The Dutch port town of IJmuiden is just half an hour's drive from Amsterdam. The scenery around the old post office, which Fritz Kok converted into Studio Samaritain together with his partner a few years ago, includes the large freighters and cruise ships as well as the circling seagulls in the sky. Inside, the spacious, minimalist, elegant loft surprises with numerous personal furnishings and custom-made solutions. We spoke to Fritz Kok about the genesis of Studio Samaritain, how the cinema, his travels around the world and a Parisian department store inspired him in the design and why he is so happy to make this personal space available to other people - for example, Freifrau for the shoot of the Mia and Marie collections.
Freifrau: Studio Samaritain used to be a post office and now it’s your home. What can you tell us about the journey, the transformation? Were there any interim owners or tenants? Or did you actually still find the old parcel carts and sales counters in the building?
Fritz Kok: My partner and I were both living in the center of Amsterdam and were toying with the idea to leave the city behind and look for a large space, preferably in proximity to Amsterdam. We both happen to share a love of harbors. So, our first trip to look around led us to a fishing / steel-factory town called “IJmuiden”(half an hour’s drive from Amsterdam). The local real estate agent told us that he had a ‘crazy’ listing (read: unusual house) in his portfolio, which was the town’s former main post office. Although it looked quite different compared to its present state, when he showed it to us, we both fell head over heels in love with it. At the time, an artist lived there and though she was still dubious about selling the property, the funny part was that she shared with us a love of dogs. Bringing my Jack Russel, “Piet”, on our visit to see her home proved to be a good thing, as he helped convincing her to sell the place to us. Apart from the pillars, post office counters, phonebooths and a toilet, the post office space had already been refurbished to create more livable quarters.
Studio Samaritain was your first real interior project. Did you know right from the start what you wanted it to look like? Did you have a guiding principle that you followed? And how did the name Studio Samaritain come about?
I had taken some snaps of the loft during our first visit, and having worked with Photoshop for a long time I had the fortune of being able to play with different styles on the computer before starting the reconstruction work. The columns in the building almost suggested a classic approach. However, the space itself seemed to offer room enough to mix a contemporary style with more classic retro themes.
After seeing the space empty during construction, stripped from its former clutter, walls and colors, it looked like a department store after closing time. Hence the name Samaritain, referring to the Paris department store Samaritaine. The trend of abandoned buildings started to become popular and fascinated me as well. That’s why, regardless of the style signature we would implement, we decided to keep the space fairly empty and unfurnished, so it would keep that ‘abandoned` feel to it. This relatively minimalist layout proved to make it easy to transform the loft into a (set-like) “studio”.
We found further sources of inspiration during a weekend visit to a cruise ship: the “SS Rotterdam” from the Holland-Amerika lines, and also on a trip to Miami, where my partner and I (separately) had spent a lot of time during the nineties. For example: the Lobby bar at the Raleigh Hotel can be felt in our reception coffee bar space at the entrance to the loft.
The main goal was to let these different themes play together in one open space while trying to hold on to a contemporary loft look.
How did you make your decisions regarding interior design and furnishing?
Before continuing on the interior and the furnishing, I had the help of a friend who is an interior designer. We mapped out the space together in a utility and comfort-oriented way. The placement of the kitchen and bedroom suite, for instance, were decided in this way. The decisions for furniture were made later by choosing items that would respond to the rooms’ own personality, ranging from a vintage Minotti recliner by Gigi Radice to Ikea, or even objects we found in the streets.
What's important to you about the furniture you live with? Do you place more importance on the form or on the function?
It depends on the piece. Sometimes I’ll go for the form and the look, sometimes for function and comfort, or for a piece’s ability to blend in or create a playful relationship with other existing furniture (like the bar for instance). Ideally, I’ll find furniture that stands out in both form and function. I even found a chair which, upside-down and with the framework undone, looks like a sculpture by Eero Saarinnen, hence: not using it for its function, but playing with the form.
What is your most personal piece of furniture? Would you like to tell us the story behind it?
The most personal pieces would be two floor lamps by “Belga Chrome”: 80ies kitsch mirrored pillars that, placed together, look like the former Twin Towers in New York, reminding us of, and paying homage to, the time we lived at the foot of those towers.
Art is not neglected in Studio Samaritain either. What criteria do you use to select the art pieces?
With the wish to keep the space relatively bare and unfurnished, it was not easy to allow art pieces to enter the stage. But, where I was able to include art, it was selected according to its strength to tell its own story while at the same time responding to the story of the ‘empty’ loft itself.
For example, the photograph by Paul Kooiker that shows a transparent mannequin’s leg in a high heeled shoe and was shot with an iPhone, although it is very reminiscent of an old 30ies Bauhaus studio print.
The fireplace in Studio Samaritain is impressive, and you designed the 3-dimensional wall decoration yourself. Tell us a bit about what the cruise theme means to you and why it's reflected there.
The fireplace itself is a secondhand find, and being Art Deco in terms of form, it led to enhancing the style of the 1940ies. With our abandoned hotel theme in mind, and this Art Deco base, I started looking at different old Holland Amerika posters for inspiration and created the stone-like sculpture. The Holland Amerika cruise ships, which actually pass by at the back of the house, made it an almost logical choice.
Cinema is an important source of inspiration for you as an artist. What is your connection to it and what role did it play in the creation of Studio Samaritain?
With my own photography I often found myself shooting on location in old hotels (like the “Pera Palace” in Istanbul and the “Royal Hawaiian” in Honolulu, both of which are time-travel gems.) Besides, at a young age I lived and worked in Los Angeles (Hollywood) and found myself surrounded by people with lots of knowledge of classic cinema. I even landed a job for Paramount pictures. Living in the home of interior designer Paul Fortune (ref. Condé Nast & book: “Notes on Décor, Etc.“) and meeting true Hollywood legends at their homes, including celebrating Xmas at one of Greta Garbo’s former homes, proved to be, subconsciously, an immensely inspiring interior education.
You were born in Amsterdam, lived and worked in New York, Paris and Los Angeles. What was the reason for returning? What do you appreciate most about Amsterdam or Ijmuiden and the Netherlands in general?
My career brought me eventually to New York, and I was stationed in the middle of Tribeca – directly opposite the World Trade Center – also in 2001. Although Manhattan displayed immense resilience after the attacks, I personally could not get to grips with the suddenness of a changed reality, and so eventually, I returned to my home town of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam seemed almost the opposite: with its friendly small houses and slower pace of life. Ijmuiden was even more ‘off the grid’ and removed from the NY reality I had become used to, but its authenticity and slow-moving ships provide a very beautiful and even cinematic canvas to pick up my creative life again. Having lived in so many different big cities, I guess, after 40 years of a fast-paced environment, it was time to settle into a slower (but not less creative) one.
What inspires you most as a person? What could you never do without?
Other artists, music, good movies, and the love of a dog.
You offer your home as a location for shootings and filming. Was that clear to you from the beginning, or is it the place itself that made you open it up to others?
It was not intended to function as a studio/location, but with the completion of the home’s interior and the fact that we kept it spacious, we decided to give others the opportunity to work and create here too. The latest addition to the house, a bathroom constructed in the form of an old New York hotel bathroom in mint-colored Art deco style, will add to the abandoned hotel feeling. Hopefully, it will invite more people to experience and enjoy a trip through time here. An interior trip they will be able to capture in a photograph, but, like the many incredibly inspirational trips I have made myself, one they will also remember.
Thank you very much for having us!