Anne and Miklós, the switched-on design duo behind the nine luxury-packed apartments at Ronda Universitat 11, have devoted the bulk of the last few years fine-tuning and tweaking the exquisite work-in-progress they call Destination BCN. They may call themselves as ‘professional amateurs with enthusiasm’ (which – if you know the origins of Mr & Mrs Smith – makes our entrepreneurial hearts go pitter-patter), but one look around their own architectural achievements, and you see that their modesty is misplaced.
The taste-making twosome have taken an art nouveau building moments from Barcelona’s bustling Plaza Catalunya and turned it into a collection of hip and homely city hideaways that have all the style and service of a boutique hotel, and all the cosy comforts of an indulgent urbanite’s pied à terre.
The warm, neutral colour schemes and natural materials used throughout the apartments belie a much more international flavour. The handmade wooden side tables are from Senegal and the retro coffee table, Denmark. The pared-down, clean-lined sofa in Apartment Cadaques is classical Catalan cool. The Louis XV chairs and breezy balconies – French through and through. The ‘lampscape’ in Apartment Finn hails not from Scandinavia as its name suggests but from Anne’s mother-Netherland. Green plants bring flashes of life and colour to the Vermeer-worthy palette of chocolate browns, crisp whites, creamy toffees, and steely greys.
Although the colours and design themes are a common thread running through the apartments, these are far from cookie-cutter condos – each one has been treated as a separate design project. Ghost is appropriately white and dreamlike (although every so often, just for the hell of it, Anne and Miklós reverse the furnishings so that everything turns black), with earthy touches in the shape of rustic coffee tables fashioned from reclaimed wood and exposed red-brick walls behind the beds. Paso Doble is warmer and woodier, with a bay window offering views out over the city. Finn plays light and dark against each other to surprisingly cosy effect, thanks to its aubergine wall and brown leather furnishings, and Riva eschews the whiteness altogether, replacing it with a striking bachelor-esque black. Cañadilla, named after a tiny sea snail once used to make purple dye, is aptly dressed in mauve. Olive green notes differentiate Walden, which has balconies in both its bedrooms, and one boasts a four-poster bed – as does Figi, a bluey-grey space ornamented by timeless design pieces such as a black BKF chair, Philippe Starck’s Rosie Angelis lamp and a side table cunningly carved from the roots of a tree. Of the two headline Suites, Cadaques – the largest apartment – marries seventies LA style to contemporary Catalan chic to create a sandy-toned private pad with a glass back wall that opens out into a courtyard dotted with tropical flora. Principal feels more like a spacious Manhattan loft, with white-painted brick walls, a bathroom featuring sauna-style wooden paneling, a huge free-standing Agape Spoon bath-tub in the bedroom, and, the piece de resistance, a huge private courtyard with a remote control canopy roof that allows you to let in your sunlight to order.
Although you can request a caterer, part of the pleasure of staying in Barcelona is foraging for food in some of the world’s most amazing food markets. La Boqueria is the place to pick up freshly sliced pata negra, squirmingly seasonal seafood, plump olives, almonds, and cold sherry to prepare back in the culinary comfort of your apartment kitchen, and serve, triumphant, on the Poliform dining table.
Before you go thinking the place is – in proper Poppins-style – practically perfect in every way (and it really is), it’s good to be reminded that every renovation project has its quirks. Need to send a fax, make a photocopy, or just fancy a drink from the water cooler? The foibles of Spanish bureaucracy require that one floor of the building remains office space (think the seventh-and-a-half floor in Being John Malkovich). Odd, but at least this means there’s on-site security in the building during office hours.
Creative, lively, exuberant Barcelona is a place where great ideas are born and tinkered with, sat on, mulled over, challenged, returned to, developed, and pushed just a bit further – Gaudi worked on multiple masterpieces in the city for the last 40 years of his life and those inspired by his vision have continued to realise his dreams for 80 years and counting. Here’s hoping Anne, Miklós and their trusty team have the same level of endurance and carry on creating stylish, Smithesque places to stay for years to come. It’s astonishing to think that what started off as simply looking after friends’ apartments has turned this marvellous Modernista building into the best address in town. If the resulting residence is anything to go by, Anne and Miklos can flat-sit for us any time.
Reviewed by Mary Garvin
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Smith extra at Destination BCN
A bottle of cava, a plate of crunchy, chocolate-covered galettes and a copy of b-guided magazine