Get Lost in Newfoundland: Exploring the Artists’ Retreats of Fogo Island

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

As every creative type knows, it can be pretty difficult to focus and get things done in the big city. With endless distractions — from the perpetual buzz of a smartphone to the tantalizing smell from the nearest Starbucks drifting through the window — we have all had days when we struggle to stick to our task, yearning for a slice of solitude in which we can think clearly and tap our innermost creativity.

If you are willing to travel a great distance for such seclusion, salvation may have arrived in the most remote reaches of Eastern Canada. Back in 2010, businesswoman and philanthropist Zita Cobb commissioned Saunders Architecture to design a series of artists’ studios across a Fogo Island, a tiny, windswept speck of land off the coast of Newfoundland.

For Cobb, a Fogo Island native who returned to find her old home in desperate need of economic stimulus, Todd Saunders was the natural choice for such a project. Saunders is now based in Bergen, Norway, but was born in Newfoundland and has an intimate knowledge of this far-flung stretch of coastline. The firm set about designing a number of bespoke studios and an inn for visitors, and the structures now stand on the rugged, rocky outcrops overlooking this truly extraordinary natural landscape.

Designed in response to the transition of the seasons, the Long Studio comprises three distinct spaces: a fully exposed terrace, a partially covered deck, and a shelter at the one end that is entirely enclosed to protect the artist from the extreme elements of the island. The jagged form of the studio is wrapped in obsidian timber contrasting with a white interior cladding that reflects the sunlight. Perched on stilts, the Long Studio provides a spectacular outlook for the artist to reflect on as they search for creation inspiration.

Bearing the same color palette of bold black and pure white, the Tower Studio is dramatically situated on a rocky stretch of Shoal Bay to the far north of the island. Its twisting silhouette lends the studio the look of a contemporary sculpture, provoking visitors’ curiosity as they spot the striking form upon the horizon. A triangular aperture allows nature to flood inside, providing artists with ideal working conditions and offering up a glimpse of the stunning landscape surrounding this remote outpost.

A snow-white sibling to those darkly painted structures, the trapezium-shaped Squish Studio is designed as a contemporary contrast to the vernacular architecture of Tilting, a picturesque fishing village nearby. Clad in spruce planks, the pale silhouette of the studio appears as a beacon on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. By night, light emanates from the glazing at either end, forming a modern lighthouse at the very edge of civilization.

Finally, the Bridge Studio offers a retreat on a reduced scale in keeping with the vernacular typology that it is inspired by: the traditional Newfoundland Salt Box house. This tiny timber-clad refuge is perched on the edge of an inland pond, its simple form punctuated with a single picture window that frames the view of this eerily beautiful, desolate stretch of coastline. The studio is almost entirely separated from the landscape below, connected by a solitary bridge that ties the artist back to their surroundings.

While these studios offer a chance to only a few lucky individuals who take up residency there for a few months each year, there is now a place for more visitors to experience this wonderfully wild environment. Saunders Architecture has now completed the Fogo Island Inn, a 29-room hotel for guests between the communities of Joe Batt’s Arm and Barr’d Islands on the north shore.

Inspired by the traditional vernacular of Newfoundland’s outport architecture, the upper volume of the inn stretches out on spindly stilts, addressing the ocean like an old fishing pier. The rustic timber exterior of the inn belies its luxurious interior: the hotel includes high-spec rooms, saunas, and hot tubs, all with panoramic views of the Atlantic. Public spaces have also been incorporated: an art gallery, library, and cinema all offer insights into the local culture of this unique location.

Check out more remote projects from Saunders Architecture on their firm profile right here.

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