Fogo Island Inn

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Businesswoman Zita Cobb hired architect Todd Saunders to design the Fogo Island Inn on Fogo Island, a remote outpost off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, because, like her, he is from the area.

“She told me she knew right away it would be me, because I really get that quirky bit of Canada,” the architect says. “If you didn’t grow up there, it’s hard to understand.” Cobb grew up on Fogo Island proper, and although Saunders has spent the last seventeen years in Norway—he moved to Norway soon after college—he was born and raised in Gander, a town on the main Newfoundland island.

In 2003, Cobb established the Shorefast Foundation with money earned from a successful career running tech companies in Silicon Valley. The foundation’s mission is to replace Fogo Island’s decimated cod fishing industry with “cultural and economic resilience” buoyed by cultural production and geotourism. Before embarking on the inn, Cobb engaged Saunders to design six self-sustaining, strikingly sculptural studios around the island for the foundation’s artist residency program. She recalls her design brief for the inn: “Find a way, using contemporary architecture, to capture and express what we have learned in our four hundred years of living on this lovely, rugged rock in the North Atlantic. Be faithful to the spirit and soul as well as the people of the place.”

Embracing the vernacular
With 29 guest rooms, ranging from 350 to 1,100 square feet, plus public spaces including a main lobby, restaurant, art gallery, bar, lounge, and library on the ground floor, and a movie theater, conference rooms,
and gym on the second floor, the complicated program intimidated Saunders until he decided to approach the project like a large house. “Once I had that in the back of my mind,” he says, “it came out really nicely, because the inn has all these domestic qualities to it.”

Saunders situated the X-shaped building as close to the ocean as possible on a promontory jutting into the Atlantic. Steel stilts, appearing to hold up the end nearest the water, are a nod to the fishing stages where generations of Fogo Islanders have cleaned, salted, and dried their cod. The island vernacular also shows up in the locally sourced building materials, which are mostly wood. The striking white cladding is black spruce that has been painted. The design team also used painted black spruce for interior walls and ceilings, but opted for yellow birch—the hardest wood available in Newfoundland—to stand up to heavier traffic for the floors in public spaces. Because the supply of yellow birch was limited, the guestroom floors are made from maple from Ontario.

Furniture and fixtures embedded with island’s DNA
Saunders proposed that much of the furniture and fixtures be made on Fogo Island. Together, he and Cobb invited ten young furniture and industrial designers from around the world to live on the island for two months. They soaked up the island’s quirks and familiarized themselves with the work of local craftspeople, carpenters, quilters, and boat builders. “We said to the designers:’When you wake up in a hotel, you often don’t know where you are for the first few minutes,'” Saunders says. “We wanted people to know instantaneously they were on Fogo Island, or at least in Newfoundland.” The designers sent their prototypes to be produced by local carpenters and artisians.

Most of the interior lighting fixtures were designed and built specifically for the project, including the chandeliers in the dining room by Dutch design studio Tjep, inspired by fishermen’s rope and by a flower pattern that designer Frank Tjepkema saw on the island. Nearly every light bulb in the building (except for the bar and dining room lights) is an LED or fluorescent bulb. Outdoor lighting is kept to a minimum to create a “dark-sky” effect to support star- and Northern Lights-gazing.

Cobb knows the contemporary, handcrafted Fogo Island Inn is a success—not because of the high-profile accolades it has received, but because of the things locals say about the place, including:
“I’m so happy you built it old,” and, “It has the same feeling as my grandmother’s house.”

Fogo Island Inn

  • Design Architect: Saunders Architecture
  • Architect of Record: Sheppard Case Architects
  • Client: Shorefast Foundation
  • Where: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
  • What: 10,000 total square feet on four floors

Key Design Highlights

  • The inn takes the form of an’X’ in plan; the two-story volume angled west-to-east contains public spaces, while the four-story, southwest-to-northeast volume contains the remaining public spaces and guestrooms.
  • All guestrooms overlook the Atlantic Ocean and the beds are angled to best capture the views.
  • Ten young designers worked with local craftspeople to create many interior furnishings.
  • The inn’s environmental impact is minimized through sustainable features, including solar panels and rainwater collection on the roof and highly insulated exterior walls and windows.

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