It is only really by boat that one develops a sense of Ibiza as it was before the 1930s, when the first intrepid bohemians fell in love with the jewel of the Balearics. Depending on where you throw the anchor, your view of the island’s sublime coast could be sheer cliffs rising from turquoise waters, or a lazy lick of white sand and rolling dunes. Cruise round to the next bay or cove and you are just as likely to be greeted by a circus of flesh and music as the island’s revellers while away the daylight hours that act as a buffer to the next night out. As diverse as the coastline is, there is one uniformity perched high upon the island’s hillsides and lit brilliant white by the Mediterranean sun. It is of course the traditional Ibizan finca, the Lego-block stone farmhouse, the design of which has remained unchanged for centuries.
There is a strange and sober beauty to these whitewashed cubes set against the island’s arid landscape. Originally, these austere-looking structures were built out of necessity by local farmers using local materials: dry stone, sand, clay and juniper beams for the flat roof. The typically small windows resemble the arrowslit apertures of Medieval castles, a design feature which is no coincidence — Ibiza’s geographic isolation made it easy pickings for pirates and plunderers over the centuries. Indeed, one thinks of Ibiza today as a melting pot of international travellers and hedonists, but the truth is it has always been thus, home at one stage or another to Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors and Catalans. The finca’s design perfectly represented a humble rural life but, in the 21st century, ‘humble’ and ‘rural’ aren’t words you immediately associate with the playground of the rich and reckless.
Enter Rolf Blakstad, now at the helm of Blakstad Design Consultants which his father Rolph founded in 1967 and which Rolf runs with his brother Nial. Architecture is so much in the Blakstad blood that Rolf’s vocation was probably set long before he knew it himself. His grandfather Peter was a master architect-builder and carver. In 1902, he left his home town in western Norway, on the heels of the great Gold Rush in Anchorage, Alaska, where he constructed the first buildings. It was in Vancouver in 1929 that Rolf’s father (Rolph) was born and from the age of five Peter would take his son along to building sites.
Rolf and his team beautifully fuse the archaic history of the finca
with a contemporary aesthetic, reflecting both the old rural Ibiza
and the modern cosmopolitan island most know it as
By the age of seven, Rolph could make detailed architectural drawings and by nine he knew Vignola’s Five Orders of Architecture. In October 1956, Rolph Blakstad and his wife Mary sailed into the harbour of Ibiza and immediately fell in love with the island, its rustic patina and crystalline cubical houses. Rolph devoted himself to the study of the island’s architecture, its fincas, passing his knowledge down to his sons. “Growing up on Ibiza in the 1970s, my father’s passionate study of the island’s traditional farm houses was an integral part of our family life,” explains Rolf. “We were constantly surrounded by drawings and photos of old fincas and designs of new ones, or partaking in weekend outings to discover and document hidden homes and lifestyles in remote valleys which had remained essentially unchanged for more than two millennia. Nial and I have continued and expanded the practice my father founded in the late 1960s which incorporates the building traditions passed down from generation to generation since the colonisation of the island by the Phoenicians in the sixth century BC.” Today, Rolf and his team beautifully fuse the archaic history of the finca with a contemporary aesthetic, reflecting both the old rural Ibiza and the modern cosmopolitan island as most know it today. The building materials have changed and the habitation dimensions greatly expanded, but the very essence of the traditional finca is undimmed.
“A living tradition adapts itself to changing circumstances,” says Rolf, “but is still based on the local building experience of the island over thousands of years. The basic concepts of design and building methods date back to the late bronze age in the near east, and these remained virtually unchanged until the mid-20th century. Our projects strive to retain the vast knowledge and beauty created over such a long period and blend it with contemporary lifestyles, technical advances and architectural finishes.” The austerity of the finca is perhaps why it lends itself well to contemporary minimalism. The scarcity of decorative forms and features makes for a clean and stripped-back modern aesthetic that takes easily to the well travelled tenets of Japanese minimalism and Scandinavian design. Building a finca from scratch, or renovating an existing one, Blakstad’s signature focuses on a clean geometry complemented by eclectic interior styling. Where once fincas were designed to keep the sun at bay, Blakstad often opens up the thick stone walls, using portals of light that offer an expansive window to the natural world outside. “First and foremost our designs focus on how a home will be lived in, how we will treat interior spaces, and how they relate to exterior spaces, as both must be treated as a whole,” says Rolf. “There must be harmony between the two without losing the essence of the architecture, or compromising the beauty of the land. But just as important to us is how building integrates the design into the island’s landscape, creating a view to be enjoyed by all.” They are indeed a joy to behold, but a privilege to own. With tight planning restrictions, a shortage of available plots and an insatiable global demand, real estate in Ibiza is transacted at buoyant prices. A seven-bedroom Blakstad finca set in Mediterranean gardens on the central slopes of San Lorenzo is currently on the market with Engel & Völkers for £3,973,000 (USD 4,820,000), while if you look hard enough, you can find a handful of Blakstad fincas available to rent over the summer season (expect peak season rates to begin from £9,500 (USD 11,600) per week). Like the first hippies to set foot on the islands in the 1960s, you might find this charming and diverse island quickly becomes your permanent residence.