I’m a big lover of #InteriorInspo, so it’s no surprise that Studio KO has been on my radar for a while. And when we started working on the Marrakech retreat we were so excited that the newly opened Yves Saint Laurent Museum, designed by Studio KO, was happy to welcome our guests.
The design and architect duo, Karl and Olivier, are partners in both work and life. They have offices in Paris, London, and Marrakech, where they’ve worked on a mix of residential and public properties, including the Chiltern Fire House, and Richard Christiansen’s Flamingo Estate in Los Angeles. Their spaces are both incredibly opulent and refined at the same time—a duality that seems only possible to master with an impeccable attention to details, material, and scale. Meet Karl and Olivier…
You’re partners in business and in life. How would you describe your relationship in the context of your work?
We try to listen to each other, understand each other and even after being together over 20 years, we’re still learning about each other.
Sometimes our viewpoints might diverge, but in the end, we always manage to get behind one another or find a third possibility that works for both of us. For us, that harmonization makes sense, but for the people we work with, it can sometimes be difficult to follow.We are aware of that and we try to make it fluid, so we can come to our collaborators from a common approach. Our lifestyle feeds our creativity and vice versa, the two are intertwined, there is no real boundary between the two, and that’s the way we like it.
What inspired you both to become designers and architects?
The answer is different for each of us. Between the two of us, Olivier likes to draw, and his interest in design and architecture likely comes from that. For me, it’s more intellectual and visual. The first time I was really struck by architecture was when I was a child and Marc Held built a house in my village in Corsica. But what we both have in common is our boundless taste for observation. We don’t just look – we scan and organize. All those images we have stored away in our minds manage to come out right at the opportune time, just when we need them. It’s kind of like we had our own internalized Instagram before that even existed!
You’ve worked a lot in Morocco and have an office here. Why were you drawn to Morocco?
We fell in love with Morocco in the late nineties when we were still students. That love has never failed us.
One thing led to another, and it became clear to us that we needed to open a local office. Some of the people we met in Morocco turned out to be decisive in our work – social barriers fall away, it gets easier to meet people, and you end up with incredible opportunities. That’s the way it happened for us.
How do you select the projects you work on?
We have a story about that – last spring we met a Chinese businesswoman in Tokyo, and she gave us some advice about how to choose our clients and projects. She called it the rule of three Fs: Finance, Fun, and Fame! That cracked us up. But we have a hard time imagining things beyond our own intuition. The two most important factors for us are the site itself and the personality of the clients. We have to be enthusiastic about both. Otherwise, it just won’t work – we’ve experienced that before, unfortunately. Beyond that, the plan, how pertinent it is, the creative briefing – all of those things either add to our initial enthusiasm, or they don’t.
We’re very spoiled because pretty much since the beginning, we’ve always had enough work to be able to choose our projects carefully. And every time we accepted a client for the wrong reasons, we regretted it. But that’s okay – those experiences helped us grow and move forward.
Your designs are both simple and opulent at the same time. Where does this duality in your work stem from?
Duality is a nice way to put it – sometimes it feels a little schizophrenic! But the duality basically comes from the fact that we place a lot of importance on context. Everything starts from context and has to return to the same context. We try not to limit ourselves to formalities, even though we know all the “rules,” we like to explore other areas and venture into unknown, virgin territories. We like to take risk – sometimes we fail, and we have to start all over again. For us, a project is like a problem we’ve been asked to solve. An equation in which the only unknown is the result – everything else we already know because it’s already there. We just have to observe and listen.
How could the solution ever be the same when all the parameters change for every project, and we ourselves are in constant movement? That’s the mystery for us. We admire the architects who always impose the same form regardless of the subject, client or space. It fascinates and repulses us at the same time.
You work on both residential and public spaces. How do you approach these types of projects differently?
We actually approach them in the same way. Sometimes with public spaces we like to come up with a story about the space and share it with the client.Narration can be helpful, it provides structure for the imagination. Otherwise, our approach is always the same. What we described above.
You’ve collaborated with Pierre Bergé for years. How did this museum project come to be?
With Pierre Bergé, we started out as friends. We didn’t talk about working for him right away. He observed us for a long time before giving us work. The museum project came when he felt we were ready. He was an incredible help throughout the process. Our best ally. Building something means coming up against a lot of inertia and resistance – the stuff of architecture is hard material. But he was always there backing us up, encouraging us, supporting us. But he also always had high expectations of us. Whenever we met about the project, he was no longer our friend, but our supervisor, and that was for the best. And afterwards, we would meet up for dinner and our relationship went back to being what it had always been – filled with respect and affection.
Can you explain your inspiration for this museum?
The design was fairly obvious. We all agreed on the essential concept – a building that fit perfectly into its environment, something that couldn’t be found anywhere other than Morocco, in Marrakech, and at the same time, a building that was of its time – not a parody of something else. Once we had a roadmap in mind, everything fell into place naturally, as part of our creative process. Our method is rather collaborative, and each member of the team literally brought something of their own to the table.
What is your dream project?
In our Paris office, we like to reference Jenny Holzer: “Protect me from what I want” and that’s something we meditate on sometimes…
We are cautious when it comes to our dreams because most of the time they become a reality.