Barcelona: A European design capital
Bon Dia, Buenos Dias, Good Morning!
Just a few weeks ago, this was the view from my Casp74 apartment in Barcelona’s Eixample district. I felt like a local, even if just for a few days, getting the spirit of “la rauxa i el seny”. Characteristic of Barcelona culture, “rauxa i seny” is variously interpreted as a mix of avant garde and common sense, impulse and sanity, spontaneity and measured process, madcap and businesslike. “Rauxa i seny” is the essence of Barcelona’s modernista design and prominently showcased in the Eixample.
Eixample, meaning “expansion” in Catalan, was developed in the late 19th/early 20th centuries because of the overcrowded, disease-filled areas of Old Town, Barri Gòtic. It was designed to be life-enhancing area, bringing in the light and fresh air missing from the old town south of it. A distinct characteristic of the Eixample is the community gardens, like the one in the photo, that form the central areas of the buildings of each neighborhood allowing all buildings to get light during the day. Most of the city’s famous modernista architectural gems are located in the Eixample, including Antoni Gaudi’s famous works Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. It’s also the heart of contemporary design in Barcelona.
I had an excellent introduction to Barcelona’s “rauxa i seny” design culture in Context Travel’s two hour Made in Barcelona walking tour. Our guide, Suzanne Wales, is a writer and consultant who specializes in design, art and architecture.
These are a few of the highlights I enjoyed along the way.
Rauxa i Seny Barcelona
Our group met in the lobby of Hotel Omm on Carrer Rosselló just off of Passeig de Gracia, a major Barcelona avenue where our tour was concentrated. When the hotel opened 10 years ago, it was the first design hotel in the city and is itself an example of vibrant creativity and sensible design. The curved sections of the stone façade allow optimal street views, sunlight, sound and privacy for the guests.
Inside are many stylish and whimsical touches, such as this red flowing sculpture in the lobby restaurant, Moovida.
From the hotel’s rooftop, I got a view of the back side of Gaudi’s La Pedrera (Casa Milà) sprouting its unusual chimneys at the top that are nicknamed “espantabruixes” (witch scarers).
If you’re looking for unique or special contemporary housewares, furniture, decorative objects, and gifts, Vinçon might have just the right item for you. There is a surprisingly large and eclectic collection of offerings in this design emporium that was opened with the intent to bring design to the people. Many of the items are a combination of function, form, and art that might even amuse and entertain. Some of the lamps in the lighting department certainly seemed to fit that description.
The building was once the home of painter Ramón Casas and his living area is part of the attraction with features such as beautiful mosaic tile flooring, a grand staircase and this large, ornate fireplace.
Vinçon is also known for its provocative changing window displays. On our visit, this one of men’s briefs was at the main entrance.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Lladró creates luxury hand-crafted porcelain figurines and home decor of various styles and disciplines. Pieces from Lladró designer Jaime Hayon’s Fantasy collection portray the “fusion of what can be done in porcelain with fantasy awakening the imagination”.
Palau Baró de Quadras – Casa Asia
Originally built for a baron, this stunning building is now the headquarters for Casa Asia, a company that promotes trade between Asia and Spain. The architect, Josep Puig, who designed this Gothic-inspired building had also worked with Gaudi. The wrought-iron front door and interior staircase are just two of the building’s beautiful features.
At nanimarquina, you’ll be encouraged to look, touch and even step on the designs. Founded by textile designer, Nani Marquina, this company has been designing rugs and other textile products since 1987. I loved the distinctive colors, textures, patterns and shapes of these meticulously handcrafted rugs and other goods in the shop, which is located in a renovated parking garage. Here are just a few of the extraordinary rugs that caught my eye.
Ecologically brilliant, the Bicicleta rug is made using recycled bicycle inner tubes.
The Kala Rug was developed using drawings of school children in India. A portion of the proceeds from every sale of the rug go to the Care & Fair organization that fights against child labor in India.
The Mandarin Oriental is located in a former bank building that was exquisitely remodeled by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola who calls it a “Grace Kelly hotel” with its chic creamy colors and classic elegance. The photo is of Blanc, a restaurant on the ground floor in the center of an atrium with a hanging garden and much stylish detail. We’re looking through a screen of snowflake cutouts that goes around Blanc.
There’s really much more to see of Barcelona’s “rauxa i seny” design culture on the tour and learn from the expert insights of guides like Suzanne. I highly recommend Made in Barcelona tour for anyone interested in learning more about Barcelona’s design world. Thank you, Context Travel, for hosting my walk.
I love Barcelona – such a lot to savour if you like food and art.
Indeed, I do like food and art. Can’t wait to visit Barcelona again.
Awesome tour….I definitely have to remember the Hotel Omm!
Absolutely. Hotel Omm would be a great hotel for you to check out. Very cool place.
