Dutch businessman Emile Kuenen was very surprised when he visited the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. ‘In 2011, my brother got married in Ibiza, and that was the first time I had visited the island,’ he recalls. ‘My impression had always been that it was full of nightclubs, but what I experienced was completely different.’ A largely undisturbed island with an abundance of natural attractions, Ibiza is more than a paradise for party seekers. ‘Ninety-five percent of the island is fantastic nature,’ he says. ‘I fell in love with it.’ He decided that he wanted a place to call his own, to return to again and again, but he had to be patient in his search. ‘I was looking for an old Finca,’ he recalls. These vernacular farmhouses are unique to the island – a local architecture of white blocks that had evolved over millennia, growing as families grew and added to them, higgledy-piggledy, block by block. ‘They are unbelievably charming,’ he explains. However, because most are protected under heritage laws, they usually can’t be altered. Fincas are traditionally made with small doors and windows to keep their interiors cool in the Mediterranean heat. ‘But I like big rooms, I like a lot of light,’ says Emile.
His patience was rewarded when he found a beautiful piece of undisturbed inland forest complete with a plan for a house by one of the island’s most sought-after architects, Rolf Blakstad, famous for his contemporary take on traditional finca architecture. Rolf’s practice, Blakstad, started by his father, has evolved the vernacular knowledge that has developed with the island’s architecture over centuries for modern times. ‘We have not changed the designs much except in opening up the houses more and introducing the possibility of closing these large buildings in glass,’ he says. ‘In that sense, they’re totally suited to the Mediterranean climate.’ Using more glass also allows him to open up the rooms to their surroundings, converting them into more comfortable living spaces - the interior-exterior continuous living that is particularly the case with a summer house - while remaining true to the measurements and proportions of the traditional farmhouses. ‘Above the house there is an old farm, so we basically continued using the stone terraces and extended them down to the front of the house. We treated the immediate exterior spaces as part of the house,’ says Rolf. ‘Outside, there are several places where you can sit in the sun if you want to, or relax in the shade,’ says Emile’s partner, Eva Piers. One has been built around a 350-year-old olive tree. Inside, there are fireplaces and enough rooms to host a dozen guests at a time. ‘Even when all six rooms are occupied, it still doesn’t feel like a full house,’ says Emile. At the same time, when it’s just him and Eva, it has a certain intimacy. ‘It’s really cosy,’ says Eva. Rather than the ornate Moroccan-influenced styles of some Ibizan architecture, this property has a more neutral base.
The interior design features a mix of a contemporary pieces with rustic finishes. While on holiday in Cape Town, Emile was flipping through local décor magazines in various hotels and noticed the same name come up again and again whenever he saw a house he liked: La Grange Interiors. So he popped into their shop in Woodstock and, by chance, South African interior designer Sumari Krige, founder of La Grange Interiors, was there. Emile was delighted to discover that she took on projects in Europe and he asked her to start working on the interiors for his new Ibiza property. ‘There was a rawness that appealed to him,’ Sumari says of Emile’s initial response to what he’d seen in Cape Town, which seemed perfect for the setting in Ibiza. Sumari took her cue from the subtle restraint, repetition and variation of Rolf’s palette of architectural materials. ‘If you look at it, there’s only two or three materials – wood, stone and plastering – so we layered on that, and softened it with fabric.’ The “understated luxury” she aims for remains at all times in theservice of the unique island lifestyle, architecture and natural beauty that surrounds the house. ‘The furniture is only there to complement what the architect did,’ she adds.
Emile was looking for a practical, understated, lived-in kind of luxury. ‘Comfort was of the essence,’ says Sumari, but he didn’t want to have to fuss when there were parties, or big groups of guests or kids. Emile explains that he likes to be able to walk barefoot from the pool through the house. He doesn’t want to worry if someone breaks a glass, or if there’s dancing on the tables, or children jumping on the furniture. Sumari steered clear of pristine white. ‘It’s not a beach house, so I didn’t think white was suitable – opting instead for tones of beige, mauve and grey. She drew earthy rust colours and natural shades from the brickwork, woodwork and stone. ‘The floors are amazing,’ she says, referring to the surfaces that are paved with local slate and the creamy cement unique to the region. ‘There’s grit in the cement, almost like terrazzo.’ She adds that she layered graphic patterns onto the neutral base with cushions and carpets. In addition, Sumari favoured weaves and textures with inherent patterns. ‘In a big area, they look plain, but they’ve actually got great detail,’ she points out. Likewise, organic sculptural furnishings fashioned from natural tree trunks (imported from Indonesia) complement the newly-made furniture. Various antiques also layer in a sense of time. More material variation is brought in with accessories. ‘There’s metal, terracotta, stone, ceramic and woven baskets from Swaziland,’ she says. She goes into raptures about the natural light on the island, bright but not blinding, and the gorgeous “saturated colours” it brings out in the natural surroundings of the island. ‘Although we had a very clean, neutral palette, we did use accent colours,’ she says. She took inspiration from the sun-drenched shades of the island, adding accents of mustard, olive and aquamarine.
Also, for a bit of dramatic contrast, she introduced the occasional touch of luxury. In the master bedroom, there’s a single velvet chair. All the outdoor furniture is solid teak (also shipped from Indonesia). ‘It really ages beautifully,’ she says. Left untreated, it turns a silvery colour in time, which brings a gently worn sensibility to the house. The furniture looks like it has been there for years, as comfortable in the house as the house is in its landscape. ‘Everything is made to be lived with,’ says Emile. Eva adds that the ultimate luxury of visiting Ibiza for them is staying at home. ‘That’s really the nice thing about the house,’ she says. ‘You feel like you’re totally away from everything,’ Emile smiles. And after all, isn’t that the point of a summer house!
THE OWNER: Emile Kuenan and partner Eva Piers employed Rolf Blakstad for his expertise on creating a contemporary feel on traditional finca architecture, and South African interior designer and founder of La Grange Interiors, Sumari Krige, to create the relaxed ambience of their summer home in Ibiza.
THE HOME: The six-bedroom finca, set in a wooded area near St Miguel, features a rustic yet comfortably contemporary décor and multiple al fresco areas to relax and entertain.
Photography by Elsa Young / Bureaux
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