The Perfect Low-key Retreat in a Spanish Fishing Village

A few summers ago, a man called the house of

David Chipperfield

and his wife, Evelyn Stern, in Corrubedo, a Galician village on Spain’s northwest coast. He dropped sacks of clean bedding linens and noticed a large group of people around the breakfast table. He began to commiserate with Evelyn about the headaches. “the season,” what with his laundry business and her pensión. Pensión? She politely replied, “Oh, that’s just us and our friends.”

The Chipperfields host so many guests, the mix-up was understandable. Over the years, as visiting friends have multiplied, they’ve bought and renovated three houses here within a minute’s walk from their own, for a total of 27 beds. The hospitality hasn’t stopped there. Late in 2019, before the family’s pandemic retreat from Britain to Spain, Chipperfield decided the townspeople of Corrubedo needed a new hangout. The nearest city, Santiago de Compostela, is an hour’s drive through deciduous woodlands and rock-strewn pastures, past fish-canning factories and deep, watery gorges—a long way to go for a good meal.

David Chipperfield, the architect, at his living-room table.

Chipperfield was also desperate to get his pencil out again. Chipperfield, now 68, manages a flourishing global architecture practice with approximately 250 employees spread across offices in London Berlin Milan Shanghai, Milan, London and Berlin. Known for elegantly sober buildings that contribute to their surroundings, he’s designed cultural, civic, commercial and domestic projects from Anchorage and Mexico City to Zurich. Each building responds to local conditions without straying too far from the Bauhaus-bred modernism that, like Chipperfield’s uniform of black T-shirt and white jeans, has become part of his identity.

“We did all the wrong things,” he says cheerfully about the family’s blithe, in retrospect naive, rebuild of a long-shuttered bar and restaurant, as he winds a slice of jamón de Lugo onto his fork at his dining table. “On the one hand, the bar’s been a diversion. I just don’t know how we would have done it if we hadn’t been on lockdown. On the other hand, I don’t know how we did it.”

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From left: Evelyn Stern, Chipperfield’s wife, and their daughter, Celeste, in Bar do Porto; its view onto the street.

Eight months after coming up with the idea, the Chipperfields opened Bar do Porto’s bright-green awning. This narrow hole-in the wall features floors paved in limestone block and a Hiroshi-Sugimoto seascape on the wall. There is also a terrace with tables and café tables that looks out onto the street.

The couple’s 28-year-old daughter, Celeste, is in charge of staffing and sourcing local ingredients. Stern is the one who orders the meats, cheeses, and bakes breakfast pastries. She can be seen walking into the bar in a flowing cotton dress, carrying her purse, and holding a tea towel on top of a sheet pan. Stern was born in Argentina, Colombia, and Germany and went on to work in Florence as a professor of comparative Literature and an editor at FMR (an Italian culture magazine).

“David thought it would be a really good thing to have a place where everyone could come and go,”She says, leaning back at the dining table. “It was funny. It was cute. But now I think we’ve come to the conclusion that cooking for 15 and 20 at a time is easy. We don’t have to deal with HR.”

The Chipperfields discovered Corrubedo in the early ’90s through their friend Manuel Gallego Jorreto, a Spanish architect. They tried a variety of local rentals when they were looking for a remote family vacation spot. The couple has three children and Sir David has a son from a previous marriage. Chipperfield noticed a gap between a row of townhouses on the beachside road as he walked through the village. He bought the narrow lot because of its incredible view.

An inset sleeping porch, located on the third floor, glows like a lantern at night above the living room and kitchen.

His first thought, however, was to do something. “pure,”He recalls. However, the houses on either side of the river had strange rooflines and jutting angles which begged for reconciliation. Stylistically, they nodded toward a loose and much-maligned building category that the Spanish have dubbed feísmo gallego, or “the ugly architecture of Galicia.”

Chipperfield’s design, in its height and geometry, functions a bit like a visual buffer for its street-side neighbors but otherwise sails clear of them. Instead of facing the road as they do, the four-story townhouse looks out onto the sea from multiple vantage points: an access ramp at ground level, a panoramic view in the kitchen and living area on the second floor, and an open-air terrace from the bedrooms above. Chipperfield can look out at Evelyn, who is swimming among the rocks in a red bikini, while he is working at his kitchen table.

The living room features Chipperfield’s built-in furniture.

