The New Spain
Mario López-Cordero -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
In Catalonia, there's a typical type of house that's narrowly defined: the casa de cos, roughly translating as fits like a glove. These slender structures, which date from the 19th century, are often less than 15 feet wide. Furthermore, recent preservation regulations require that the rear 23 feet of a building lot remain outdoor space. Such were the parameters within which Exe.Arquitectura wrought the transformation of a dilapidated 1813 casa into a decidedly contemporary oasis of glass and stone.
The casa, located in the historic district of Molins de Rei, a suburb of Barcelona, had fallen into disrepair after serving as a bar for 30 years. "It was a gut renovation," says principal Marc Obrado, commissioned for the project by the house's new owner.
Once everything behind was demolished, Obrado restored and adapted the limestone facade, widening the front door to admit a car. The first 20 feet of the house are now a garage, paved in the same cement as the street outside. Beyond the garage stands the new steel-framed glass facade of the residence proper—similar to the glazed wall that Obrado constructed for the patio-facing elevation out back. "We worried about light, because these houses are traditionally very dark," he explains.
At the center of the three-story interior, a 7-by-15-foot skylight allows sunshine to pour down a floating steel stair. It's suspended from traction wires as slender as a man's finger and supported by girders anchored to the walls. In a residential space without any doors, this sculptural element also functions as a subtle division. "Everything else is fluid," Obrado says. "Like one long passage."
The first stop along that route is the white-on-white kitchen, with its Corian counters and lacquered cabinetry. (Inside the cabinets, glass shelves cleverly allow their contents to be seen from below.) Matching appliances are stainless, as are the bases of the saddle-seat stools pulled up to the island. Where the island ends, the kitchen flows seamlessly into the dining area—which, in turn, opens to the back patio and lap pool.
For flooring on most of the ground level and in the two bedrooms up top, Obrado selected what he calls a "quiet" gray slate that weathers well. "I don't like a potpourri of strident colors or textures," he says. The slate in the bathrooms, while actually green, is still dark.
Located between the staircase and the master bedroom, the slate-clad master bathroom is, in particular, a study in serenity. The sink is clearly visible from the stairwell; an open shower and the toilet are tucked in nooks on either side. By contrast, the guest bath is a simple rectangle, with white fixtures and a run of high windows facing the street.
Obrado likes the idea that his design conforms to a centuries-old architectural vernacular—but in a completely up-to-date way. "There's plenty of light, and open spaces are connected logically," he says. For this casa de cos, the only thing that's narrow is the dimensions.