Check Out This Dreamy Beachside Escape in Portugal
Described as Portugal’s best secret beach spot, Comporta is a small paradise suspended between sea and rice fields. It is here where Jean-Philippe Demeyer, Frank Ver Elst, and Jean-Paul Dewever—partners in life and work—craft an artful getaway.
Belgian designer Jean-Philippe Demeyer describes his work as “fearless and joyful.” It’s a good two-word thumbnail, to which you might want to add “exuberant,” “playful,” and even “anarchic” for the fuller picture. He claims not to have a style, but this seems disingenuous coming from someone whose creations are so distinctive. Take Gigi, a fashionable bar and restaurant in Ghent, Belgium. Its interior is bursting with colour, fat stripes, punchy patterns, and a lemon-scattered carpet that defies gravity to climb the walls and walk across the ceiling.
This is the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum from the cerebral elegance of his revered countryman Axel Vervoordt. “I have great admiration for the work of other decorators,” Demeyer says, “but I can only be myself. My ideas come from gut feelings—first about locus genii, then architectural structure. From there I can start layering and storytelling.”
Combining life and work
Like all design professionals, Demeyer flexes his style to suit his clients and is inevitably most himself when it comes to decorating his own homes. Until recently, he combined life and work in a moated medieval hunting lodge, with stables and an orangery where he had offices, a textiles workshop, and a home shared with his partners, Frank Ver Elst and Jean-Paul Dewever, that was also a showcase for his design ideas.
They recently finished restoring and decorating a house in Bruges, but plan to move again when they find another property “with enough space to experiment,” says Demeyer. For him, home is as much creative playground as retreat. “We are all partners in the business. Frank has a very good eye and reins me in when I go too far. Jean-Paul is finance and organization,” he says. The three of them met on a beach 20 years ago and have been together ever since.
A slice of paradise
While their newest home was a work in progress, they wrapped up the renovation of their second, near Comporta in Portugal, last year. “We drove to a wedding in Spain, and while we were there I read a sentence in a travel magazine, ‘Comporta—Europe’s best-kept secret.’ We made a detour on our way home and fell in love with the place—more than 35 miles of empty beach, so much space, clean Atlantic Ocean, pine trees and paddy fields.” They bought a plot near the beach but were thwarted by planning regulations, then found a small farmhouse half an hour’s drive inland, surrounded by nearly 45 acres of olive trees and cork oaks.
Traditionally constructed from rammed earth and with a roof of dusky orange pantiles, the single-story whitewashed building sits modestly in its undulating landscape of bleached grasses and dark trees. While it had been modernized in the 1950s—and there were plastic windows—it retained most of its original charm. Dark metal frames have replaced those plastic frames, and poured-concrete flooring now flows between rooms and out across the new terraces used for living and dining all year round—Demeyer and his partners spend three weeks there in the summer, and also visit at Easter and any other time they can snatch a week away.
Simple sophistication – inside and out
At the front of the house the larger terrace features a fountain designed by Demeyer. At the back a simple rectangle of swimming pool reaches into the landscape. Its only embellishment is a line drawing. This was painted by English artist and designer Luke Edward Hall of six vaguely classical male figures who pose and stride across the bottom.
Inside, protected from the heat by thick earth walls, the small rooms are bright as jewel boxes under sloping lids of ceiling painted a rich burgundy. “I wanted the house to have strong connections with its location,” says Demeyer. “Blue, yellow, and this burgundy with white are traditional colours for the exterior of houses in the Alentejo.” For the living room, he commissioned lengths of heavy woolen blanket, woven here for generations to wrap shepherds against the cold night air, specifying stripes of many colours, to cover the floor and line the walls behind the fitted sofa in the living room.
In the three bedrooms, each filled by a double bed, customized wardrobes have doors panelled with reed grass used locally to make bags. “I found an old lady in her 80s who agreed to make all 12 panels.” Tiles—Spanish, not Portuguese—are arranged in horizontal bands in the kitchen, but all the hand-painted pottery plates and bowls are from nearby.
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