Bright whitewashed raw brickwork and bespoke furniture highlight the elemental scents of a Catalan high-end perfumery
In an architectural context when post-modernism resurgence is accompanied by reinvigorated use of colour in design, it’s unusual to come across projects, especially interiors, where colour has not been used. But, situated on the Paseo de Gracia in the heart Ildefons Cerdà’s Eixample district in Barcelona, local firm Jofre Roca Architects has created a semi-hidden shock of minimalist white amid the flamboyance of its Beaux-Arts buildings.
Designed as the main showroom and offices for high-end perfumer Carner Barcelona, it was Roca’s idea to let the raw materiality of the building have a dialogue directly with the product rather than losing that relationship with confusing architectural interventions.This was in part driven by the thick-set brick arches of the half-basement it sits in with low level windows to the street, typical of the area.
But the elemental approach to the architecture was inspired also by the nature of perfume itself, whose ingredients are similarly elemental: wood, leather, citrus, rose, alcohol. ‘We felt there are aspects of local sourcing and craft in Carner’s perfumes and we wanted the architecture to reflect that,’ says Roca. But the firm didn’t want to compete with perfumes themselves – each of which has multi-colour tints for the eau de parfum range and dark bottles for the intense, distilled versions.To this end, the rustic, raw patina of the brickwork vaults has been respected, but completely coated in a rich, white, breathable lime render. This, together with the FSC pine floorboards, sourced from local forests, creates the simplest of backdrops for the perfumed dramas to play out. Usually when there’s such simplicity, it’s the staircase that becomes the subject of an architectural flourish – but not here. The firm has played it cool, casting a simple concrete stair and encasing it in wide, white, dry-lined walls. The intent is that nothing draws attention from the products themselves.
The raw materiality of the building has a dialogue directly with the high-end product itself
Within the display areas, the only other addition is the furniture itself, all of which was designed by the architect to specifically fit the alcoves that exist within the space. The idea was to use the cabinetry as an active means of promoting the product; so not only does it serve as storage but its surfaces ‘receive’ the perfumes, displayed on plinths. Curiously, the customer does not handle the bottles when testing the perfumes but uses small porcelain reservoirs sunk into the display plinth, perspex holes in their covers allowing delicate, long, ceramic sticks to be inserted, like quills being dipped in an ink well. It might have felt quaint, even anachronistic when designed, but given the Covid-19 pandemic, the detail seems remarkably prescient and considered.
Constructed in a local joiner’s workshop, again from domestic timber, the whole was white-painted in a satin finish to give it a lustre of understated luxury. Allowances were made within the cabinetry for the installation of lighting, serving to illuminate in three ways. Tiny point sources highlight bottles from below, while hidden LED strips at low level emphasise the packaging on the shelves beneath. Strips behind, meanwhile, use light to separate cabinet and wall, making a distinction between the temporary and permanent.
The private meeting room, partitioned off by a white-painted steel glazed screen, is the only part of the design that demands low-level air handling. Benefiting from being hunkered in the ground, the rest of the space, save for a large, rolled back timber door that separates office from sales floor, allows cross-ventilation between rear garden patio the front of the shop. All silent. All understated. Only flashes of colour within a blaze of white from that street-facing window giving the passer-by the sense of the olfactory delights below.