Growing up with architecture: Sabrina Blakstad

Ibiza childhoods are entirely unique, even in this modern day of superstar DJs, jet-set celebs and mass tourism. But an Ibiza childhood lived in the age before all-inclusive hotel chains and cheap flights is beyond unique – a childhood like that falls into the realm of a fairy tale. Sabrina Blakstad is the third of the five Blakstad children and although her life’s journey has taken her far and wide, she also happily absorbed the teachings of her architect father Rolph, the founder of Blakstad Design Consultants.

As written about in previous articles, Rolph and Mary Blakstad hopped off the boat in Ibiza on not much more than a whim. After installing themselves in their beloved Dalt Vila – which is a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site today – their growing number of children and the arrival of tourists pushed them towards what was then the small fishing village of Santa Eulalia. It was there that Sabrina was born and raised, before moving to a rundown farmhouse in San Carlos until the family were able to purchase a ruin in the Morna Valley.

The Santa Eulalia of Sabrina’s infancy was one of pure trust and simplicity, of homemade everything and modest joys. Where there are now supermarkets and high-rise apartments were once fields of wildflowers and crops and a coastline uncluttered by promenades or ice cream stands. Sabrina splits her childhood into three eras – she was born the daughter of a painter, grew up the daughter of a filmmaker and came of age as the daughter of an architect.

The family lived in a small house on the ring road around the town, which was then a dirt track. Rolph had rented the upper room of a neighbour’s farmhouse as a studio and Sabrina’s earliest memories are of the smell of turpentine and the purple blossoms of the enormous jacaranda tree out the window. “Mum would say: ‘Go call papa for lunch.’ And we would trot up the dirt road to get him,” she recalls. “I remember him at the easel with all the pigments around him. The colours had amazing names like crimson and indigo blue and chrome yellow. It fascinated me; the names were so romantic.”

No doubt they were an unusual sight in the village – an attractive, young Canadian couple trailing an ever-increasing number of small children. Rolph and Mary were not just adventurous spirits however; they were also generous with their time and incurably curious about the world around them. It was not long before they all became a permanent and welcomed fixture around town. Looking back, Sabrina can now see how little they had but has no recollection of ever wanting for anything. “I had no idea we had no money,” she says. “Our house was full of dad’s paintings, books and candlelight. Everything was simple but beautiful. If we needed something, our dad would make it. He made the beds, the cupboards, spice racks, tables. For me, it was just an integral part of our life.”

While the kids were unaware of the grown-up problem of money, Rolph understood that something had to change. Bills were paid by jobs as a documentary filmmaker with the Canadian Broadcasting Agency. “I remember he would change into shirts and ties and would set off to wherever they were sending him,” she recalls. “We wouldn’t hear from him until he came back with tales of Africa or the Galapagos Islands.” It was a good job but required Rolph to be gone for months on end, leaving Mary alone with five children. The burden was not only on Mary. Rolph too, wanted to be at home with his family and again something had to give.

A small inheritance permitted Rolph and Mary to purchase the aforementioned decrepit farmhouse in the Morna valley. It was in this house that Sabrina really came to know her father in the third phase of his working life – a designer, renovator and architectural scholar. “There was no road so we had a donkey that would take us up to the house,” recalls Sabrina as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “It was in that house that I started to learn more about the architecture of Ibiza because it was falling down and us kids had to cart all the different layers out.” It marked a significant turning point and Sabrina remembers the appearance of another room alongside the art studio – this one furnished with a drafting table, inks, rulers and the tools of a designer.

Surrounded by farmland and farmer’s children, the kids would disappear for hours, lost in the beauty of the landscape with their friends. “I remember waking up to that house in the spring and the whole countryside being filled with wildflowers and butterflies,” she recalls. “It was indescribable. We used to walk every day to our neighbour’s house to get fresh milk from their cow. We were outdoors all the time. We had so much freedom.”

The Blakstad children would be recruited to go on adventurous trips into the countryside to measure ruins. “Every single one of us went on those trips. My memory of it was always a winter afternoon when you were bored, and dad would say: ‘Who wants to come?’ What followed would be a long drive up a remote mountain where a ruin sat neglected until the Blakstads arrived with tape measures in hand. “It was really fun for a while,” she says. “But then he would sit down to draw for hours and the sun would be setting, and I would always forget to bring a book.”

Sabrina’s studies took her to the University of Toronto, where she earned a degree in modern languages and literature. It was here her plans to return to Ibiza were scuppered by falling in love with her soon-to-be husband. Their life together has been as adventurous as her childhood but needing a portable job, Sabrina worked as an English language teacher for business before landing a dream job in administration at a small architectural school in Rotterdam. Two children, a boy and a girl, soon joined them and the family relocated to London where again, Sabrina landed another dream job at the highly respected Architectural Association School of Architecture.

She continues to work here today, while also managing the publishing element of the Blakstad business. “I remember going to the interview and telling them I had no architectural training but that I love it and I understand it. Because all of these things – design, space, proportion, colour – are just part of me.” Without realising, Sabrina has combined the passions of both of her parents (her mother was a teacher, and the founder of Ibiza’s international school, Morna) – education and architecture. It could not be more fitting.

Out of all the Blakstad children, Sabrina has become the historian; the keeper of stories and memories which she is currently weaving into a memoir. She returns to the island as much as possible, never losing her connection to the magical place of her childhood. “My father was very much part of our lives and he gave me the gift of seeing,” she says. “My outlook on life, how I see design whether it’s a painting or an everyday object comes from him. There is a romance to the way he looked at life. Those things stay with you. I carry it inside me always.”

© Copyright – Blakstad Ibiza | Photos: Conrad White

© Copyright – Blakstad Ibiza | Photos: Conrad White