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Getting to know Josep Puigdomènech
Interview by Marina Coy Vallès for the Jesuïtes de Gràcia School
Josep Puigdomènech, co-founder and creative director of The Room Studio, trained as a technical architect and acquired the profile of interior designer by vocation. He began his professional career in a construction promoter in Barcelona from the beginning as head of project design, until he ended up in the final direction of the works. Passionate about drawing, design and knowing the latest advances in technology, lighting and home automation, Josep Puigdomènech is in constant search of new techniques and materials to provide his projects with maximum comfort and technology. All this led him in 2005 to share his passion by creating The Room Studio together with his partner Meritxell Ribé, where he currently works with a team of more than 15 professionals.
As we anticipated last week, this week we give way to the co-founder of the Study where he shares his most personal interview. Are you ready? Let’s start!
1- How and when did your interest in interior design begin?
Every person, from birth, receives a whole series of external impulses and stimuli that alter the essence of our being depending on how we observe and react to them. Over the years, we forge our beliefs and points of view according to all the conclusions we reach. In my particular case and in short, I had two aspects that marked my way of seeing things: when I was born in Barcelona, every day of my life until I was 18 years old I passed in front of the Sagrada Familia – the great work of Antonio Gaudí- at least 4 times a day. I was fascinated, and continues to do so when it happens, how construction work evolved. I liked finding out how they were progressing. On the other hand, I never knew why, but I did notice the feelings I had when I entered different places: restaurants, theaters, cinemas, homes. I always paid attention to how each space produced a cluster of sensations, most of the time very different from each other, but my ignorance did not know why. To all this, in school, the problems that I was best able to solve were spatial problems and I also enjoyed drawing classes.
As I loved to draw, I always said that I would have liked to dedicate myself to anything related to drawing. I ended up studying Technical Architecture (what today is Building Engineering). That’s when I had an interior <<eureka>>, since I discovered that all those sensations that I felt when entering different spaces had to do with proportions, entrances, natural light, artificial light, reflections, temperature, materials, etc. That designs and drawings could transform these feelings into those that you wanted to convey and that you had in your head.
2- How and when did you start professionally in the world of design?
I started at a young age while studying for a university degree. I started working for a real estate developer who had a very clear, direct and creative vision of what he wanted to achieve with each plot he bought and developed. At that moment I was hypnotized by the power it had: we went from an idea and a blank canvas to a real and tangible house or building. What captivated me even more was how this transformation generated emotions and permanent changes, both for the site that was being built and for the people who bought and inhabited them.
We are talking about the time of the real estate boom, it was a laboratory of ideas and learning on a real scale and at a demonic speed. I met many Architects, Promoters and Builders who, each with their own style and way of working, executed the most varied works. There were times when I have always said (without generalizing) that Architecture was not made, buildings and houses were built. There were projects that were projected from the offices of the Promoters and that the Architects ended up putting the covers and signatures on them. Many times they did not attend the site visits during the whole process, people covered more than they could.
There I realized that a lot of sensitivity was lacking, not only in the general and architectural approaches (I repeat, without generalizing), and in the interiors. There was no creativity, risk, evolution, trying new materials, new construction solutions that would give a differentiating aspect, a promotion or unique home. It is there where I saw, without knowing it, that I put all the efforts to differentiate myself from the rest in trying to propose other ways of designing, without much success most of the time.
3- When you start a project commissioned by a client, what do you value the most?
I appreciate the enthusiasm you have to start working with our Team and to be able to start seeing results. I also value the level of trust they place, since they have to open up emotionally and exhaustively explain their way of life, customs, hobbies, defects… We always say that to design a new home the first thing to do is know who is going to inhabit it , since the same house can have thousands of different solutions and all of them will be equally valid. We cannot design for ourselves or impose our beliefs and customs in the form of proportions and materials. There is always the great dreaded question when you have to choose between two or three different options: – And you, what would you choose? In these cases I try to reason the pros and cons of each of the options according to their point of view (not mine) to guide them in their final choice.
4- What do you think is the most important thing to decorate a home?
The decoration of a home is a very important reality since, contrary to many beliefs, it cannot only be a reflection of your personality, but it also has to balance it so that it does not magnify your darkest egos. You cannot give priority to the color red for a person with a stressful and nervous life, just as you cannot design large bookshelves for a lazy and messy person. When you live as a couple or as a family, this concept is complicated and you must usually reach a consensus between the family relationship and particular tastes. It is here, too, where in our person they normally find an impartial and reasoned response that balances giving and yielding.
5- What should always be taken into account when designing?
You must take into account the five senses and think three-dimensionally. Everything must have a why and a what for: each line, each opening, each material, each reflection, texture, lighting… Everything has to have a purpose and it is not worth putting to put. As much as new trends appear, such as wabi sabi nowadays, the balance between all the elements should always rule.
A good study not only of natural lighting, but also of artificial lighting is also very important. Comfort should not distinguish between day and night or depending on the seasons of the year. The sun’s rays alter the natural light inputs according to its angle of entry and time of day, just like the temperatures of the light sources, its position alters the environments when night falls. A house must be pleasant to live in, both during the day and at night.
6- What does a good design mean to you?
For me, a good design is everything that gives us emotional well-being and solves a daily problem. It must be aesthetic and functional at the same time. All the elements that make up a home were once invented to solve a daily problem, and with the passage of time they have evolved in their design to the present day: from the front door of a building to an orange juicer.
The exciting thing about design is that it is inexhaustible and infinite. Something so simple that it serves to support the weight of our bodies, a chair, and that was invented thousands of years before Christ, to this day thousands of new chair designs still come to light every year. Some of them will be signature pieces in the future due to their innovative design.
