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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Grand Hotel Barcelona


There is no getting away from the fact that AirBNB is hammering a nail in the hotel industry's coffin. For far too long, hotels have had it easy; and especially so when it comes to design. Identikit decor, standardised room layouts, and soulless artwork have had Design Trawler often wondering if he's waking up in Beijing or Bermuda. With an almost Darwinian poetry, those hotels that fail to up their design game will die; to be outlived by only the strongest of species. 

Nowhere is this more true than Barcelona. Design Trawler is a big fan of the sail-shaped W Hotel perched at the top of the harbour, and the equally eponymous Hotel Arts situated next to Frank Gehry's 1992 Peix sculpture. But it's the volume and quality of the listings on AirBNB in the city that these two iconic hotels have to compete with. From modern penthouses, to luxury yachts, beaux arts apartments and classical townhouses; all display a design dexterity that's quite remarkable. 

Design Trawler chose to check in to an architect renovated, 1888 apartment in the heart of the city's Raval district to find out why the Barcelonés are on top of their design game, and what hotels could learn...


The first thing to understand is that, a daily walk up four flights of stairs doesn't phase the local in search of a characterful home. Many of the townhouses don't feature lifts and extend six or more floors above the ground. If you're considering buying a new sofa, or heaven forbid a grand piano, consider it extremely well, because it's little likely to be worth the effort to change your mind and get anything back to ground level for a refund. Once it's in, it's staying.

Perhaps it's this 'consider it well, and then build upon it' approach that makes the design of Francisco's apartment work so well. The decor could be argued as being a little idiosyncratic; the 60's dining chairs sitting alongside an architect's model of the Olympic swimming pool; or the scuba mask hooked on the horns of a chrome deer head. And you may be right; if not for the brilliantly executed kitchen and bathrooms. The former, is an impressive while marble monolith with New York style typographic artwork and stainless steel hood. Your grandparent's loft or yard sale this is not.


Everything in the apartment is done with character, but crucially balance. For every playful action figure standing on a door frame [very Rob Burden], there's a beautiful clay tile or restored beam; for every rustic shutter with cast iron hardware, there's a serious tubular steel piece of modernist furniture. It's fantastic.

So often, design is an 'all or nothing' affair; the W Hotel will have blue neon's and razor sharp faucets, but little by way of personality. The charming family run guesthouse will have mismatched porcelain and photos of great aunt Gloria on the wall, but could hardly be described as a hip hangout (unless you live in Dalston, have a beard, and ride a fixed gear bicycle to the vegan delicatessen every morning).

Francisco's apartment, like so many more in town, is spacious, exemplary clean, features some super-premium fittings and genuinely fascinating, personal touches. It's steps from the heart of the city and a fraction of the price of the 'box with a bathroom' that many international hotel chains provide.

If you're going on holiday, then where you live should be part of the experience; even if it does mean a 4 storey keep-fit session every morning. The sooner hotels realise this, the sooner they can stave off their eventual demise to the thousands of well designed homes that simply do it better. David Tang and India Knight have been saying it for years and Design Trawler whole heatedly agrees.


Find the 1888 Architect's Apartment in Barcelona, pictured above, on AirBNB [here]

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