Interior designer Graham Collins talks to us about buying and creating the perfect home in Barcelona
TS: How long have you been in Barcelona and how did you end up here?
GC: I’ve been here for a decade. I’d reached a point in my life and career where I was ready to try something new. I came to see friends in Barcelona, immediately fell in love with the city and I’ve been here ever since although I still do a fair amount of work in London too.
TS: As an interior designer how has the city and the property market here inspired you?
GC: They are both equally important and you can’t separate one from the other because architecturally Barcelona is so rich and varied. It’s an intriguing mix of medieval, Modernista and contemporary architecture and design so there’s plenty to get your juices flowing. If you’re talking specifics I find the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic and its characterful properties with their narrow wooden doors opening on to all kinds of surprises, particularly inspiring.
TS: Is there anything different about design in Catalonia that would-be clients need to consider?
GC: Generally properties are smaller here, but they tend to incorporate all kinds of interesting original features like Modernista tiles, doors, windows or ironwork. I’d say have a think about incorporating these elements, don’t be put off by the size, and then come up with space-saving ideas.
TS: Can you give us a couple of examples of your most interesting projects to date?
GC: I loved renovating a 35m² studio apartment in one of Barcelona’s oldest buildings – it dates back to the 1700s and Picasso reputedly created a mural on a friend’s art studio walls here – ensuring that all modern amenities are present while creating a space that oozes style and glamour. More recently I was given the challenge of transforming a large apartment in a 1970s building. Although it had no obvious charm at first, I’m happy to say it’s now a colourful, welcoming beachside retreat and it looks fabulous. I’m now working on the conversion of an old palace in the Born. It’s 90m² and was bought as a shell, but the goal is to retain as many original features as possible while creating a contemporary family home.
TS: What advice would you give to a buyer looking to renovate rather than buy somewhere ready to move into?
GC: The beauty of buying an apartment for renovation is being able to bring your own style into the place. Key to a successful renovation, as anywhere, is finding a reliable and skilled team of workers, and getting expert advice on negotiating the local bureaucracy, which can be time-consuming and tricky to work out for newcomers.
TS: In terms of bringing in an interior designer, how does the process work?
GC: Most of my clients come to me via personal recommendations, but more and more I’m being contacted directly through my website. I like to start with an in-depth chat with my clients to get a sense of who they are and what sort of home they want to create. Then I make suggestions for achieving the home of their dreams based on the type of property they want, the budget they have available and the lifestyle they want to lead.
TS: Who are your clients?
GC: I’m still hoping for the call from Beyoncé, but otherwise, I’ve worked for all sorts of people from struggling artists with big ideas and small budgets, to wealthy art collectors. We work together and we always have fun and I think that’s the key to successful design.
TS: What advice would you give to someone looking to buy in Barcelona, or Catalonia?
GC: Make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Come up with a list of essentials, e.g. neighbourhood, price range, terrace, parking etc, and don’t waste time looking at properties that don’t have those essentials. Get a detailed description of every property you want to view before you go to see it. When viewing the property, go with your gut instinct: if you love it, it’s probably the right place for you.
TS: Finally, what are design trend predictions for 2015?
GC: Tropical prints darlings, flower power and glamorous boho-chic. My motto: be fabulous always and your life will follow!