Home and Away: An interiors lover in Barcelona
I need to set the scene. Imagine the perfect European city break... Nice cool spring weather, quick flight, welcoming and stylish hotel, meandering streets to explore and most importantly no buggy or children demanding something every 10 minutes. I thought this would be the perfect present for my husband's 40th birthday a few weeks ago and somehow I managed to keep it a complete secret from him! At a Boardwalk Empire themed party I announced while everyone was holding a glass of champagne that at 8am the next morning we would be airport-bound, that I'd sorted time off at work and that the boys were off to their cousin's house. He was lost for words and super-excited!
Barcelona was the city of choice. I thought that even though we had actually both already visited this Spanish city separately (I went with a friend after graduating and John as a spotty and apparently dashingly handsome teenager on an orchestra tour), it was somewhere kind of new to explore together. It's also a quick flight from London and a great chance for us both to practise our Spanish (we've been to quite a few Spanish speaking countries). Are you ready for my design tour around this vibrant city? I'm going to start with the hotel...
First things first, where do you start when looking for a hotel? I bet you can guess what the most important thing is for me - the decor! The next criteria is finding something with a unique boutique feel, that's not too big. So my first port of call (which didn't disappoint) was Mr and Mrs Smith. I've stayed in their hotels before and really trust their eye for handpicked locations. Well designed spaces create a peaceful atmosphere and make me feel calm, exactly how you want to feel on holiday. Hotel Pulitzer caught my eye firstly because of location just off Plaza de Catalunya so most sights are walkable, and secondly the great price. But more importantly, the sophisticated and sleek interior really stood out. The hotel was grand yet intimate, contemporary yet friendly and although the rooms were generally monochrome (which isn't really my style - remember my post about white?) the pops of colour throughout and well as the oversized artwork gave my eye enough to look at. And the restaurant - well when I saw the maximalist greenery adorning the walls and ceilings, that's when I clicked the 'book now' button! This was one of the favourite places of my whole visit and botanical, nature-inspired design is a theme that I would keep revisiting on this trip.
Some interior details that made this hotel so great?
Here's what stood out in the bedrooms at Hotel Pulitzer for me. First of all the bedroom decor had that luxury feel. White walls were used to great effect (my hunch is that the designer used an off-white to give a more subtle, aged look) to accommodate the abstract oversized artwork and although the rooms were quite small, the high ceilings made up for that and gave a feeling of spaciousness. Now the bathroom tiles were a happy surprise - bright turquoise crackle glazed tiles (we have the exact same tiles in our bathroom in mint green) made a great juxtaposition against the monochrome bedroom and as someone who is a fan of atmospheric lighting I loved how the lights could be controlled by the bed to evoke different moods.
This was possibly my favourite room and the thing that attracted me to this hotel in the first place. This eating space had a greenhouse feel with white walls and luscious greenery dangling from different heights from the ceiling. The large mirrors gave the impression of being windows and therefore bounced light around the room making it feel even more airy. There were mismatched pendants and floor standing lamps including a dentist's light and other retro and industrial fittings giving a great eclectic look. The furniture comprised of various individual pieces - chests, tables and chairs were unique yet fitted together as a whole. This kind of decor seems to have become very popular in the design scene recently and in our homes and on a deeper level I wonder if our subconscious minds crave to be surrounded by plants which provide the vital oxygen we need to live. Maybe our bodies know that being close to chlorophyll that releases o2 will oxygenate our blood and make us feel great!? There is a reason surely that green is probably one of the most popular colours we love to decorate with if my latest blog on green is anything to go by?
Out and About
With less than 48 hours to explore Barcelona, we had to resist the historical tours offered to us and unfortunately didn't even have time for the museums but chose instead to intentional wandering and losing ourselves in the gothic streets and the visual delights around every corner. The great location of our hotel meant that we could make our way to the Sagrada Familia via some of Gaudi's other creations which can be seen from the street without going in (sadly we didn't have time for that either). Meandering (my favourite thing to do on holiday) our way to Barcelona's greatest landmark where we had pre-booked tickets for an afternoon visit (good job really as we slept till 10am - literally haven't done that in about 5 years before the kids were born), we quickly realised that we needed lunch and found ourselves in Dora Tapas Bar for a great set lunch menu. The botanical artisanal quirky themed decor continued there too...
