Passion for heritage: meet Fragments Bcn
What’s up everyone?
Today I want to share with you something different from my previous posts and by doing it I am also officially introducing a new subject theme on my blog: architecture & interior design.
As you might already now, I also work as an interior designer at the moment (besides photography) and, during my travels, I realised how much I enjoy discovering not only lovely-looking places (from accommodation to coffee shops), but awesome local artists & brands as well, be it interior designers, furniture makers, decorators or architects – and I want to share all of my findings with you! I promise that today’s discovery is really, really lovely!
It was a typical beautiful day in Barcelona while I was scrolling through my Instagram explore tab while enjoying the evening sun on the beach. A photo with a hand holding a dusty cement tile caught my eye (I already had a soft spot for these colorful pieces) so I clicked on the handle and took a look through the feed. That was the moment I started following Fragments Bcn.
In that first quick encounter I learnt that they rescue cement tiles from buildings under renovation in Barcelona and give them a second life in the form of wonderful furniture pieces – particularly tables, which immediately resonated with me as I have a passion for reusing things that retain their beauty and charm despite how many years washed them away. Also, think about how many interesting stories they bear, how many things they’ve witnessed…
Soon after, I saw the team in action in an Instagram story, picking tiles from a rubble bag next to a construction site and, because they also made the address public in case anyone else wanted to rescue a tile too, I hurried to see if I got any luck. I didn’t, but from that day on these guys made me turn into this weird girl looking in every rubble bag I passed by on the street. I mean, I wanted to rescue my own tiny piece of Barcelona too!
Ok, a bit of context.
What the heck is so interesting about these tiles? Well, called cement tiles or hydraulic tiles, they appeared in Catalunya in the second part of the 19th century and were quite a big trend during the Modernism movement, adorning many floors in the bourgeois Catalan residences and beyond. Also, they were (still are) very resistent, were handmade and the pigment layer pressed onto the surface of the tile hydraulically. The designs were extremely varied, from the most simple, sober, to very intricate detailing and rich color palettes, depending on the designer’s creativity and mood.
Of course, like in every art trend, their popularity started to fade after a while and, little by little, during the pass of the years, many residence owners chose to either change them completely or simply cover their beauty with other finishes contemporary with their respective times.
But, again, as with every art trend, they are becoming appealing once more as a memorable thing of a certain moment in the past, a part of the rich local architectural heritage.
How I got to visit Fragments Bcn
As the weeks passed by, I was up to date with all their Instagram news, read their blog and fell more and more in love with what they were doing. If you take just a quick glimpse at their Insta feed, you’ll easily notice they put a lot of attention in their product and brand presentation as well, which to me it was adding to their passion for their work.
From their website, I learnt they’re also architects and interior designers and the “rescue tile” team started their journey in 2009, is formed of 4 passionate creatives: Alberto Twose, Anna Simonet, Maria Pancorbo and Pablo Twose and their core values are: respect for history, pureness of design and simplicity.
After a couple of months of stalking them on Instagram, I decided to take the plunge and message them for a visit and a short interview – AND THEY SAID YES! Can you imagine how excited and nervous I was?
A visit to where the magic is happening
Anna welcomed us in their studio one cloudy afternoon with such a joy that I soon forgot about the gloomy day and left behind all my nervousness. She was very friendly, fun and, more importantly, she answered all of our questions in detail, no matter how potentially stupid they might have been. Man, and they were many, because we wanted to know every little thing that went behind the scenes of what they were doing!
We took a short trip to enter “Ali Baba’s Cave” where all the tiles are stored. Now this was an experience I will not forget anytime soon! There were tens of tiles, covered in thick layers of dust, some of them even wearing large bits of the finishes that were pasted on top. It’s crazy to think somebody would cover these beauties with cheap laminate flooring!
