For state-of-the-art costa del sol urban project
Interview with Eric Kuster. Palo Alto Marbella Interior Designer.
Palo Alto Marbella is much more than an urbanisation. It has, according to its developers, been created to become a destination in its own right – a master plan for a cutting-edge, contemporary, cosmopolitan community of discerning residents wanting to enjoy the finest lifestyle that southern Spain can offer. It is located in Ojén municipality but just two minutes from the La Cañada commercial centre in neighbouring Marbella. The first phase, “Los Almendros”, is currently under constrution and almost completely sold, and attention is now focused on commencing construction of four new apartment phases, Los Pinsapos, Las Jacarandas, Los Almendros II and Los Eucaliptos.
As to be expected for a project at the state-of-the-art high end of the Costa del Sol property market, meticulous attention has been paid to the overall aesthetic and, in that respect, Round Hill Capital, Villarroel Torrico architects and Horizon Homes asked renowned Dutch interior decorator and furniture designer Eric Kuster to contribute his creative vision. Eric spoke exclusively to Home & Lifestyle Magazine during an open day at
the Eric Kuster show flat.
You effectively balance “classic” and contemporary” in your designs but how would you define your overall design philosophy?
When we start with a new project we always start with the ingredients. We first look at the location, at the client and their situation, whether they are a single person, a family, older people, and then we look at the architecture,
because those are the ingredients we cannot change. That’s what we call the measuring, almost like a dress. Then we aim to keep everything in balance, as part of our “Metropolitan Luxury” style. It is a very international style, like the look and feel of a hotel: everything is sort of arranged, everything is taken care of, a pleasant smell, nice towels… it’s like the mini-luxe details that make people happy.
We gained a lot of inspiration for this style from hotels. For every interior it’s very important to have the right balance – otherwise it will go wrong. When I talk about balance I mean old with new, shiny with matte, nature with glamour.
It all has to be in the right balance and dimensions because if there’s too much glamour, or too much nature, or it’s too old or too new, it’s not exciting any more. We always tell our clients we want to create sexy interiors. Sexiness, for example, is satin on a linen sofa. If a shiny cushion was on a shiny sofa it would be too much, but now it’s the right balance. So that’s more or less how we approach it.
So you draw to a great extent on classic styles from the past?
Yes, I very much like traditional shapes. For instance, in our furniture collection we have traditional models such as a Chesterfield sofa but then we exaggerate the size; or we have classic wing chairs that used to be in Scottish castles, and we blow them up size-wise and then we use a very modern fabric on this traditional model. I like timeless designs, products that can stand the test of time. So for the Chesterfield sofa, which has been around for 300 years, we give it a new life, we re-invent it, we re-introduce it, and then we put modern textile on it, and you have a totally new piece.
Do you use sustainable materials?
We don’t actually have a green label. For me the green label is very commercial, but we are committed to sustainability. We give life-long guarantees for the wooden frames on our furniture, and I think that’s the best way to “green-produce” furniture that you don’t have to throw away after five or six years, even after 10 years. If the fabric is damaged or dirty you can reupholster it but the frame of the sofa will actually last for 20 years, or 30, or maybe even longer.
What trends can we expect to see over the next couple of years?
You usually see that, when there is a buoyant economy, interiors become very minimalistic; and during bad economic times they are glamorous. There is always this contrast. We had a crisis over the past eight or 10 years, and there was a lot of glamour when it started – Swarovski stones and chandeliers and opulence. Now the economy’s booming and, of course, there is still luxury, but it’s very toned down.
Why do you think that is?
Again, I think it’s balance. People want to have glamour at home at a time when maybe they are missing it in their business, and now business is booming – not everywhere, but in general business is good – people don’t want to show off so much. I don’t believe very strongly in trends because I think they are short term and we try to work more in the longer term. However, we do believe in personalisation, finding unique pieces: a nice antique painting from your grandfather, for example, and mixing it with a vintage chair and a new sofa. That’s an interior that is especially made for you and also tells your own story.
Is there such a concept as “Mediterranean style” in interior decoration?
Yes, the Mediterranean style varies – you have Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Moorish, which I like also,
northern African style. It’s more colourful, totally different from the northern European style where we come from. We are very grey. The German, Scandinavian, Dutch and English style is similar: we use a lot of non-colours, grey tones, because we have a very grey climate. Here you can use a lot more lighter colours and different materials because of the climate.
And a distinctive Dutch influence?
Dutch design has almost become like a brand name around the world because there are many famous interior designers, architects and product developers from Holland. So it helps for us to mention we’re from Holland, that we are Dutch, and we are proud of that. But we essentially promote our European, not Dutch, roots. We always mention we are European, because I also design my own furniture and textiles. Everything that you see here, or almost everything, is designed by our team and produced in the EU, so we’re proud of producing in Holland and Italy and Portugal. We like to remain a European brand. I like tradition. The reason I live in London now is because the English stay so loyal to their traditions. Also the Spanish, in a different way. I think people should be proud of their roots and their traditions. Sometimes if you are in London you see the same shops as in Istanbul, as everywhere, and I think it’s a pity.
In addition to “sexiness”… how do you add your signature touch of “joie de vivre” to an interior design project?
