Conversation with Andrea Dabene of The Nooq
Alex Strohl and Andrea Dabene are a French couple who are known for their extraordinary outdoor and landscape photographs. Assignments for the likes of Canon and Apple have taken them all over the world, and shown them the heart-opening power of nature, such as when Alex went out for a walk in Iceland and saw the neon green Northern Lights swirling over the fjord, or when Andrea found herself staring at a mirrored lake in Atacama Desert, Chile.
When they moved to the U.S., they decided to visit Montana after hearing Alex’s father's stories of studying there in the 1960s. They were so comfortable there that they just kind of... stayed. One day they sketched what their dream home might look like on a piece of paper, and years later, it became The Nooq (a combination of the word 'nook', and 'quiet.')
The Nooq is like any one of their photographs come to life: majestic and quiet at the same time. Minimalist and Scandinavian-inspired, it is a study in white and light, with the longest FireOrb fireplace we've ever seen and a view of nature that commands attention yet calms your every sense.
We caught up with Andrea to find out more.
AS PHOTOGRAPHERS, WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR MOST REWARDING PROJECTS OR EXPERIENCES?
Andrea Dabene: "I think the coolest job we've had was when Alex had a two-year contract with Land Rover and I went with him - we drove all the way from Montana to Alaska. Every day we would wake up and couldn't believe we were there. Crossing The Yukon, seeing bears on the side of the road, swimming in hot springs way up north... it was such a great experience. And it's super cool how much creativity comes your way when you're on the road."
DID YOU TWO MEET IN FRANCE?
AD: "We're both French but we actually met in university in Quebec. I was studying PR and Alex was studying graphic design. He was starting to photograph, and then he gave me a camera and taught me how to shoot on film. We've pretty much been together ever since - we moved to Vancouver and Los Angeles. Los Angeles made us miss having more of a change of seasons, and that's how we ended up in Montana."
WHY MONTANA EXACTLY?
AD: "Alex's dad used to study in Montana in the Sixties. He used to come to Whitefish to go skiing every weekend. Alex grew up hearing stories about Montana his whole life, and he had never been, so he decided to book a random cabin that he found on Craigslist and stay for a winter."
IT MUST HAVE MADE QUITE AN IMPRESSION ON YOU.
AD: "Yeah, I remember the first weekend we were there it was Halloween and we completely fell in love with the town. It felt like being in a movie - we were at a restaurant and everybody was out on the street, wearing costumes and having fun.
"The town was very, very cute. And you have Glacier National Park, about 30 minutes away. It's incredible how beautiful it is over there and you can ski. To us Europeans, the Montana landscape is so big, with lots of farmland and a Western vibe that doesn't exist in Europe at all. We love the American West.
"So we started renting houses and staying longer periods of time. We still travel a lot for work, but we feel good whenever we're here. We just fell in love and stayed."
WITH THE NOOQ, YOU DECIDED TO BUY LAND AND BUILD NEW. HOW COME, AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO DOING SO?
AD: "We had thought about flipping but we found this cheap piece of land in 2016. It took three years to get a bank loan to do the construction since we're both French and didn't have much American credit history - and we're both freelancers! The advantage for me was that you start from nothing. You have this empty canvas in front of you and for creative people like Alex and me, that was super exciting."
WHAT WAS YOUR VISION FOR THE NOOQ?
AD: "We had taken a trip to Norway in 2015 and were inspired by Vega Island Cottage, designed by Erik Kolman. It's so simple and elegant and it's in the middle of nowhere, just surrounded by rocks and by the ocean. When we saw that house we told ourselves, 'one day we'll have a house that looks like that'. We wanted simple shapes; we're both very minimal in everything we do and don't like design that's too busy. We sketched the house to be three parts that are connected and all the same shape. It was also important for it to be photogenic, of course. Big windows were crucial - I wanted the first thing that people see whenever they come in to be outside."
WHAT WAS THE CONSTRUCTION PROCESS LIKE AND HOW DID YOU JUGGLE IT WITH YOUR BUSY FREELANCE SCHEDULES?
AD: "Alex and I decided I should give up my other work for a while and be the project manager of The Nooq. Which was great because I discovered something new about myself - I really enjoyed building houses. I loved being there every day and making big decisions. And as a happy result, lots of people have contacted us to find out who did the design, and are now interested in talking with us. So, it brought something new into our lives, which is exciting."
TELL US ABOUT THOSE DECISIONS.
AD: "We have very long cold winters here, and we do spend a lot of time inside. So it was important to me to create a cozy feeling so that we wouldn't feel guilty for not going out during the day. I know some people think a cozy cabin is dark and intimate, but for us, the more open and the more light that gets in, the better.
"I'm very into neutrals, so I surprised myself when I picked up colorful tiles. We worked with an amazing brand, Fire Clay. We used a yellow orangey tile, which was inspired by the fall colors of the trees here. And one of them, an icy blue, made us think of all the glaciers in the area, and finally, there's a very dark blue in the main bathroom that reminds us of all the local lakes. I tried to find inspiration from outside and bring it into the home."
HOW DID YOU FIND THAT FIREPLACE?
AD: "We always knew we wanted a fireplace at that spot, but we didn't want to cut from the view. Alex started doing some research and found a Fire Orb. It solved the problem because it's so minimal and leaves plenty of room for the windows. And it's very unique. We don't see those – at least around here – at all.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY GUESTS FROM BOUTIQUEHOMES, AND WHAT DID THEY THINK?
AD: "Yes! We had one couple last year come, and they were so happy and wanted to rent again.
We get a lot of families or several couples traveling together. It's mostly people who want a break from the city: New York, a lot of California, Washington, Ohio, Texas - people looking for a little escape in the woods."
WHAT SHOULD VISITORS PLAN TO DO IN WHITEFISH?
AD: "If you come in the winter, skiing is right outside the door. Glacier National Park is a must. Whitefish is a charming town with lots of lovely restaurants, walks and hikes. There's a lot of swimming - so many lakes. There's a farmer's market every week in the summer. We also know this private chef who can cook at the house. We did that a few times with some guests that booked the house on the Christmas or Thanksgiving holidays. They just let me know in advance and we make it work."
WE NOTICED YOU HAVE A TALENT FOR SETTING YOUR VIDEOS TO GREAT MUSIC. IS THERE A SONG THAT BEST REPRESENTS THE NOOQ?
AD: "It's so funny that you ask because we actually have our own Spotify playlist. Alex made it - it has lots of dreamy electronic songs that fit the vibe of the house: simple, cozy, a place to slow down."
To book a stay at The Nooq, click here.
Images by Alex Strohl and Andrea Dabene.