Travel

Sketches of Spain

A craftily conceived hotel arrival in Barcelona sits at the center of an artisan renaissance.

A craftily conceived hotel arrival in Barcelona sits at the center of an artisan renaissance.

I’m petting yak’s wool in Terassa, a medieval Catalonian town 45 minutes north of Barcelona, out where urban sprawl dissipates into textile factories and sheep strewn meadows. The hair coating these shaggy bovids from Central Asia is softer and more sustainable than many other types of wool, which is why the boutique company Teixidors uses the material in its wares and accessories. “The Mongolian ranchers brush the yaks to remove the hair instead of cutting it,” head designer Núria Bitria says to me inside the atelier. Here, the products are handcrafted using manual wooden looms and natural vegetable coloring, before shipping off to design shops like New York’s ABC Home and Merci in Paris where Bitria has just returned from the Maison & Objet fair. She’s showing me the production process for the brand’s blankets, which adorn the beds at Barcelona’s new Casa Bonay, a 67-room hotel in the quasi-industrial Dreta de l’Eixample neighborhood. This is the first stop on a quest to discover the spirit of the hotel, and by extension, modern Barcelona—the two stories are as interwoven as Teixidors’s throws. “Something is happening right now,” Britria says. “The younger generation is leading a creative movement that’s been lost for a while.”

A custom Teixidors blanket covers a guest room bed.

If Madrid is Spain’s studious daughter who went to business school, developed refined tastes, and exudes global sophistication, Barcelona is the free spirit, an art-academy grad who runs with the bohemian society and radiates an immeasurable creative essence. But artistic expression is fickle; it only thrives if it’s allowed to. Since the 1992 Olympics announced the City of Gaudí onto the world stage, travelers have flooded the streets in search of modernist architecture, Iberico ham pintxos, and free-flowing sangria. Depending on where you sit, that’s either been a boon for tourism revenue and job growth, or a flesh-eating virus hurting local culture, attracting homogenized chains, and pricing out residents. The new mayor was elected last year, in part, campaigning on a freeze of new hotel licenses to stem the flow of the tourist deluge. (And she’s holding true: Plans to convert John Nouvel’s famous Torre Agbar building into a hotel have been deferred.) The opening of Casa Bonay coincides with this compelling moment in the city’s social and political climate.

Zarafication has incited a period of cultural banality. In Casa Bonay, hints of revival abound. The hotel is the sum of a coalition of makers awakening the city from a decades-long malaise and reshaping its future by reconnecting to its past. “Barcelona is breathing now,” says Marcos Bartolomé, 24, the tattooed proprietor behind Satan’s Coffee Corner in the hotel’s cafe. “Lots of kids like me are inspired by the city again.” Bartolomé hails from a lineage of Basque Country roasters and is on the forefront of the specialty bean trend taking hold here. His inventive blends are made in-house using producers everywhere from Colombia’s “Coffee Triangle” to the Eastern Highlands of Ethiopia. His humble to-go window inside a retail store became an instant hit when it opened four years ago, something he’s replicating at Casa Bonay. “I never wanted to do the same thing as my parents,” he laughs, having come here to attempt a career in photography. “Who does? But we can do it even better.”

The hotel’s hyper-local components give it the feel of a collective, and thus an authenticity that seems like a template for the city’s hospitality future. “You can reproduce the interiors and cool brands and try to recreate the city’s pulse, but you can’t truly replicate knowing a city and connecting with it,” says co-owner Inés Miró-Sans, 31, who spent three years at New York’s Ace Hotel learning the art of building a vibe. “You need to understand the culture. It’s been really important to connect with these artisans; they lose themselves in the work. Every design element has a mission.” She points to a tropical-print pillow with an Eye of Providence pattern in the lobby bar. “Even that cushion took three months.”

