Barcelona interior design and architecture and key learnings from my sabbatical
Every day was a beautiful day in Barcelona. As an old soul with European and Middle Eastern heritage, I love Europe and connect to the history, the culture, the food, the people, the architecture and interior design.
So, being in Barcelona with Sojrn on their Art & Architecture chapter, felt like ‘home’. What I found beautiful in Barcelona interior design and in general was the level of creativity.
Creativity is expressed everywhere from the street art, to the structural architecture. As well as the ornamental architecture such as decorative balconies, art on the façade of buildings, tiles on the buildings, colour, organic shapes, patterns, domes and arches.
I met with local architects, interior architects, and interior designers and even connected with local artists. Here are my observations and learnings.
External environment impacts internal spaces
I know you should never assume, but I assumed that Barcelona interiors would be reflective of the Barcelona exterior. That is highly decorative, full of colour, pattern, ornamental features, and enhancement in general.
But I was wrong. After talking to local industry professionals, the key words that describe interiors in Barcelona are minimal, neutral, calm, modern or contemporary with hints of Coastal.
The Coastal aspect was a surprise. Not sure why this was a surprise to me, as Barcelona is a coastal city. But I was blinkered and focused on the urban, built-up aspect of the city’s aesthetic. Until I got to spend some time and do some research, I learnt the importance of the sea to the Barcelona identity.
All of this makes sense. Given how ‘busy’ the exterior is and how much beauty and ornamentation people in Barcelona are exposed to, they want a less busy, neutral, and calm interior. I think this might be true but the opposite in Melbourne.
While Melbourne CBD has notable architectural buildings and styles, admittedly the suburbs can be a bit bland. So, it goes to follow that people in Melbourne want their homes to be highly decorative. Of course, everyone is different and a clean Modern, neutral aesthetic is sought after in Melbourne too.
Nevertheless, being in Barcelona forced me to reflect on how our external environment impacts our internal spaces.
A creative design forward city
When creativity is accepted, valued, admired, and pursued as it is in Barcelona you create a rich cultural experience with an exciting vibe filled with potential and possibility.
While there are many creative people and creative pursuits in Melbourne, creativity is not part of the culture like it is in Barcelona. Imagine how different Melbourne would be if we pursued and were fanatically about creativity the way we are about sport.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of creativity in Melbourne. There is something for everyone and I encourage everyone to seek it out. Whether it’s a play, music, art, it will enrich your life and open your mind.
Local market affects interior design demand
Another point of interest to me was to learn how the local industry professionals work with and navigate the local market.
Because it’s Barcelona the local market is Europe. This means interior designers can easily access and work with international suppliers based in Italy, for example.
Similarly, Barcelona interior designers have access to a wide range of clientele from all over Europe including Russia. Wealthy clients who want an island home or a summer city base.
It was also interesting to understand how the pandemic affected the local interior design market in Barcelona. There are two key factors I observed, firstly the hospitality market was not affected like it was in Melbourne.
Secondly, the work from home legacy was not adopted in Barcelona. These two factors means that a thriving hospitality market is driving hospitality interior design and the client goals for residential projects are not lead by the work from home phenomenon we’re experiencing in Melbourne.
Sometimes people will ask me what my signature interior design style is. I don’t have one. My mission is to deliver the client’s version of an aspirational space.
I love all interior design styles. Researching, learning, and bringing my client’s visions to life. I’m inspired by history, global connections, and the unique style of each of my clients.
One of the interior designer’s I spoke to in Barcelona said that she can’t work outside her signature style. Which I found interesting.
This was true for most of the Barcelona based industry professionals I spoke. They have a signature style and stick to it. I was sad to see the same aesthetic being applied to two different Barcelona apartment projects. The client’s design story was not reflected, and I believe your individual design story should be reflected in your own home.
Creatives working for free
About 12 months ago I introduced an ideas meeting for prospective clients. The ideas meeting is 1.30hrs on site and it’s $450 + GST.
We get a chance to discuss the client’s interior design problems, and goals. I get to view the space and understand the size and nature of the project. There is an exchange of ideas between myself and the client and the time together ensures there is a good rapport.
Before the ideas meeting, I was meeting prospective clients for free. I found that my ideas and time were not valued. I still offer a free chat or video meeting but time on site with shared ideas is tapping into my expertise that I believe requires suitable remuneration.
So, I was surprised to learn that all of the Barcelona based professionals I talked to meet their clients for free. Designers with 10, 15 and 20 years’ experience working for free feels wrong for me.
Creativity, creative people, and solutions hold value that should not be given away for free. I think this is something I will become a strong advocate for all creatives moving forward.
Preserving the past
One thing I loved about Barcelona is how the past is preserved and revered. During one of the residential apartment projects I visited the interior architect explained the exhaustive process of preserving the original floor tiles.
In the apartment I stayed in there was a beautiful terracotta ceiling called a Catalan ceiling but uniform grey tiles on the floor. The original typical Spanish tile that we are familiar with had been either removed or covered.
This is such as shame, those tiles are a little piece of history. You can see the stamp of the manufacturer on the underside because they’re made with care and pride.
Historic door frames with carvings are also preserved as are stained glass windows. In Melbourne there is a tendency to get rid of anything old. While I understand that this may not be the case in period homes.
Fusing old and new
While the old is preserved in the architectural fixtures, fittings and finishes such as tiles, mouldings and stained glass, this is often paired with a modern or contemporary aesthetic.
The fusion of old and new is seamless in Barcelona interior design. There is a deep appreciation for the old but a desire for new and contemporary ideas, looks, shapes, and materials.
Bringing the old and the new together seamlessly is not easy but when done well looks beautiful and is cohesive, balanced and harmonious. The old adds depth and new adds freshness.
Modernist versus Modernism
I almost finished this blog post without mentioning Gaudi. Barcelona and Gaudi are synonymous as he spearheaded the Modernist movement in Barcelona.
The Modernist movement in Barcelona is different to Modernism that we are accustomed to in Melbourne.
Modernist movement is a creative movement that helped establish a Catalan identity. Its timings are from the late 1880s to the mid-1900s. It features, rich decoration, organic shapes, curves, and references to nature. It’s likened to the Art Nouveau movement from France.
Modernism is different. It became prominent later around the 1920s. Focusing on straight lines, mass production, improvements in manufacturing, streamlined design, exposed materials. This movement is all about form follows function.
It’s an important distinction as one defines a city, and another is a Western design and architecture movement.
My time in Barcelona was special. I felt privileged to spend a month in such a design forward city and was charmed by the beauty. And truly appreciated the discussions I had with local professionals who were open, talented, creative and a pleasure to meet.
I will be forever changed by my time in Barcelona, my learnings about Barcelona interior design and new found vigour for my own interior design practice. This trip provided inspiration to my work so that I can continue to deliver my client’s version of an aspirational space.