Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land

The quest for in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion has guided the life and ca­reer of ar­chi­tect, artist and de­signer Guillermo San­tomà, and his the­atri­cal three-storey home in Barcelona is a tes­ta­ment to his ‘vis­ual poetry’.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Apartments - By An­drew Fer­ren Pho­tographed by He­le­nio Bar­betta Pro­duced by Chiara dal Canto

op­po­site page: in his HOME OF­FICE, de­signer Guillermo San­tomà; chair in fore­ground by Martino Gam­per; arm­chair by Gae­tano Pesce; First chair (in back­ground) by Michele De Luc­chi for Mem­phis Mi­lano; art­work by artist un­known.

He may not ex­actly be an out­right cre­ative revo­lu­tion­ary, but Span­ish ar­chi­tect, artist and de­signer Guillermo San­tomà is a de­sign in­dus­try out­sider who prefers to run counter to ac­cepted mod­els and trends. In an age when the com­fort­ing ca­ress of honed oak, soft leather and the wool up­hol­stery of mid-cen­tury Scan­di­na­vian fur­ni­ture en­joy an end­less re­vival with myr­iad new it­er­a­tions and in­ter­pre­ta­tions, San­tomà makes chairs out of cold, hard ma­te­ri­als such as glass, metal, rock and moulded EVA foam lac­quered with auto paint. His light fix­tures blend var­i­ously shaped and coloured flu­o­res­cent tubes and bulbs with many other ma­te­ri­als and have the hap­haz­ard ap­peal of Out­sider mo­biles and sculp­tures that light up. Whether his de­signs func­tion as com­fort­able seat­ing pieces or not, they main­tain a strik­ing sculp­tural pres­ence that sur­prises and in­vites en­gage­ment. A phrase of­ten as­cribed to his work is ‘vis­ual poetry’. “He is the per­fect ex­am­ple of how it is pos­si­ble to add poetry to func­tion,” says Zeynep Rekkali from es­teemed Copenhagen gallery Etage Projects, which has shown sev­eral San­tomà col­lec­tions in re­cent years. “His unique de­signs, when put into a ‘nor­mal’ res­i­den­tial space or re­tail environment, im­me­di­ately add an un­ex­pected spark. this page: San­tomà, his wife, Raquel, and their son Jan. op­po­site page: in the WORK­SHOP, on top plat­form, glass struc­tures for 2016 Dries Van Noten project; glass chair and blue Un­der Wa­ter chair, all by Guillermo San­tomà; other pieces in var­i­ous stages of devel­op­ment.

We have pro­duced cus­tom chan­de­liers de­signed by him for shops and are later told that they made the whole in­te­rior.” Not sur­pris­ingly, San­tomà’s pro­fes­sional back­ground is as di­verse as his fur­ni­ture de­signs and ma­te­ri­als. Hav­ing stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, he has worked for big-name ar­chi­tects such as fel­low Spa­niard Rafael Mo­neo, but he also bounced around In­dia for a while de­sign­ing shops and other spaces on the fly. In­side San­tomà’s Barcelona home, one can’t help but think that the lat­ter ex­pe­ri­ence in­flu­enced his em­brace of sat­u­rated colour and con­fi­dent and lib­eral use of moulded stucco to cus­tomise the decor. He dis­cov­ered this 1920s town­house back in 2014, in a mid­dle-class neigh­bour­hood where this sea­side city meets the moun­tains be­hind it. He main­tained its slightly but­toned-up Art Nou­veau façade, which stands shoul­der-to-shoul­der with its neigh­bours in quiet re­spectabil­ity, but im­me­di­ately set about redefin­ing the in­te­rior to suit his the­atri­cal taste and the liv­ing needs of his fam­ily — part­ner Raquel Quevedo, a graphic de­signer, and their young son, Jan. Once past the en­try, vis­i­tors are se­duced with an ex­plo­sion of vivid colour — deep indigo and aqua­ma­rine con­trast with bub­blegum pink and pristine white in a dra­matic if oc­ca­sion­ally hard-to-de­ci­pher ar­range­ment of in­ter­con­nected spaces. Com­pris­ing 300 square me­tres spread over three lev­els, most of the space opens, at least par­tially, onto a cen­tral stair­case that reads like an un­ex­pected Art Deco el­e­ment in a Pi­ranesi print. At the same time that this com­po­si­tion of stairs and arches vis­ually uni­fies the space, there are rooms and vis­tas from which one’s sense of op­ti­cal and spa­tial logic is chal­lenged in a way that raises ques­tions about how to get from one room to an­other. “Vis­ual sen­sa­tion and op­ti­cal ef­fects are para­mount in Guillermo’s in­te­ri­ors,” says a Span­ish de­sign edi­tor who has pub­lished San­tomà’s work. “Clearly he’s a cre­ator very much en­gaged in his own vi­sion.” This vi­sion may be the rea­son why peo­ple quickly fall in love with San­tomà’s spaces, which feel fresh and in­vig­o­rated by a sense of youth­ful, bo­hemian en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity. Wield­ing such artis­tic li­cence, why wouldn’t a de­signer sus­pend his bed over the liv­ing room on a metal grate that al­lows for peek­a­boo views and over­heard con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the two spaces? In San­tomà’s lay­er­ing of richly sat­u­rated colours, Span­ish de­sign au­thor­ity Marisa San­ta­maría of the Isti­tuto Europeo di De­sign (Euro­pean De­sign In­sti­tute) in Mi­lan can see traces of Mex­i­can ar­chi­tects such as Ri­cardo Le­gor­reta or Luis Bar­ragán, “but the spaces San­tomá has cre­ated pro­vide even more drama and the­atri­cal ef­fects”. The use of un­ex­pected con­trasts ex­tends to the jux­ta­po­si­tion of tra­di­tional Cata­lan dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments such as the iconic hy­draulic floor tiles ar­ranged in elab­o­rate geo­met­ric pat­terns that mimic car­pets — and are fix­tures of al­most ev­ery bour­geois apart­ment in Barcelona from the 1880s to the 1960s — with less-pedi­greed ma­te­ri­als that in­clude vast ex­panses of wall clad top to bot­tom in tiny, in­ex­pen­sive pink bath­room tiles. A graf­fiti mu­ral by Maria Pratts, on the pink din­ing room wall, is a witty coun­ter­point to the elegant gild­ing on the sea-foam-green doors that open onto the room. Zeynep Rekkali of Etage Projects says he’s al­ways able to spot San­tomà’s un­ortho­dox touch whether look­ing at a chair, a floor lamp or an en­tire house. “It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s a sin­gle quote or an en­tire book,” he states, “his mes­sage is loud and clear.” Visit guiller­mosan­

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