Imogen Kwok works in food but, for her, culinary experiences are the medium. Food for Imogen is as stone is for the sculptor—a creative medium through which she expresses her ideas and creates moving, unforgettable experiences. After living in New York for most of her adult life, Kwok moved across the Atlantic to London three years ago, where she now collaborates with fashion houses, design brands, hotels, and galleries.
She recently hopped over with friends for a retreat at Casa Atlantica, architect Manuel Aires Mateus’ monolithic design in Melides, Portugal, an hour and a half by car from Lisbon. “The house is beautiful,” she tells us. “It’s one of those places where you don’t really need that much. It’s simple and gorgeous in its minimalism.” We caught up with her to hear more about Casa Atlantica, why she prefers an off-season vacation, and how the stay unexpectedly aligned with her next creative move.
Describe Casa Atlantica a bit for us. What stood out to you?
Casa Atlantica is on a hill at the top of a valley, and the landscape architecture is done really well. When you drive up, you see cork trees, and when you arrive it feels like an oasis—it was suddenly all very lush. The house is at the very top, and below is the pool. The pool is a boomerang shape so you can see just a little bit of it from the top of the house.
It’s very open and airy. There are two floor-to-ceiling windows you can pull open to have a breeze going throughout the entire house. It was flexible in terms of the little areas to hang out. I like that about a house, where you’re not stuck in one place—you can wander around, and there are little bits to discover.
"I want that balance of being comfortable enough to flop down on the sofa, but also being surrounded by a place that is quite geometric. It’s my kind of place essentially."
It’s the slower season now on the Comporta Coast. How did that feel?
I love an off-season vacation. I usually book one after Frieze. There were lots of people there. It was hot, 22 degrees [71 degrees Fahrenheit]. The restaurants were busy, the market was busy. But the beach was empty. So it was a nice combination.
Where did this trip fall in what’s going on in your world?
I work with food and the culinary arts, but I collaborate with fashion houses and design studios and galleries. This is the first truly architectural trip that I’ve been on. It was wonderful because even though my practice is broad, my food is architectural. There’s an emphasis on putting things in molds, making sculptural shapes, having clean lines, and changing ingredients into something that has form and structure. So it was fun to then be part of this architectural home that really spoke to my style.
Was this a quick escape with a bunch of friends?
Yes. I have a couple of long-term projects going on right now, so it was a nice time to step away for a few days. In the past few years, I’ve been really focused on curating dinners. Now I’m trying to move into edible installations and work on a larger scale. So at the studio, we’re busy developing different ideas, and we’ve been doing a lot of research, tasting new things, seeing new things, and just getting a new world in our eyes. The friends who I brought are all in the art world. They had just finished all the art fair rounds, and I think it was the perfect moment, since everyone was a little bit burnt out.
Your work seems like a great fit with the property.
While we were exploring the property, I was like, “I would live here—this is the kind of place I feel really comfortable.” It is quite minimal and austere. It’s simple, it has these harsh lines, but it’s not sterile. That’s something I look for in my own work, and also the places that I am drawn to, having that balance of being comfortable enough to flop down on the sofa, but also being surrounded by a place that is quite geometric. It’s my kind of place essentially. It had that variety of texture.
What were your impressions of Melides?
It was refreshingly not built up. We went to a few restaurants, and they were either very established, or they were more casual just for dropping by. It was a good mix. And then you could go to the local market and buy local produce and fish—I really liked that balance between the two.
What kind of routine did you settle into?
This group has known each other since we were 18. That’s my favorite kind of vacation, where you don’t have to make any effort. Everyone wakes up at whatever time they wake up. One person makes coffee, and everyone just hangs around and does their own thing. We’ll make breakfast and just start the day off really easy.
One day we did a beach walk and ate on the ocean, a three-hour-long lunch that was really wonderful. Then we went back to the house, and everyone took a nap and we cooked dinner. One night we went out for dinner and then one morning we went to the market and did a big shop. It was all pretty relaxed.
From a food perspective, what did you discover?
The market was really sweet. I bought anything that looked fresh and good, which is the way you should do a market. Fresh herbs. We bought fish. That’s the way I usually like to go to markets—just find whatever looks good, and then just make something really easy with some nice olive oil and salt and lemons.
Any other discoveries?
I actually have a friend who bought a house in the area and he sent us to this amazing beach, which had this wild crumbly sand that’s very striking. It was really different from the other beaches we went to. That beach was kind of a wild discovery. We decided to go on this walk, we didn’t know what we were going to discover. It was really hazy and atmospheric and just went on for ages. And then there was the pool. Everyone went swimming, even me.
It sounds like you didn’t have an itinerary, it was more about hanging out, reconnecting, taking it easy.
Definitely. I asked around for some recommendations, but Boutique provided a list of places and that’s all we really needed.
STAY: Casa Atlantica
All photographs: courtesy of Imogen Kwok