Some transformations have to be seen to be believed. Case in point, YLAB Arquitectos’ latest project, in which a dark and dreary Barcelona apartment is refashioned into a sun-drenched open plan space, complete with gallery garden. We caught up with YLAB’s Co-Founder, Yolanda Yuste, to find out more about this stunning apartment renovation.
A Welcome Change
Located in an old building deep within Barcelona’s lively Gracia district, this compact 90 square meter apartment was originally heavily partitioned, made up of an astonishing six rooms. “It was insane!” Yuste exclaims. “[The original apartment] looked really dark, with so few windows and so many little rooms.”
Nevertheless, the clients – a London-based Norwegian couple with a love of design – understood the potential of its sunny inner-courtyard covered with ivy vines, and decided to buy it as their holiday residence. From there, they enlisted YLAB Arquitectos to help transform the apartment into the bright and open space of their dreams.
“The apartment is not big at all, it’s like 90 square meters, and it’s very limited. The clients wanted the apartment to adapt to their own way of living.”
From Drab to Fab
To begin, YLAB Arquitectos undertook a number of important structural changes, taking down some of the interior walls to create a central open L-shaped space with a connected bedroom, bathroom and gallery garden.
To ensure that much-coveted connection to the outdoors, the team opened up the facade, installing 25 square meters of floor-to-ceiling windows in the recovered gallery garden, looking out onto the courtyard below. These changes immediately altered the whole atmosphere of the apartment, taking it from drab to fab in an instant.
For the clients, one of the main draws of this apartment was the traditional gallery space at the very front of the building. “The clients had been looking for an apartment with a terrace,” shares Yuste. “That was their primary condition, but they couldn’t find this in the short time they had. As a compromise, they saw in this space the possibility of converting this gallery into a kind of terrace.”
Flanked by double windows to both the interior and exterior, the revamped gallery works as a semi-exterior ‘gallery garden’ in lieu of a formal outdoor space.
“One of the parts I’m most happy about is this gallery garden,” the designer reveals. “It was the big surprise of this project. In the beginning construction phase, this space just had some natural stone planters. It was nice but not special. But the moment we saw it with the gardening, now that was impressive. It one of those things with a wow effect.”
“Before the addition of plants, the gallery was empty more or less – it had no real use. But after we added the plants, finally it had a reason to be, a function.”
Hidden in Plain Sight
“The clients are very much gourmet people,” explains Yuste. “They enjoy good food and good drinking, so they wanted the kitchen to be the center of the apartment.”
However, with such a small space to play with, YLAB Arquitectos knew straight away that a traditional kitchen wouldn’t work. Instead, the team came up with a unique ‘hidden kitchen’ concept, in which the kitchen was divided into four distinct sub-zones, each hidden away behind a custom oak wood cabinet.
“For example, we have this cooking area that you can really close on its own,” describes Yuste. “You only need to open it when you’re going to cook, otherwise it remains closed. There’s the sink area, that is a different [section] which you can use separately. Then you have a third area which is the breakfast bar, hiding these special kitchen gadgets. And another section for the wine fridge and glasses. This is closer to the living room area where the lounge chairs are.”
In effectively ‘hiding’ the kitchen behind closed doors, YLAB Arquitectos has made the open plan communal space more functionally versatile. The dining and lounge areas can be enjoyed without the distraction of cooking clutter.
Beyond the kitchen, the rest of the open plan area is made up of flexible furniture islands which encompass dining, lounge and office spaces. Design-wise, the overall aesthetic in this apartment renovation presents as a contemporary take on mid-century Scandinavian. Think Vitra and Carl Hansen mixed with a timeless minimalist white and wood backdrop. The final look features a mix of the client’s previous furniture supplemented by handpicked pieces chosen by YLAB Arquitectos.
“They are clients who appreciate good materials, good quality, good design. They are ready to pay a little bit more for having that. For example, natural wood inside the cabinets, which is for us a delight. Other clients would typically say melamine is okay for the inside. But this client wanted to have this real good quality until the very last aspect.”
As before and after transformations go, this has to be one of the most impressive we’ve seen. We can’t quite believe that it’s the same space! Aesthetics aside however, how successful is this apartment renovation at adapting to the client’s way of living?
During Barcelona Design Week, Yuste and the YLAB Arquitectos team were able to revisit the project after the client generously opened the apartment renovation up for exhibition. “That was very nice for me to see how they were using the space, to see that it was actually working and [that it] fit into their way of life. It seems they really appreciate this quality and the detailing. I think they were very happy.” Overall, we’d say that’s a pretty clear indication that the transformation is finally complete.