Borrell, Barcelona

In an age where historical significance and old-world charm are often overlooked in favour of modernisation, Borrell is a shining example of how both can coexist harmoniously in an inviting, contemporary home. When architect and owner Carlota Siverio and her wife found the apartment building dating back to 1870, they immediately fell in love with the charm and character it exuded—the rest, as they say, is history.

Originally twice the size it is today, the apartment was divided into two smaller 60sqm/646sqft units in 2005. To enhance the sense of openness, the kitchen/dining area was combined and relocated to the centre of the space. Simultaneously, the bedroom was enlarged and the living room slightly downsized—a change that created more functional space.

One of Siverio’s main inspirations for the apartment was to celebrate the “essence of Barcelona’s modernist architecture from the 19th century”. To achieve this, she restored design details and spaces from the original layout, while preserving materials developed in Catalan Modernism, a distinctive, flamboyant architectural style originating from Barcelona’s 19th century.

A 150-year-old wooden door adorned in brass latches, one of the items Siverio personally restored, swings open to reveal the hybrid kitchen and dining room. The low kitchen counter is topped with natural granite that complements restored cement mosaic tiles, with melamine wood drawers underneath providing an abundance of storage. Next to it, white melamine floor-to-ceiling cabinets hide appliances and seamlessly blend into the surrounding white walls.

There is a distinct visual line drawn across the kitchen/dining area, with the lack of overhead cabinets or splashback emphasising the granite countertop and striking floor tiles. A sense of continuity is also maintained with white walls flowing throughout the entire space, along with entryways aligned so both ends of the apartment are visible from either side.

“To create bigger and brighter spaces, we concentrated the storage solutions in the bearing walls. This allowed us to accentuate the existing structure and minimise the use of additional furniture.”

Carlota Siverio

Through the left doorway, the living room leads to two restored windows, from which the quiet pedestrianised Comte Borrell street can be seen. Siverio chose to leave the original brick walls exposed and stripped back the lofty ceiling, uncovering a stunning structure of rustic wooden beams. Mosaic tiles in more than eight vibrant colours line the living room floor, with elaborate floral patterns distinguishing them from the kitchen’s darker-toned mosaics.

“When we found the apartment, we immediately fell in love with the cement tile flooring and the high ceilings.”

Carlota Siverio

The exposed structural vault ceiling and patterned mosaic tiles are a delightful homage to Catalan Modernism, where curves were favoured over straight lines and mosaic tiles were one of the materials used religiously–some of the layers of rich history and character found in the striking apartment.

The bedroom’s access through a restored original door enhances a visual connection between the two rooms, strengthened by an overhead linear light that illuminates both passages. A low custom-made dresser separates the bed from the floor-to-ceiling wardrobe, delineating the sleeping and dressing zones within the bedroom without fully dividing the space. For a cohesive look, the same wood was used for the handles of the white melamine wardrobe and built-in cabinets in the living room.

On the other side of the apartment, the mosaic tiles running throughout the hybrid office space and bathroom were too damaged to restore. Siverio and her wife found a company that used the same authentic process to make individual tiles by hand, and even created a few themselves—a lovely personalised touch.

“Customisation is the main key when designing small spaces. It allows you to create clean and organised schemes which make spaces feel bigger and easy to live in.”

Carlota Siverio

The bathroom houses a custom-designed basin, built-in shower niche, and cleverly concealed plumbing, with natural light and ventilation from a small window opening up to the sunroom. Using the same concept as the bedroom, a shelving system lightly separates the hybrid office and creates privacy.

The sunroom is the couple’s favourite room, a place used for lounging or another workspace if needed. Restored windows let in abundant natural light, able to be fully opened to create an indoor/outdoor extension that previously existed in the original layout. The floors are laid with sunset-orange terracotta ‘rasilla’ tiles, another nod to the building’s history as they were widely common in balconies and terraces when the building was built.

As Barcelona’s architecture evolves, Borrell is truly a reminder that the past can inform the present in beautifully innovative ways. To pay proper homage to such history can be a daunting task, yet Siverio has masterfully implemented flexible design features that cater to a contemporary lifestyle while maintaining the spirit of Barcelona’s 19th-century modernist architecture.

Carlota Siverio (architect and owner), her wife Carla, and the NTS team.

For another apartment with historical elements discovered after the renovation, check out the unique Monolocale EFFE, Mantua.

Images by NeverTooSmall & Igor Artetxe