encompass a summer house replete with Mid-century notes and artisanal qualities that reflect all of the rituals of retreating by the sea.

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    Looking out to the North Sea, the living space features two supple leather Spanish Chairs by Borge Mogensen for Fredericia and vintage PK61 coffee table by Poul Kjærholm for Fritz Hansen. Artwork by Yoon Heechang.

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    The material palette in the Seaside Retreat immediately sets the tone from entry, with its birch ceilings and shutters, terrazzo flooring and Spatula-painted walls. Stef says he loves the Mid-century look the birch plywood generates. “I picked this up after graduating during my time in Los Angeles, California where I assisted on restorations of various Mid-Century modern masterpieces by Lautner and Quincy Jones,” he says. The designer clad the walls entirely in birch between the shared and private spaces, while the birch shutters with horizontal louvres allow for complete transparency between the seaside outlook on one side and the dunes on the other – or privacy to shut off the bedrooms when desired. 

    Where birch isn’t dressing the walls, the tactile Spatula effect creates a “soft matt finish yet warmth across on balmy summer evenings but also during cosy winter nights,” Stef describes. He deliberately introduced terrazzo flooring throughout the home for easy flow from one space to the next and as a hard-wearing material to draw on the beachside location. 

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    The cosy dining nook features the Tulip dining table by Eero Saarinen, Shallow Pot by Vincent Van Duysen for When Objects Work, Medea chairs by Vittorio Nobile for Fratelli Tagliabue and Akari 26A lamp by Isamu Noguchi for Vitra.

    The kitchen is at the Seaside Retreat’s core and most obvious nod to the Californian Mid-Century modernist architecture. Stef says the central marble island is more than just a place for cooking, “conceived as an altar which also extends to a ‘vide-poche’”; a place to gather for drinks. Custom shelving creates further openness in the space and opportunity for display. 

    A corresponding show of craftsmanship, the dining nook extends the potential for guests, nodding to the ‘50s with the Tulip dining table by Eero Saarinen, 26A pendant by Isamu Noguchi and Medea Chairs by Vitterio Nobile for Fratelli Tagliabue that feel right at home with their curved plywood shell. Other notable pieces include the Spanish Chairs by Borge Mogensen for Fredericia, vintage PK61 coffee table by PK61 coffee table by Poul Kjærholm for Fritz Hansen and the Superleggera Chair by Gio Ponti for Cassina. Together with the textural linen, leather and sisal, organic shapes in the furniture soften the home’s clean edges and minimalistic disposition.

    For Stef, the see-through perspective of the home is a winning feature, where clever transparency through the bathrooms and bedrooms ensures the nature reserve is no longer obstructed. Now opened up to natural light from both sides, the home is an efficient use of space – and a warm and welcoming Belgian beachside retreat unto itself.

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