The motif was dreamed up by fashion designer Clara Arnús, 30, who has a small shop near the check-in desk and utilized similar jungle aesthetics in the lobby bar bathrooms and the underbelly of the barman’s denim aprons. After co-launching her label, Batabasta, in Shanghai three years ago, Arnús returned home to open a flagship for the made-in-Spain brand. “There’s a really cool energy here right now,” she says. “Everyone knows each other and is involved in each other’s projects. We get together for long dinners, drink lots of wine, and just hang out. That’s what Casa Bonay is like.”

 

The library by Blackie Books.

Around every corner lurks a plot point. In the café, there’s Mother, Barcelona’s first cold-pressed juice bar, hatched by locals Gemma Ponsa Salvador and Lily Figel after living in L.A. and New York. An adapted pinewood doorman’s depot functions as a library, where indie publisher Jan Marti, 34, of nearby Blackie Books curates a selection international magazines. Madrid transplant and Argentine chef Estanislao Carenzo helms the Asia-Mediterranean kitchen at Elephant, Crocodile, and Monkey, which includes a champagne and oyster takeaway window. The biodynamic Las Lilas bath amenities are produced at the owner Ana Gayoso’s home in the Empordà countryside. The geometric stools and custom-made chairs in the rooms are the work of furniture designer Marc Morro, whose lauded AOO contemporary-design shop serves as a worthy sort of heir to the legendary Vinçon that shuttered in 2015 after shaping local design culture for more than half a century.

To cobble together all of the moving pieces and give the place a sense of coherency, Miró-Sans turned to a familiar friend. “We wanted each of the spaces to have their own identity, highlighting the unique perspectives of all the collaborators instead of having one homogenous design direction running throughout,” says Jou-Yie Chou, a partner at the multidisciplinary Brooklyn firm Studio Tack and the former brand director at Ace Hotels. “They tapped the best and brightest—and each one has a strong voice that adds a level
of dynamism across the entire sequence of the property.”

Built into the skin of an 1869 building on the busy thoroughfare Gran Via, the hotel is accessed through a high-ceilinged corridor that leads to the reception. The rooms are intentionally simple, with eye-catching original mosaic floors and sun-drenched solariums. “I’m obsessed with Japan and feng shui. The simplicity. They have everything but nothing,” Miró-Sans says. “So every door is sliding and beds are orientated north to south to give peace to the guests.”

Plants in original marble tubs line the courtyard.

The social spaces each have a distinct personality. The café is light and airy, with exposed white-brick walls and Scandinavian-style blonde wood benches; the restaurantis inspired by the train in the Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited, and is done up with terrazzo floors and natural woods that would feel at home in Carenzo’s native Argentina; the lobby bar conjures a clubby feel, lined with Barcelona’s traditional street pavement, Moroccan rugs, and a constellation-esque Santa & Cole light installation inspired by Turkish mosques. I had seen the fixture the previous day while touring the iconic Spanish design company’s campus an hour outside of the city. As I walked around the former university grounds with Miró-Sans and the owner Nina Masó—the pair fortuitously met at an astrology class—the conspicuous link between Barcelona’s past and present gave the moment gravity. Masó’s generation was the first after Francisco Franco’s authoritarian rule to flex its imagination and what followed was the city’s golden era of design led by one of its most famous sons, Miguel Milá. Masó sees something profound in Miró-Sans and the young leaders in the industry right now. Promise fills the air once more. “Something was lost after the Olympics. It didn’t feel like we were in Barcelona anymore. But this generation has something special; they’re restoring everything,” she says with an inspired smile. “I’m having fun again.”

For her part, Miró-Sans recognizes the importance of getting back what’s been lost. “Restoring Casa Bonay’s building was important. If we start destroying buildings, turning them into cutouts, we’re going to lose our identity in 20 years,” she says, pivoting to the inimitable characteristic of her Spanish heritage. “The art of doing nothing and at the same time doing a lot—we’ve lost some of that. But we’re enjoying the moments of life right now. It’s how we grew up, it’s in our culture.”

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