Again, I think it’s the balance because sometimes you want to make a little joke, a piece that is not completely perfect. Otherwise it can become boring if an interior is too perfect. Perfect is boring because then you can’t think about how to improve it. If you reach a perfect level you may as well stop tomorrow because if you cannot improve any more it’s over.
So you incorporate deliberate flaws?
Yes, we sometimes do it on purpose. Those pieces people will always remember.
You have been described as a “holistic lifestyle guru”. What does that mean?
I’m not sure where that came from, but I do truly believe in energies and positive vibes and negative vibes. I believe in feng shui, as an eastern way of approaching interior decoration and even architecture. If you have a mountain behind your home and a sea view in front for example, you feel protected as a person. It’s your subconsciousness, you feel relaxed. In houses you have to have certain rules: the position of the sofa, where you feel safe, always sleeping with your face towards the door…Feng shui is about energy, letting the energy circulate through your house.
I wasn’t aware of this until I bought my own showroom in Holland, 10 or 12 years ago, and one of my clients said this was the perfect house because we had a round staircase in the middle. They said that meant all the energy
in the house would never cease or become stuck – it would always flow – so the house would bring us luck. And it did actually. I’m not sure if it’s about the round staircase or me and my team’s work but at least we are quite successful. I think the staircase helps (laughs).
How did you become involved with the Palo Alto project in Marbella?
Arianne (Gerritse – Eric’s associate on various projects) and her husband are friends with the developer, Matías Villarroel, and his wife. I worked on a project with Hugo Torrico, the main architect on the Palo Alto project, many years ago, so when Arianne moved to Marbella I also became close to Matías and his wife, and the Palo
Alto project – Matías spoke about it very enthusiastically. I also met Hugo again, and they told me they needed
someone to do the interior design.
What were the main features that attracted you to Palo Alto?
If you get a little bit older, like me, you start to appreciate quality more – in people, in time. If you build something, you should think about it long enough to do it the right way immediately. Sometimes we have to break down new buildings because they’ve been developed totally wrong. The wrong layouts, the wrong materials, poor finishes… Sometimes, because of the pace at which people are building, they don’t really think about the layout of a building or how people really live. That is something that we think about every day, and my clients think about every day. How do I want to live in a house? Palo Alto has the right finishes, beautiful materials, hardware and bathrooms, but also a good layout so we can actually work with this project, We are very proud to work with Palo Alto – they have created the whole master plan. If I were to buy an apartment in Marbella, I would live in a place like Palo Alto because, again, it’s like a hotel. You have the concierge service, you
have the spa, the restaurant, a members’ club. It’s like a community, so you’re being taken care of. People should have the hassle taken out of buying a property in a foreign country, and just be able to enjoy the process.
The construction is already taken care of here at Palo Alto, and they can meet us and make the choices for their furniture and colours. We give every new buyer a free consultation, we have a lot of options with the layouts and I bring my own furniture – we are very flexible. Of course, people are also free to work with different interior designers, because you cannot work with someone who has a completely different style. Palo Alto will even arrange the kitchen appliances, and we can decorate the beds and arrange all the towels. It’s completely turnkey,
and that’s what we normally do with our other clients. It’s a concept that is relatively new for Spain. People can enter their new house and all they have to do is turn the key, and bring in their suitcase.
Do people also like to bring their own home touches?
Many people say, “Yeah, but I have my own sofa and I have this little cabinetry from my grandmother, and I want to integrate it”, and we always say yes. But then, when we do the first presentation, and it’s not that we don’t want to use it, they say, “Wow, that’s so beautiful, forget about this. I don’t need this old sofa any more.” That’s how it goes often.
The climate here must have a lot to do with people’s choices as well…
Yes, for instance, velvet is not a nice material to work with because it’s just too heavy. You have to use linens, and cottons and satins, more for the southern European climate, so that’s something we take into consideration. Every house should be practical to live in. We make beautiful interiors but I think the real comfort is when you can live in a house without being worried if there’s a drop on your carpet. It should also be practical. We have loose covers on sofas that you can take to the dry-cleaners. We use a lot of non-stainable and durable materials,
and dirt-protection finishes. The hardware, such as the floors and kitchens, also has to be practical because otherwise it can become irritating.
Is marble still in common use for floors in new Spanish homes?
I love marble. I cannot get used to ceramics. In Spain they use a lot of ceramics now. You have a lot of production here, some huge brands, and they’re beautiful products. But we are big fans of real marble, at least on the floor,
because real marble is from nature, and ceramic gives the house a totally different feeling. It’s something personal. If clients want ceramic, there are beautiful ceramic floors as well, but I’m happy that Palo Alto also decided to work with beautiful marble floors, stone floors that give the houses a lot of extra value I believe.
Do you have any other projects planned in southern Spain?
When I started my company 20 years ago, we did many units at Las Dunas in Estepona, a lot of villas in El Madroñal, and later at La Zagaleta. A lot of Dutch people were buying properties at the time, so we always had projects here. We know the area very well, so we know the right partner companies. If not, we bring them in from Holland. We use some local companies, some Dutch, depending on the project. But of course this is a very unique project, Palo Alto, and we are very proud that our name is connected with the project. It is something we haven’t done before and we will not do with anybody else, at least until this project ends. We work on an exclusive basis. I believe it’s the best development, and that’s why we wanted to work with Palo Alto.