Spanish Designers Are Embracing a Handcrafted, Rustic Sensibility

Reacting against the increasingly derided minimalism of Nordic design, Spanish designers and manufacturers continue to drive the Continent’s rustic aesthetic.

Spanish Design handcraft
The Kurul Bovedilla Series #2 from Madrid-based Enorme Studio translates ceramic handicraft traditions into modular furniture painted with hypergraphic patterns. Courtesy the designer and manufacturer

Ceramic tiles with uneven edges. Chairs of untreated teak and recycled materials. Rugs bifurcated by abrupt color shifts. These eccentricities in new Spanish products haven’t missed a bullet in the production checklist—they’re by design. Such features, moreover, are not being snubbed as shabby, atavistic, or down-market; in fact, they are increasingly sought after, as tastes move from slick minimalism toward the handmade and personal. And manufacturers, recognizing craft’s newly claimed esteem, are all too eager to add a human touch.

The movement has found a welcome home in Spain, where practices have united the country’s sun-drenched aesthetic with long-standing emphases on material and process. Products boasting an artisan spontaneity have come to define much of Spain’s postrecession design. “Spain is traditionally renowned for its design, but in the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve taken a step forward,” says Carlos Alfaro, U.S. export director of outdoor giant Kettal. “One secret is the craftsmanship involved in our process.”

Spanish Design handcraft
Barcelona-based interior and furniture designer Susana Piquer, who founded Colapso Studio in 2014, applied her predilection for wood and a self-styled “bohemian” approach to the redesign of her apartment in central Barcelona. Colapso Studio

Central to this trend is a recasting of the notion of “perfection” in support of an informal, handcrafted feel. Features that would otherwise be seen as requiring post-production remediation are now being exalted, if not incorporated intentionally. “Randomness and imperfection are not issues,” says María Gil, furniture maker Expormim’s U.S. and Canada area manager. “They make every piece unique and provide character.” This aim at imperfection has long suffused tile design, where faux fading and irregular protrusions abound, according to Ryan Fasan, technical consultant for manufacturers’ association Tile of Spain. Smaller design practices are also a part of this embrace. Susana Piquer, founder of Colapso Studio in Barcelona, says, “If a material has imperfections to the eye but fits with the concept of an object, that’s a strength.”

Spain has historically benefited from studios nimble in adapting to changing material and economic conditions, and from an animated civic life that correlates with excellence in hospitality, outdoor, and lighting design (see the surging popularity of brands like Kettal, Expormim, and Marset). Unlike Italian designers, with their material focus on plastics and ideological hang-up about luxurious simplicity, the Spanish have ensured a degree of accessibility by focusing on exports (see “Finding Creativity Amid Crisis” from the December 2014 issue of Metropolis). “I try to keep the creative concept open and relevant in a global market,” says Colapso’s Piquer, “even though it’s produced in Barcelona.”

Spain’s homegrown genius, seen especially in the postrecession era, has not only driven innovation but raised broader, global questions as to what constitutes good, accessible design.

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