Chipperfield called his Corrubedo residence a “strange place” in a Guardian interview. “complete statement of intent. That’s how I see architecture, and life.”It feels intimate and attentive to your daily needs. It echoes another waterfront house with panoramic windows, adaptable furniture and a sundeck on its roof—Villa Le Lac, designed by Le Corbusier for his parents on Lake Geneva in 1924. “Affectionate” is how Chipperfield describes the spartan villa (he might be the first), which he considers one of the Swiss architect’s finest works.

From left: The skylit stairwell; a child’s bedroom in architect David Chipperfield’s seaside home in Spain.

The house’s interior shows the hallmarks his austere style. Three narrow, monastic bunk rooms on the ground floor were designed for the children as they were young. They have the same coffee-colored tiles floors as the rest and open onto the beach ramp. A skylight illuminates a tower-like set of steps. Each landing has a counter to hold a row of scallop shells, or a majolica box. The furniture is built-in, with the doors having recessed pulls that slide to close. Slabs of 1¼-inch Carrara marble make an uneven grid of open shelving in the compact kitchen (a renovation, Chipperfield says, devised when “I realized having cupboards was a pain”).

The architect’s moka pots for Alessi, among other essentials.

A narrow shelf is lined with one of Chipperfield’s side projects, moka espresso pots in graduated sizes that the architect designed for Italian housewares company Alessi. “The whole idea was to sell them in supermarkets,”He says, glancing at them. “I had to keep redesigning them to bring down the price.”

After almost 20 years of hard work, the Corrubedo home is starting to show its age. The leather banquettes made of slim leather have been bleached to the same color as the oak table. The walls are now covered with small sculptures and driftwood. Stern admits that the past year has been particularly difficult. “I feel it was slightly compromised.”

“I’ve had to control certain members of the family,”Chipperfield, Chipperfield, is imagining a vase of Hydrangeas on the kitchen countertop.

“He doesn’t like them inside, and I can’t resist them,”She said. “They grow wild here.”

“I think they’re too good for the house.”

Marble shelving in the well stocked kitchen

Chipperfield’s own contribution has been a collection of old granite stones carved out around the circumference by the local fishermen, who would use them as weights. Between Zoom calls last year, he’d go down to the beach and hunt for them.

“People in the village would ask Evelyn, ‘What’s your husband doing? What’s he looking for? We could help him,’ ”Chipperfield smiles as he recounts. “Because people here only look for food.”

Although house commissions are part of the firm’s steady diet of projects, Chipperfield did not become an architect to make sprawling vacation villas. His domestic instincts—which are more about elevating daily routines than making grand statements—are rooted as much in his rural English upbringing and early work in Japan as in his years of architecture school.

The eldest child of an upholsterer-turned-farmer and his wife, Chipperfield was born in London and grew up in the hillocky fields of Devon, on England’s southwestern coast. He excelled in running the 800 and 400 meters and drawing. In 1977, a teacher recommended Chipperfield go to art school. After stints in the offices

Richard Rogers,

Norman Foster and Douglas Stephen were his partners. He started his solo practice in 1985.

The Corbusian roof deck of Chipperfield’s home overlooking the bay in Corrubedo.

London projects were almost nonexistent at the moment, but Chipperfield was able to create the interior of Japanese apartments thanks to his minimalist design in Bayswater. fashion designer Issey Miyake’s boutique on Sloane Street. One perfect rack of clothes was displayed in the shop. Such distilled emptiness caught people’s attention, and Chipperfield spent the next few years crafting Miyake locations across Japan. Since then, retail design has been a constant at the firm (for Valentino and Brioni, Dolce & Gabbana, and others).

Nick Knight, a British photographer, wanted to build a studio in daylight at his home outside London in the late 1980s. He made a short list of the young modernists around town; along with John Pawson and Claudio Silvestrin, Chipperfield’s name was on it. “To be honest, I didn’t get any further than David,”Knight: “I thought, Well, actually, he’s offering so many more things in the realization of the studio than I ever imagined. And I love working with people who take my mind much further than I possibly could.”

Both men’s careers were on the rise. Knight was shooting in the British fashionChipperfield was working on magazine i-D and designing ad campaigns to Yohji Yamamoto. While Chipperfield was in Japan, he received a crash course in materiality as well as the poetics and space. (The renowned architect Tadao Ando offered to give his English friend a lesson in poured-in-place concrete after stopping by one of Chipperfield’s completed buildings.) “If you’re working with David on one hand and Yohji Yamamoto on the other, there’s a lot of coherence between aesthetics,” says Knight. “It was a very nourishing time.”

From left: A bedroom with books on an Alvar Aalto Bench; cockleshells and urchins on a marble sink.

