Before & After: An Art Nouveau Carriage House Is Reborn as a Luxe Barcelona Loft

Article published on Dwell - Photos by Meritxell Arjalaguer

Architect Kirsten Schwalgien converts the former stable of a famed Catalan modernist building into a contemporary loft.

The entrance to Amir Kassaei’s Barcelona loft passes through an ornate atrium with an extensively bracketed skylight, punctuated with brightly colored stained glass cut in organic motifs. A carved bear with arms around a lamppost is stationed at the newel of a curling, sculptural staircase.

Beneath it are arched double doors leading to the former carriage house of the art nouveau Casa Bures, designed by Francesc Berenguer i Mestres, an associate of Antoni Gaudí. Architect Kirsten Schwalgien transformed the space into a loft apartment while preserving its fluted cast-iron columns and Catalan vault ceilings.

The client is an Iranian-Austrian advertising executive, formerly at DDB, who started his own firm last year. He has a reputation for brash marketing—one of the slogans of his new company is “Create Relevance. Fuck Awareness.”

He told Schwalgien he would be the best client she ever had, and together they reconceived the raw space as an open loft boxed out with an enclosed bedroom and flexible guest room. She custom designed all of the furniture and even contributed an artwork—a neon light in the kitchen that reads, “May the bridges I burn light the way.”

Fortunately, the design proceeded in a more delicate spirit than that. Built by the Bures textile manufacturing company from 1904 to 1908 and owned by the Bures family for decades, it landed in the hands of the Catalan regional government and became a historic heritage site before falling into ruin. In 2016, a developer purchased it to convert into 26 luxury condos.

Schwalgien had toured the building before construction and brought Amir to the project. She wanted to design the layout herself instead of conceding to a typical luxury development that might incorporate trendy Scandinavian-style finishes inattentive to the building’s history. Her guiding light became an emphasis on a flexible, open layout and durable, timeless materials.

“I fell in love with this building when I first set my foot in it,” she says. “It’s like a dream for every architect or interior architect. For me, it was really important to respect the building as it is, and to develop designs which fit the building as well.”

But first, she had to convince the developer to let her design the project independent of the rest of the units. Since it’s a preserved historic site, she also needed approval from the city’s heritage department to make alterations.

“They didn’t like the fact that some rich expats were going to come and live in it, so it was a bit challenging to get them to agree to things,” Schwalgien says. “But after a while, they saw that the renovation went very well, and they got very excited about it too.”

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