We love the work of studioarte, a design ensemble that’s based between Portugal and the Netherlands, and headed up by creative director Arnold Aarssen. Over the years, we’ve included quite a few of their stylish designs in our collection, and the latest addition is their lovely Lagoa Townhouse. After working with Arnold for some time now, we decided to sit down for a chat — to find out more about his work and what inspires him.
Arnold describes himself as more or less self-taught in design and architecture. Following rebellious teen years and a varied career starting in hospitality concept management, he set up design company Soap Ateliers in Rotterdam. After seven years at its helm, he sold up and, in 1981, moved part-time to Portugal, a country he had fallen in love with over countless visits.
It was there — in Silves, on the Algarve — that studioarte was born. It’s now a fully licensed architecture office, with three partners, a “booming” business in concept creation, architectural/interior design and project management, and Arnold tells us he’s enjoying the steady flow of success.
What drew you to the Algarve?
Arnold Aarssen: “The Algarve has this bright light and so much positivity in the air. The moment you arrive, you have this amazing smell… It comes from the mountains that are named caldeirão. They are covered in herbal plants, such as the estevas, an oily plant which gives off a perfume. But it’s the soil as well.
“The Algarve itself is laid-back, and the influence of the ocean is fantastic — pure air, clean ocean, great fish… And the people welcome you as a friend. Here in the Algarve, you still feel and notice the Moorish lifestyle; we have these roots here. It is in their genes. And let’s not forget the very healthy simple kitchen — barbecued fish, fish stews, fresh grilled sardinhas.”
We have a number of studioarte’s properties in our collection. Do you have a particular interest in vacation homes?
AA: “The Algarve is a small world. We only have 500,000 people living here, and 7 million visitors per year. We are at the end of Europe, at the ocean! Basically, we don’t have many large projects. Most architects’ offices deal with private housing projects. At studioarte, we develop so many holiday homes for private owners, in short because we are different. We feel different, and we have a different scope. We know how to feel at home, to play with nature, not fighting against it but enjoying it to the full. We love innovative construction.”
At studioarte, you talk about translating emotions into a new form of architecture. Can you explain that?
AA: “We strive to have functional design, and we love comfort. A bathroom is part of a daily ritual, and we think that in a holiday home this can be the ultimate experience, the hammam spa effect in your private home. We also think that less can be so much more. We want to tickle the experience, create a vibrant positive life in these houses. We love the wow factor, and to give the ultimate comfort experience.
“We come from a Moorish culture, and we blend these influences in our designs. We follow basic Portuguese architecture, but you’ll always recognize our handscript in all our designs — well thought through and tailor made, not following the fashion for minimalismo crystal monster houses that we now see being built more and more.”
The Lagoa Townhouse (pictured above) is a sophisticated and playful modern space behind a traditional exterior. Can you tell us what inspired it?
AA: “It started after we purchased the property and met the former owners. It was pure magic — they told us about their lives, the traditions of their family, and how they had lived in this house. What you see now is a blend of a Bohemian lifestyle. We mixed the old pieces with our own to create a story, a story of a passion for art — and life in general. The unpredictable element is the urban jungle garden with its water feature. Just after entering the front door, you enter a different world. The art pieces were purchased on our travels, but they have to fit into the lifestyle concept of the house. We prefer local artists such as Otelo Fabião, as well the photo works of Tiago Grosso and art by the Iraqi painter Saad Ali.”
You’re also the owner of this particular home. Is sharing your space with guests a very personal experience?
AA: “Yes, for us, each guest is an adventure on its own. We want to deliver a spotless house, and we believe the experience should start immediately after we meet. The conversations are always a delight, and we love meeting people from all over the world. With guests from BoutiqueHomes, we often have memorable adventures and they become our ambassadors for life. They share our works, and they sometimes become our clients.”
What do you look for when you travel?
AA: “When we travel ourselves, we pick out special places, mostly from BoutiqueHomes — the ones which look different in appeal and feel. Each design can be different, a different adventure. Then we book and… never a failure. It is always a date in itself without being a blind date. And it’s always like, ‘Gosh, have I been here before?'”