GAUDI's Sagrada Familia
I remembered from my previous trip that the incredible architecture of La Sagrada Familia would be worth seeing up close. It's really hard to write about the experience of seeing this place with your own eyes up close and being enclosed in Gaudi's beautiful design. It was totally overwhelming and not only by the grandeur and size of the building (as other cathedrals often leave me feeling empty), but I think the incredible creativity, honesty and authenticity as well as the detail of Gaudi's vision and the way the aesthetic re-tells the story of Christ, really blew me away. First of all there is the structure and although it is somewhat gothic in character, it's novel that each of the 4 sides of the cathedral denote a different part of Jesus' life. The oldest side and the one you first encounter on the tour is the birth of Christ and there is a playfulness here with the animals of the nativity present and the expressions of those that brought gifts for the baby. The opposite side shows the passion in a much more cubist manner and although the characters are slightly abstracted, there is a raw and brutal honesty in their facial expressions that literally reduced me to tears. We were unable to see the other two exterior walls and didn't make it up the towers but look forward to doing that on my next visit. It's set to be completed by 2026.
On entering the interior there are similarities to other cathedrals but a very different atmosphere and feeling. The large pillars feel so organic, appearing like tree trunks rather than perfectly straight erected columns more reminiscent of classical architecture. This has a very welcoming and grounding effect. Because it was a sunny day when we visited, we were lucky to experience the full light of the sun pouring through the ombre stain-glass windows and all I can say in that it felt ethereal and other-worldly.
Gaudi's play with texture, light, narrative and dimensions really stirs the senses and across all his designs, there is a close relationship to nature. The exteriors of Casa Batllo and La Pedrera strangely feel that they have grown into position rather than have been designed and built. There is an organic quality that is odd and new yet strangely comforting and inspiring.
RESTAURANTS & Bars
I have to say that one of my highlights in Barcelona was the eating. Now this is an interesting one as I love eating food but I am no means a 'foodie' and trust me I will never be a food blogger or food photographer. Rooms and people are my thing! When I look for a restaurant as with hotel rooms, it's all about the design and the interiors and how the space creates atmosphere and a little sophistication. Barcelona was abounding in granting my wishes. I was very lucky that native Barcelona man and fellow interiors blogger Juan of Boreal Abode made sure to give me his top tips of what to see and do in Barcelona and also the hip new neighbourhoods to visit. Sadly due to a shortage of time I didn't get check out even half of his recommendations but I did mange two on his list - El National and La Bellavista del Jardin del Norte.
I literally fell in love with this place. This large scale multi-dining and drinking space with quirky decor and hanging plants was seriously my vibe. Thanks Juan! The waiter at our hotel also recommended that I shouldn't miss a visit to this place and how could I not check it out when it was only a five minute walk away from our room. We had a nosy around in the daytime and then returned later that evening for cocktails after dinner. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
La bellavista del jardin del norte
This place was just totally quirky and the food was exceptional. A great find though our taxi driver had no idea where to go! Loved the floral dressing and retro signs and general Latin American feel. Highly recommend!
Breakfast/Brunch at La Esquina
We choose to eat breakfast at the local hotel cafe La Esquina and can verify the claims on it's website that it is indeed a soulful and artisanal place in terms of the decor, food and the spirit. My patatas bravas were served with truffle and eggs. I'm literally salivating at the thought of it! Note the mixed pendants which give an eclectic and aged feel which we saw in many places across the city. This is definitely an element of design that I'm going to incorporate into our new kitchen.
Final moments in the city...
With only a few hours left we decided to head in the cable car to Montjuic and see see Barcelona to mull over everything we'd seen, experienced and tasted in Barcelona. Something really stood out from all the places we visited was the botanical and nature-inspired interior and architecture. This was definitely the thread that connected the restaurants and bars we visited. Although Gaudi doesn't hang plants or flowers from his masterpieces, there is still an earthy and organic feel to what he creates. It's hard not to mention the political scene that is not only currently present (there were riots and protests while we were there) in Barcelona but something that characterises it's whole history. You can't deny that that striving for power, independence and national identity can and must influence the creativity of one of the greatest and inspiring European cities.
As well as all this inspiring design, Barcelona is extremely friendly. I'd almost compare them to the Irish! Besides Rome and Florence there's no other place I'd rather have spent celebrating John's 40th and I hope it inspired him in his creativity too.
Hasta Luego Barcelona. We will be back!
What an epic post! Thanks for making it this far. What did you think of the interiors? Have you been to Barcelona before? What should I see the next time I go? Feel free to save on Pinterest for the next time you're planning a trip away and comment below and let me know what you think as I love hearing what my readers think.
Yours in colour and creativity,
Disclaimer: This isn't a sponsored post, I'm just sharing my experience of what great city has to offer. Photography by myself and John Ford.