There’s some kind of special emotion while looking at century-old pieces of the past and knowing you can breathe a new life into them! And these guys do it wonderfully with a genuine glow! They’re not the only ones rescuing cement tiles in Barcelona, but they definitely seem to be the most passionate about it. It breathes through their whole process, from picking up a tile, identifying its provenance, cleaning it, polishing it and bringing back the lush colors, all the way to the carefully thought framing, design and packaging. The process of cleaning the tile is probably the most demanding as it needs utmost care to not ruin the tile’s original finish, but my guess is that it’s also the most rewarding part! I can only imagine how satisfying it must be to hold a clean tile after a long operation, look at the beauty of its revealed pattern and be proud that you did it yourself.
There is so much work involved in giving back the lost glow of a tile and making it a usable piece of furniture or decoration!
Anna told us all about the technical process of turning a tile into a table, the types, the symbols found in Gaudi’s famous hexagonal tiles (if you’ve been to Barcelona, you surely stepped on them on Passeig de Gracia!), how some of them are more valuable because they are extremely rare or unique, how they identify them and how each piece holds a certificate of provenance with the year of the building and the location, their struggles and wins, but also about their other design products and ideas, like Lamp It (a cool lamp which you can use with almost anything you want as a lampshade) or a decorative map of Barcelona.
This article is getting way longer than I intended, so without any further ado, take another sip of that yummy coffee and let’s get to know the team behind Fragments Bcn through their answers below (I made sure to include a couple of Barcelona related questions too!).
Meet Fragments Bcn
What was the biggest challenge you encountered so far in this project?
When we began to rescue tiles in 2009, our biggest challenge was to recuperate the value of something considered “trash”. The tiles we found were considered worthless and it was a challenge to make people understand how we see them and to make them see the beautiful value they have. Fortunately, nowadays, people are much more conscious of it.
What part of your work process thrills you the most?
Probably, the first encounter. When we find a tile, it is such an exciting moment. And if it is dirty, it is so exciting to discover the design, the colours and also the manufacturing date.
What are you most proud of in your work?
We got to give a second life to the Rescued Tiles. When we see the results, the tiles and tables, it is a real satisfaction.
Have you ever considered expanding the project to include tiles (or other particular traditional objects) from other cities in Spain (or even other countries)? If yes, where?
Not really and not for the moment. We are in love with our city and as a brand, Fragments Bcn is very linked to Barcelona. However, tiles lovers from our community use our advices to rescue tiles with tiles from Mallorca, Morocco and other places.
How long does it take to develop a product?
Well, it obviously depends on the product. For example, for the instant table, we lasted like 6 months but for the Lamp It the process was 1 year. Once you designed the first drafts, the prototype phase is quite important and you have to think, analyse and test so much!
What’s the best design/ architecture advice anyone ever gave you?
“Always enjoy what you do”.
What’s the most important or surprising lesson you learnt since starting this project?
The more time and work you spend with prototypes, the best your product will be.
If you started over from scratch, what would you do differently?
We would work the branding with more strategy. We actually grew up step by step, very organically, just “as things happened”.
What would be your dream project?
The dream project would be doing the design part and other brands taking charge of the production.
What do you like most about Barcelona? What inspires you the most here?
Barcelona is the perfect mix between weather, sea and mountain. Also, the cultural life in Barcelona is so rich.
What’s your favourite place in Barcelona that a visitor shouldn’t miss?
The Born and Gracia neighbourhoods, Placa Felipe Neri, El Mercado de la Boquería and La Carretera de Les Aigues.
You can read more about them and, if you literally want a piece of Barcelona in your house or any other of their creative products, order directly on their website. A brochure and catalogue with information about the process and their rescued tiles products is available as well. If you’re interested in the subject and want more in depth information, on their blog they’ve written about the restoration process of the tiles, how they find them or the details behind Gaudi’s iconic tile (note that the blog is in Spanish).
I want to mention this article is not sponsored in any way. It took life purely due to my soft spot for beautiful rescued objects (I do hoard old chairs myself right now) and Fragments Bcn’s openness to share their work with us all.
Hope you enjoyed this blog post and let me know in a comment below what would you like me to cover in the interior design/ architecture series! Also, do you know of any cool places with a good story or artists worth discovering? Let me know in the comments below or via email!