Renovating Old and New in Barcelona

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August 13, 2009

When Cecilia Tham and Yoel Karaso of Habitan Architects bought their first-floor apartment in an 1894 block of the Fort Pienc neighborhood of Barcelona in 2005, they knew they were taking a risk. Casa Alí Bei was a bargain because it is afectado (“affected”)—–that is, the land is zoned for redevelopment. A baby (Hanna) on the way, the possibility of being evicted, and a tight budget necessitated a canny renovation strategy, yet one that still honored the dazzling turn-of-the-century tile work and ornate moldings. A stone’s throw from Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar, the apartment, like the neighborhood, has been reborn as a patchwork of old and new. Tham tells us the story.

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  "We really love to cook and much of our home life revolves around our kitchen. When we have friends over it’s great to buzz around here; it’s almost like a cooking show. We’re a very equal couple. We wanted the kitchen island to be a single form that we could both use. We can both cook and we can both wash the dishes. The whole thing is really easy to clean as it’s just one main surface that you can wipe down. So the preparation surfaces, the hob [cooktop], and the sink are accessible from both sides. It’s a simple, fun, form-follows-function principle: Store, wash, prepare, cook, eat."  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel
    "We really love to cook and much of our home life revolves around our kitchen. When we have friends over it’s great to buzz around here; it’s almost like a cooking show. We’re a very equal couple. We wanted the kitchen island to be a single form that we could both use. We can both cook and we can both wash the dishes. The whole thing is really easy to clean as it’s just one main surface that you can wipe down. So the preparation surfaces, the hob [cooktop], and the sink are accessible from both sides. It’s a simple, fun, form-follows-function principle: Store, wash, prepare, cook, eat."

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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  "We really fell for the building and these fabulous original features—–the elaborate decorative plasterwork ceiling and the tiled floors. Plus we have a big expansive view at the back, which is quite precious in the city—–we overlook a soccer pitch built on former railway tracks."  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel
    "We really fell for the building and these fabulous original features—–the elaborate decorative plasterwork ceiling and the tiled floors. Plus we have a big expansive view at the back, which is quite precious in the city—–we overlook a soccer pitch built on former railway tracks."

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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  The couple took down a wall to create the open kitchen and lounge space where Tham and Hanna play. Wooden panels that aped a Swiss chalet also came down out of the “interior patio,” making the dining room more palatable.  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel
    The couple took down a wall to create the open kitchen and lounge space where Tham and Hanna play. Wooden panels that aped a Swiss chalet also came down out of the “interior patio,” making the dining room more palatable.

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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  "It’s typical for Barcelona buildings from this period that the bedrooms are divided with decorative plaster columns and a cornice to create a curtained-off alcove for the bed, separating it from the more public part of the rest of the room. We opened up our bedroom, but we conserved that feature in Hanna’s room, and now every morning she wants to play dress-up."  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel
    "It’s typical for Barcelona buildings from this period that the bedrooms are divided with decorative plaster columns and a cornice to create a curtained-off alcove for the bed, separating it from the more public part of the rest of the room. We opened up our bedroom, but we conserved that feature in Hanna’s room, and now every morning she wants to play dress-up."

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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  The front door hallway flooring features original turn-of-the-century floor tiles in this renovated first-floor apartment in Barcelona, Spain.  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

    The front door hallway flooring features original turn-of-the-century floor tiles in this renovated first-floor apartment in Barcelona, Spain.

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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  "When this building was constructed the toilets would have been outside. In our previous place we had a tiny shower in a tiny bathroom that you could barely stretch your arms out in, so we moved here knowing we wanted to make the bathroom something special. We planned this grand freestanding bathtub-and-sink unit with the same materials as the kitchen - plywood and slate."  Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel
    "When this building was constructed the toilets would have been outside. In our previous place we had a tiny shower in a tiny bathroom that you could barely stretch your arms out in, so we moved here knowing we wanted to make the bathroom something special. We planned this grand freestanding bathtub-and-sink unit with the same materials as the kitchen - plywood and slate."

    Photo by: Gunnar Knechtel

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