Chipperfield conjured Knight’s new home and daylight studio out of a postwar suburban house that had belonged to his parents. The result—flat-roofed, L-shaped, projecting into a garden of white birches and creamy white itself—was bathed in light from massive windows and a glass ceiling that enclosed the top-floor studio. Knight used the term generous to describe it. “You don’t feel your life is being compromised to fit into the architecture,”He said. The two men went on to collaborate on an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum (Plant Power, in 1993) and then on a second house for the Knight family, in Cornwall. If Spain’s coastal planning authority ever comes around, there will be another house in Corrubedo, too. Knight said that the location has been identified.

“Architects are always obsessed with the object. And here we’re saying we’re interested in process.”

— David Chipperfield

In the years that followed, Chipperfield’s practice took off as he pursued projects in Asia, the U.S. and the European continent. Major buildings in Britain, however, had largely eluded him—until 2011, when the Turner Contemporary and Hepworth Wakefield museums, both his designs, opened in the same year.

“We’re not an icon maker,”Chipperfield speaks highly of his company to explain why there isn’t an 80-story moka pot with Chipperfield’s name piercing London’s skyline. In any case, he doesn’t think icons are what the city needs right now. He deplores London’s loosely regulated, investment-led approach to development, which has overlooked investment in public projects and blossomed into its own version of feísmo británico.

The work that’s shaped Chipperfield’s practice most are his commissions in Europe, which as a rule have been more socially minded and responsive to stringent zoning and financial oversights. He’s built social housing in Madrid, law courts in Salerno and Barcelona, studio space for artists on the Düsseldorf docklands. “We’re quite respected for the way that we can deal with historic centers—buildings, urban issues, whatever,”He said. “Now there is a shift, especially in Germany, to the reuse of buildings like department stores.”

A view from the sleeping porch of David Chipperfield’s home in the Spanish seaside village of Corrubedo.

The firm has adaptive reuse projects underway on three continents, including its renovation of the 16th-century Procuratie Vecchie buildings on Venice’s Piazza San Marco (opening this spring) and the conversion of the former American Embassy in London into the five-star Chancery Rosewood hotel, with interiors by designer Joseph Dirand (due in 2024). These jobs prevent the need for new construction, Chipperfield states, which is one of the biggest problems in the fight against global warming.

At one point while we’re talking, his phone pings. It’s about an upcoming trip to Berlin for a ceremony to mark the reopening of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, which Chipperfield’s firm has spent the past nine years reconstructing. The 1968 building, the apogee of Mies’s lightning-in-a-bottle style, had closed in 2015 after cracked windows and other design issues compromised its function as one of Berlin’s primary museums of modern art. The project, and the firm’s 2009 remake of the city’s bombed-out Neues Museum, have been two of the most publicly debated architectural works of the 21st century. Two other Chipperfield buildings are now underway in New York: a cultural center for the German government in the former home of the Goethe-Institut New York, on Fifth Avenue opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a pleated-glass tower for Rolex at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, not far from the architect’s 2021 mixed-use building, The Bryant.

From left: A building in the Galician fishing village of Corrubedo, Spain; the beach in Corrubedo on Spain’s Atlantic coast.

In Galicia, Chipperfield has stumbled into an opportunity he couldn’t have anticipated. Its rural towns, scattered around eucalyptus forests and steep tidal basins where much of the world’s canned shellfish is harvested, support a small, vanishing population facing the challenges of modernization. A regional official sought input about urban redevelopment several years ago. What began as a bit of Saturday-afternoon troubleshooting evolved into the Fundación RIA, an independent research agency the architect launched in 2017 to explore local quality-of-life issues. Its Santiago de Compostela office employs five people and deals with traffic patterns, forestry practices and port parking.

Chipperfield says that the lessons learned from this fifth office have begun to seep into four of them. “Architects are always obsessed with the object. And here we’re saying we’re interested in process,”Chipperfield: “And how decisions get made. And becoming part of that process. I think architects are quite good at bringing links together. We are actually quite good horizontal, lateral thinkers, and the problem is our whole society is now vertical. But you can make things happen. Slowly, slowly; that’s how things go,”He sounds briefly depressed, he says.

But aren’t architects on familiar terms with delayed gratification? Is 68 really that far away?

“I suppose not,”Chipperfield harrumphs. “In Gehry years.”

Bar do Porto: He orders an espresso from the table next to the front door. “I always come in and say, ‘I just want to come and have lunch today,’ but it doesn’t work like that.”He spots two fishermen that he is familiar with. They had been in the bar the night before and had all got up to sing.

“These two are real characters,”Chipperfield: “I’m really happy when they come in. Let me just say hello.”

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