Julia: How did you two meet?
Clara Arnús: We met when we were kids, but we never became close friends. We both left Barcelona after university, I moved to China and Inés moved to New York. We reconnected at the launch party of my brand baTabasTa in Barcelona after 15 years of not seeing each other. We started planning a collaboration right away!
JS: Tell me about some of the custom designs you did with Casa Bonay.
CA: We designed cushions for the lobby and the rooms, the wallpaper of bathrooms and tablecloths for the restaurant. We worked in tandem with StudioTack, the interior designers, and they did a great job of choosing the right dose of bTbT prints for the hotel. They have great vision and taste.
JS: Inés, you have initiated so many collaborations for the hotel decor. How do you go about brokering these partnerships?
Inés Miro-Sans: Most of our collaborations have been with friends, and all happened naturally. Our collaboration with baTabasTa started just with uniforms, but in every meeting we had we spent more time talking about other possibilities than working on the uniforms. We had so much fun thinking about which patterns could go where in the space. We ended up making custom upholstery fabric and wallpaper; they are super fun! We worked with Marc and Clara from the store Other Things in Barcelona to design the most important element of the hotel — the front desk. We are also doing some beautiful organic wool blankets with a company called Teixidors from Barcelona. I love working this way, always having fun!
JS: Clara, the name baTabasTa is so catchy, where did that come from?
CA: My friend Leti and I founded baTabasTa three years ago. Leti worked as a fashion consultant and I worked as a graphic designer mainly in fashion. We had the idea to make elegant silk robes, like the ones divas from the 60s wore in movies. I wanted to add some funky prints. We came up with the name BATA (robe) BASTA (tacky) – we made one robe, only one, and it was so ugly! We designed some shirts as display behind some necklaces we sold at an Art Fair in Shanghai. What happened was totally unexpected: we sold out all the shirts. So, we became shirt makers with the name, prints and essence of baTabasTa.
JS: I love how some of the baTabasTa designs are seemingly poppy and cute, and then they get a little dark upon closer inspection. There are amputated fingers, prostitutes…Where do you draw inspiration from?
CA: I think I got this surreal vision from living in China. Just check out the site Accidental Chinese Hipster and you’ll understand! I’m fan of tromps-l’oeil and working those details into my patterns. Leti and I love the mystery of symbolism, secret languages and secret societies; we’re fascinated by spirituality and love lectures in painting and architecture, especially masonic art.
JS: Clara, you recently moved back to Barcelona from Shanghai. Was that as crazy an adventure as I imagine it sounds?
CA: It was! China is the most different country I’ve lived in. The culture shock is brutal, it takes time to understand and process everything. Leti and I lived in Shanghai for a couple of years, the beginning was hard but we had a lot of fun! We met very interesting people, brave with crazy personalities. Sometimes we felt lonely, but eventually that loneliness turned into freedom. I never felt so free as I did in Shanghai and I think that has inspired me a lot.
Julia: Inés, you have always wanted to open a hotel, a project so enormous, most people cannot even fathom. How does someone set their mind to such a thing at such a young age?
Inés: I was very lucky to know what I wanted to do when I was sixteen: I knew I wanted to build a hotel. I love to gather for dinners, parties, invite friends of friends and make people feel comfortable. To me, a hotel is like a house but much bigger. Hotels represent everything I like: food, design, travel. To see people enjoying themselves gives me a satisfaction I can’t explain.
I studied business administration, which I hated, but it gave me a global overview. I wanted to study architecture but I was really bad at math. I got an internship at a hotel and I loved it and worked at a few other hotels after. In 2009 I went to work in New York. Then three years ago, I started to work on a hotel concept in Barcelona – that space did not work out, but I spent a year looking at buildings and I found the perfect space to open Casa Bonay. I think finding this place was a combination of passion, consistency and a little bit of luck.
JS: I cannot imagine what it takes to work in the hospitality business? Do you ever come home at the end of the day and think, “I don’t give a fuck whether or not other people are comfortable, well fed, massaged and happy?”
IMS: Ha! I think it’s the same feeling that you have when you throw a party in your apartment and everyone had an amazing time! Don’t you feel great? You feel happy and you always remember these moments. So in the end, even if the day to day is hard, I always think that we are an important part of our guests’ experience and it is a big responsibility for us to love the work! Their happiness and being part of the moments they remember is the best reward.
JS: True, but when you throw a party is has a beginning, a middle and an end. Hotels are open 365 days a year! I always imagined it would be odd to go to work in an environment where most of the people around you were on vacation, indulging and relaxing while you are hard at work. Does that ever make it difficult to motivate? Or do you just have more fun because of it?
IMS: I have much more fun. It’s like having a big orchestra responsible for hosting all these guests. You just keep the show going on and on so people can enjoy. It is also a great opportunity to connect with people and this is one of the things I like most from this work, the people you meet everyday.
JS: The building is so special, what have you done to preserve its original design and character?
IMS: It was really difficult to convert this old building into a new hotel. This building is from 1869. We wanted to preserve the heritage of the city, which posed some problems with construction. Each centimeter we changed affected the project as a whole. The easiest solution would have been to demolish the old building and build a new one, but then the hotel would no longer reflect the history and identity of Barcelona … Because we kept the bones of the building, the history, the light and energy of the space, you can feel it when you walk around.
JS: You are building a greenhouse on the roof of the hotel. How did you come to this idea and how do you imagine it functioning for your guests? As far as I can tell, this is a really unusual thing in Barcelona.
IMS: The idea came because we had these beautiful windows that face the inner façade that we needed to remove because they were not weatherized. I did not want to throw them away. We were growing aromatic plants upstairs, and I thought it would be a great idea to repurpose these glass windows to build a greenhouse. We are stilling working on the project, and we want to open the space to the city, a space where guests and people from Barcelona can hang out.
JS: Why don’t Spaniards eat salad?!
IMS: Ha! We eat salad at home, but not when we eat out. There is a big opportunity out there in the restaurant scene, this is something I’ve been thinking about since my experience in New York. Come here and an open a salad bar!