Even though I’ve been to Barça four times now, and despite one of my closest friends being from there I’d never heard that phrase before – love it – and it does capture the way I think of the city. I’m definitely coming around to liking guided tours these days. You get to find out about places you miss if you’re doing the spontaneous thing, although I will always love doing that too.
I love that phrase, too. I think that the types and quality of guided tours are getting better. Context does a wonderful job.
We love Barcelona and this post reminded us of all the reasons why. Great photos and narrative — armchair travel at its best.
Thanks for the nice compliment!
Upon graduation, Elies Rogent, the Director of the Barcelona Architecture School, said of Gaudi, “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”
I wish I’d known about a walking tour – or had been smart enough to do the research before I visited Barcelona last year. What a marvelous view from the hotel. Vincon looks like a fun place to visit. Nice selection of photos too Cathy,
Thanks, Leigh. Definitely check out Context Travel for walking tours in Barcelona and other major cities. I know — that sounds like an ad, doesn’t it? 🙂
Oh, Barcelona has so much to tempt. A week was not enough!
Jealous that you got to spend a week. I fell in love with the city in a very short period of time.
Fascinating tour of the architectural diversity in Barcelona. I especially loved the Casa Asia and the Vincon fireplace…wow! Such ornamental details. Incredible…what a wonderful tour my friend.
Thanks, Jeff. I’ve got more pics of Casa Asia that I’ll try to share, too. Beautiful place.
I’m glad you got to see Lladro. I love their pieces, in fact, I own a few.
You have excellent taste, Inka! The Lladro pieces I saw were so beautifully crafted and unique.
Casa Asia interior and nanimarquina interior & rugs looks amazing. Bicicleta and flowers rugs looks really nice. Vincon looks unique in its own way. Interesting places for sure.
They were all interesting and surprising. Loved the itinerary on this walking tour.
I always love visiting Barcalona, but it´s good to know a few different places to throw into the mix each time. I enjoyed seeing Casa Milà from a different perspective. Can´t wait to get back there now 🙂
Next time, I want to tour inside Casa Mila — just didn’t have enough time this trip.
What a fabulous walking tour! I love how eclectic this tour was. Those briefs on display were a crack-up. I would love to see Casa Asia one of these days. Love that interior shot. I am a fan of Lladró and love looking at the. It’s way out of my price range and not too practical having around the house with active kids. I’ve never considered this type of tour but it sounds so interesting.
In another window at Vincon, there were bras on display. Lots of surprises there. 🙂
Even though we stayed in Eixample, I never realised what the word meant! Our hotel was over the road from the Hotel Omm so I popped in there few times, shopped down the road at the fabulous Vincon and checked out the Gaudi buildings but I missed Casa Asia and the fun looking nanimarquina. Looks as though I’ll have to go back!
Yes, I think you should — as should I! Loved Eixample — would definitely stay there again. Our Casp74 apartment was quite comfortable and the location was great.
So many cool sights. I like the red sculpture. Weird art gets me every time. Although the display of underwear is almost too weird even for me.
Too weird for YOU, Scott?? Oh no! 🙂
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This was a fabulous walking tour, Cathy! I love Barcelona so reading this post is like savoring a delicious meal. Thanks!
Quite the compliment — thanks!
Nice! Lots of interesting design stuff going on in Barcelona – looks like a great exploration!
It was a real education for me. I was familiar with Gaudi’s architecture being such a big part of Barcelona, but not with the overall design culture of the city.
A visual and textural feast for lovers of textiles and design. I loved the leetle flowers! 🙂
Those “leetle” flowers were very cool. And … that design comes in a few other color schemes, too.
Very nice, Cathy. I did a walking tour with Context as well – on Barcelona’s Modernist architecture. They’re quite good, aren’t they?
They are very good. I took another tour in Washington DC with Context. The guides are exceptional.
Beautiful place…certainly in my agenda of places to visit next year.
You will love it!
Wow, what a great walk! I love those rugs. I think spiral looks like roses that are in bloom and how cool to re-use bicycle tubes.
I was fascintated by the Spiral rug. So beautiful.
What great finds! I’ve been to Barcelona 3 times, but not to most of the places you visited. The amount of architecture/architectural elements in the city is incredible. Love the shot of Casa Milà.
3 times? Lucky girl! I have to go back. I hardly scratched the surface of Barcelona, but I loved what I saw.
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I used to spend so much time in Barcelona, and now I haven’t been in years. I would love to do something like this.
Gosh you make me want to visit Barcelona again. I’d love to check out the nanimarquina next time I’m there. Love the idea of recycled bicycle inner tubes! What a cool rug!
What a great post Cathy! I LOVE Barcelona but have never visited, only seen it from afar. Would love to go and I especially love the textures and colors you’ve photographed along the way
I still haven’t been to Barcelona but oh so want to go – you really saw so much here.
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A wonderful design series, Cathy! I particularly like the Casa Asia shots.
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Great tour Sweeney! I’ve been to Barcelona, but I’ve never heard that sentence, very interesting 😉
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