The Soulful Modernity of Olivier Dwek

This home on the Ionian Island of Zante in Greece was designed by Olivier Dwek. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi.
This home on the Ionian Island of Zante in Greece was designed by Olivier Dwek. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi.

Brussels-based architect Olivier Dwek is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his firm with a new title published by Rizzoli. Olivier Dwek: In the Light of Modernity showcases the architect’s point of view, which has been hailed as a radical vision of contemporary elegance and European luxury. Released in May of 2021, the book is filled with buildings and interiors that exude a timeless aura. It’s impressive to see how works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, George Nakashima and Charlotte Perriand, each with an iconic style all their own, fit naturally into the interiors Dwek has designed.

Olivier Dwek – In the Light of Modernity

The interiors of the Zante Island home are filled with iconic mid-century modern furnishings like the Conoid dining table by George Nakashima shown here. On the table are ceramics by Tony Marsh and a piece by Yoshiro Kimura. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi. Photo courtesy Pierre Marie Giraud, Brussels.
The interiors of the Zante Island home are filled with iconic mid-century modern furnishings like the Conoid dining table by George Nakashima shown here. On the table are ceramics by Tony Marsh and a piece by Yoshiro Kimura. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi. Photo courtesy Pierre Marie Giraud, Brussels.

The images in the book have a breathlessness to them that draw their whispery feel from the buildings and interiors that sprang from the imagination of Olivier Dwek. There are Greek vacation homes, a Parisian townhouse, and projects throughout his native Belgium with varied perspectives, though always with a certain serene elegance to them. Case in point is the lead image, which is a soulful shot of a home on the Ionian Island of Zante. Dwek was seduced by the spectacular views from the site that rests between the mountains and the sea. He references Yves Klein’s fascination with the color blue—in this case, the colors of the sea and the sky.

The clean-lined modern architecture in white makes this a striking backdrop in which mid-century modern greats are featured, such as the Table Bench by Finn Juhl, Spin artwork by Ritsue Mishima, and S.C.A.L. daybed by Jean Prouvé. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi. Photo courtesy © SABAM Belgium, 2021.
The clean-lined modern architecture in white makes this a striking backdrop in which mid-century modern greats are featured, such as the Table Bench by Finn Juhl, Spin artwork by Ritsue Mishima, and S.C.A.L. daybed by Jean Prouvé. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi. Photo courtesy © SABAM Belgium, 2021.

“The idea,” says Dwek, “is not to dominate nature. On the contrary, the house should almost disappear. One could almost speak of ‘non-architecture’ where the interiors are concerned because of the way they put forward the view and dissolve the barriers between the exterior and the covered spaces.” To create a seamless relationship between the inside and the outside in this home, he continued the same gray stone floors as are in the interior to the outdoor spaces. He chose furnishings by Nakashima, Perriand, Jean Prouvé, and Ado Chale for the home. “This furniture has a real soul,” he explains, “a history and a character, and it contrasts in a beautiful way with the pristine architecture of the house, and, finally, gives it personality.”

The Silver House nestled into the landscape of Zante. Image credit: Serge Anton.
The Silver House nestled into the landscape of Zante. Image credit: Serge Anton.

Preceding the above home that Olivier Dwek designed on Zante, which is the largest of the Ionian Islands, was the Silver House, which was built at a high point of land that was relatively untouched. It faces Cephalonia, which dates back to antiquity, as do the country’s other ancient islands. The setting and its views create an interesting paradox for the modern architecture that nestles into the hillside surrounded by green and capped by Greece’s famed blue sky. The architect described his design as a 21st-century reinterpretation of the vernacular architecture of the Greek islands. The gleaming white exterior, like other white buildings for which the island-nation is lauded, draws in the blues of the sky and the Ionian Sea.

Standing inside the Silver House looking toward Cephalonia. Image credit: Serge Anton.
Standing inside the Silver House looking toward Cephalonia. Image credit: Serge Anton.

This is illustrated by the above image of the home. Natural stone floors and polished concrete terraces echo the pale hues in the architecture while the infinity pool that wraps around the house on three sides mimic the blues that swirl around Cephalonia in the distance. It is in this context that Dwek quotes Klein as saying, “Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions.” Leaving the panoramic views uninterrupted was top of mind for Dwek, who designed the home with sliding glass walls that open entirely. The white stone floors were sourced locally, which he continued from the interior spaces to the exterior expanses. 

This image is a view of Cephalonia through two windows that surround the staircase from the bathroom of the master suite. Image credit: Serge Anton.
This image is a view of Cephalonia through two windows that surround the staircase from the bathroom of the master suite. Image credit: Serge Anton.

Dwek’s composition is made up of glass boxes and patios, and is an artful intermingling of voids and solids. The rectangular structure has four bedrooms, and the dining area is in the central patio between the kitchen and living spaces, the above photograph illustrating the artistry of the architectural envelope. The book, written by Philip Jodidio, is spot-on when it says, “The sophisticated geometric composition seen in elevations might bring to mind Cubist or De Stijl designs, and is willfully contrasted with the rough, stony environment.” 

The cover of Olivier Dwek: In the Light of Modernity.

In the introduction to the book Jodidio writes, “Unlike some architects who tend to put forward every project they complete, Olivier Dwek has developed a culture of discretion, based partially on the desires of his clients, who are often major art and design collectors. But his discretion is also a personal preference, a desire surely to concentrate all his efforts and time on his projects rather than on self-promotion.” Aligning Dwek with starchitects Thierry Despont, Peter Marino, Jacques Grange, and John Pawson, Jodidio remarks that Dwek has a broad-ranging cosmopolitan knowledge of art, furniture design, and architecture. 

Olivier Dwek. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi.
Olivier Dwek. Image credit: Jarmo Pohjaniemi.

This certainly resonates from the pages of the book, which has black-and-white and color photography interspersed on its matte pages. It’s a large book with a cloth cover, which makes it just as excellent a choice for an arrangement on a shelf or table as it is for an architect’s or interior designer’s library. There are seven other projects in the book that we’ve not featured on Design Diary, all worth experiencing, particularly for those who are fans of iconic mid-century modern furniture. The book by Olivier Dwek is available through bookshop.org and a number of online retailers, including the Rizzoli bookstore in New York.

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