Villa Paula: How a fairy-tale house became a dream home
We all dream of finding the perfect home, for many it always seems to be just out of reach. But every now and then the universe, with just a little helping hand from Lucas Fox, conspires to make it happen. Which was exactly what happened for Tatiana and Tony Hayes.
“Some things you just have to put down to serendipity,” Tony began by way of introduction one icy morning over strong coffee and a slab of chocolate strudel from a kitchen that, no kidding, has one of the most jaw-dropping views in all of Spain: straight across the top of Barcelona and far out to sea.
A native New Yorker, Tony moved to Moscow in the 1990s in pursuit of a business opportunity and stayed for the best part of 20 years. Life happened. He met his wife Tatiana, children soon followed and although they often talked about leaving Russia, it took another 15 years before they were able to do so. They settled on Barcelona because “it reminded me of New York City,” Tony says. “The culture, the diverse mix of people, amazing food and an incredible landscape – the sun, sea, mountains, skiing – we figured it would be a pretty wonderful place to bring up kids.”
Finally, in 2008 they met with Lucas Fox to start viewing properties and it was from another terrace in Sarrià that they first spied the house rising up in the forest like a fairy-tale castle, towers and all. “I thought at first it was a monastery,” he recalls. “But when I enquired it turned out that not only was it a private house, it was also for sale. My first thought was that we couldn’t possibly afford it, but we couldn’t quite resist arranging a viewing en route to the airport the next morning anyway.”
The iconic property, known as Villa Paula, dates from 1912 (according to the Town Hall) and is the work of the modernisme architect Jerome F. Granell i Manresa. It had barely been touched since its last renovation in 1948, all the original features were well preserved and while there was certainly some modernising to do, it was love at first sight. The Hayes put in an offer and by the time they’d landed back in Moscow there was a message waiting from Lucas Fox saying the owner wanted to meet them. Tony got straight back on the plane and was back at the office in Barcelona by the next morning.
Although their offer wasn’t as high as that of another bidder, the owner – who was selling due to ailing health – accepted because Tony promised never to turn it into a hotel. He made good on his word and with the help of architect Javier Barba of Barcelona’s BC Estudio who specialise in green architecture, the past six years have been dedicated to loving it back into the ravishing family home it was always meant to be, albeit with 21st century whistles and bells.
It took no less than seven licences to grant the work to go ahead, but the result is an eco-friendly wonderland. Contemporary comforts like underfloor heating that keeps the place toasty, and vast picture windows that let in those to-die-for views combine with an advanced technology Delounder designed kitchen that includes 30” side-by-side sub zero fridges and a 60″ Wolf professional cook range alongside more whimsical design items like the moss-green cabinetry, couture Baccarat pendant lamps by Phillipe Starcke and ceramic Fontini light switches. Original modernisme features like the relief graffiti above the windows, coloured glass inset into the doors and classic hydraulic tiles repositioned as ‘carpets’ within warm wood floors ensures its 21st century incarnation does not detract from its heritage.
Located in the National Park of the Collserolla hills there’s not one single room that doesn’t offer bucolic views stirring the very depths of your soul. Indeed, the most emblematic of the property’s eight ensuite bedrooms was regularly used by Montserrat Caballé when she felt blue. A good friend of the previous owner, she would stand on its wraparound balcony and sing her heart out to the city that spread like an appreciative audience before her feet. Another of the rooms, modelled on an American style barn with a two storey solid oak, sliding door, shows off the steel skeleton that was put in to reinforce the house making it stronger than it’s ever been, and the master bedroom now boasts the original marble fireplace from the grand salon, as well as a double sink bathroom in buttery marble complete with roll-top bath. The pièce de résistance however is up several flights of stairs to the torre, a perfectly square aerie at the top of the house. Tony added the hammock and telescope.
On the ground floor open-plan spaces are enclosed with insulating glass while lending a harmonious streamlined aspect to the space. And, with almost zen-like fluidity, indoor living areas flow naturally to the grounds outside, all four acres of them, which Tony acquired when the house was integrated in the national forest parkland. The former garage and basement has become a state-of-the-art gym and spa with Finnish sauna and steam rooms, while beneath it, an old cistern discovered during the renovation and later converted into a wine cellar, threw up an intriguing story. Foot holes in the rock leading down to it uncovered two battered old stools, one of which was covered in the wax and stubby wicks of so many candles. It is believed Catalan president Lluís Campanys lived in the house for a year during the Spanish Civil War, and hid here when the Falange did their house-to-house searches.
By late spring a 15m x 5m pool, outdoor shower and barbecue area will be complete, and as the carefully landscaped grounds mature, this 21st century reimagining of the place will continue to grow into itself and its story, one feels, has only just begun. Having come this far in creating a dream home, not to mention rekindling its intriguing history, it begs the question why move now? But Tony is ready for his next adventure. “Our daughter will soon go off to university,” he smiles. “And then with only two kids left at home, it’s simply too big for us. We’ve been lucky to play a small part in the story of the Villa Paula, but it’s time for the next chapter. It’s time to hand it on.”
Villa Paula is on the market for €12.9 million. Contents are negotiable.
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