A refuge far away from the polluted city air was the dream for Antwerp-based architect Mark Mertens, founder of AM Designs. And he discovered it, in the small seaside village of Retranchement.
With fewer than a thousand inhabitants, this sleepy spot in the Netherlands is just an hour and a half drive away, but may as well be another world. It’s the ideal place for Mark and his family (plus English springer spaniel Alfred) to recharge their batteries – not just at weekends, but often for impromptu trips that help him to maintain an enviable base level of calm.
Built in the 1950s, the four-bedroom cottage is situated on a quiet street, one of a row of six homes in the local architectural style. Externally, Mark respected its original dimensions, maintaining the high pitched roof and black frames around the windows and doors, but simplifying the overall look with a seamless coat of Mortex – a mineral-based plaster that creates an appearance similar to waxed concrete.
The biggest changes have been inside, where, Mark admits, ‘we took out everything we could, completely changing the floorplan on both storeys’. He also built a cabin in the back garden, which functions as an extra bedroom when he’s not in there painting.
The finished property is testament to Mark’s design preferences, which tend towards the ascetic, but it was also influenced by a recent trip to Japan (the spiritual home of modern minimalism).
‘One of my sons works there and, after many visits, I was feeling very inspired. Then this project came across my desk,’ he explains. ‘I poured a lot of ideas I’d distilled into this house and the garden, too.’
Describing the stripped-back approach that his studio is known for, Mark talks of minimising the number of materials used to create something timeless. Here, that translated into a palette of Douglas-fir wood (used to create the ceiling beams, cabinets and much of the furniture), Ceppo di Gré stone (featured on the kitchen splashback and in the bathroom) and, for the walls and floors, more Mortex.
‘In all of our projects, we are very much focused on the details,’ says Mark, who believes that paying attention to the smaller things can have big results. He is a stickler for a synchronised approach. As he explains: ‘If a door is one height, you will find those same dimensions repeated everywhere. The edge of the kitchen cabinetry in this home, for instance, aligns perfectly with the ceiling beams. It’s exacting, and you may not clock the precision straight away but,’ says Mark, ‘you notice it without seeing it.’
It gives you what he calls the ‘feel-good vibe’, which, he adds, ‘is only achieved by hours and hours of work’. That may sound tiring, but the relaxation afforded by knowing that things are done just so is invaluable. There’s an undeniable serenity to this perfectionist’s paradise. amdesigns.com