7- Does the customer usually know exactly what he wants?
Many times we are called to the Study by people who one of the first things they tell us is precisely that, that they know exactly what they want. Normally this phrase is accompanied by the intention of wanting to minimize the work to be done and has a hidden purpose: they seek to minimize our fees to the maximum. Once you start asking and exploring them, they end up verbalizing what they were hiding at first.
There are other times that Clients come up with clear ideas. Usually they are couples with or without children who have shared their lives for a long time and have known how to find their place and know how to accept and give in. It also happens when you notice that they accept the passage of time and move to another vital phase in their lives. They speak of their new homes as an improvement and evolution that allows them to face a new chapter in their lives with renewed airs and in their new context.
The other large part are people who have tried for a long time (sometimes decades) to “furnish” the home with the good intention of being able to feel good. They end up realizing that no matter how much new piece they buy, although with good intention, they do not end up feeling comfortable in their own home. It is there where they end up putting their homes in our hands and, right after, they wonder why they didn’t do it before. It is wonderful to see how suddenly they find a lost illusion and an unattainable dream in their supply. When they live in their new home after the process is finished, the change in their lives is usually substantial and that gives us meaning to our work.
8- How do you guide the client about what they want? Since sometimes he himself has a vague idea of his wishes.
It is in these cases when listening is necessary, but not enough to be successful in the project. You must know what to ask to find the answers they have hidden in their minds. It is not about finding direct answers but knowing how to analyze the context in general. It is an exciting process because many times you raise aspects, options or variants that could never have been imagined but that quickly realize the exponential value that they would obtain in the case of obtaining them.
9- If a client ever asks you for a commission that you don’t like or don’t see as affordable, how do you deal with it?
Saying directly that we cannot face the project in hand with guarantees. We have an exciting job but, at the same time, it is a huge investment for our Clients. Many times it is the investment of their lives, and that responsibility is placed in our hands.
There are two things that have to flow from the first minute: feeling and confidence. If either fails, the project has too many numbers that it is a failure. It is known that “what starts badly ends badly“, and that feeling and trust must be reciprocal. Several times we have denied a project due to the lack of one of them, because we believe that it is the best for both parties. This is not why we want to say that said Client is not good, far from it, we want to say that we see that the Project will not flow on both sides, because of our way of seeing and understanding the approach in general.
10- What do you think differentiates a good designer from a mediocre one?
The sensibility. I don’t understand design without sensitivity. I have already commented before that everything must have a meaning and a reason. A door can be in a thousand different ways: high, low, wide, single-leaf, double-leaf, hinged, sliding, pivoting, with or without covers, made of wood, iron, glass, combined, lacquered, smooth, molded and a thousand more options. I do not understand how many houses have all the doors of the same dimensions, materials, colors, covers, for example.
Like everything in life, there are people who put sensitivity and passion into it; and people who put the minimum hours and maximum margin. Regardless of the end result, just think about collecting and leaving.
11- In a good design, what percentages do you think technique and imagination occupy?
One cannot exist without the other, they go hand in hand. I believe that the great difficulty today is being able to master both, but without forgetting a third leg that is as important as the first two: price. Every client that comes to the Studio wants a good design (imagination), that is feasible (technical) and that is in their investment objective (price). The variability is so great that the juggling game between the three legs is constant in all the processes we carry out. We must play with them exploring options that do not distort the expected end result, and this is the great daily complexity. It is something that we are currently humbly learning, since there is no magic formula that solves the paradigm without errors.
12- Do you use a specific process when preparing a project?
When facing a new challenge I go from more to less. I begin with a general approach to spaces and proportions, where we mold the ideas into sequences (rooms) that reflect the illusions embodied in the Initial Needs Program. It is there when the proportions, connections between rooms, natural light entrances, heights and reflections, come into play.
From this point on, we think about the textures of each material that will give us the sensations we seek and, above all, it is when we think about how we are going to illuminate the home both day and night. We must control the natural light inputs, as well as the artificial light environments. We achieve this by applying total comfort in homes: home automation. From any device it allows us to control not only the light, but also the air conditioning, blinds, access controls, etc., providing that extra to our designs.
To finish, we dress the house with all the decoration, adding color and often revealing the neutral base with which we work the interior design.
13- Do you use a special program when it comes to capturing all your ideas?
I use something as rudimentary and effective as: paper and pencil. Lately I am replacing it with specific drawing programs with the iPad that, with the pencil it has, substitutes and opens a variety of possibilities: types of pencils, colors, fills, among others; that the conventional pencil does not give you. After all, the paper and pencil you can take with you. At any time you can take it out and capture your ideas, you do not need to take to a computer, turn on, etc.
14- What do you think is the room that gives the most play when decorating it?
The living rooms, whether with or without a dining room and, also, in the case of having the kitchen incorporated or not. The lounges are the heart of the homes and they are always the spaces that are subject to more existing inputs, more comments and more wishes from the Clients. The variety of options and games they have make each one designed a unique exercise, differentiated from the rest of the rooms in the house.
15- Is there a specific person who has influenced you when creating your own decorative style?
As I mentioned at the beginning, my interest in interiors came late but when it did it was like a shock. There I started buying magazines and books. I would go to the Cooperative of the College of Architects and buy books on Architects that I liked. At that time we could say that the ones who most attracted me were: Carles Ferrater, John Pawson, Rem Koolhas and Herzog and De Meuron. Some for their rationality and simplicity of their spaces, and others for their adaptability to their environment and to the human scale.
Later, as the years passed, I began to follow other professionals: Francesc Rifé, Rafael Moneo and Vincent Van Duysen, among others. I have to say that I have no predilection for styles since I find that every style has its place and time, it is the beauty and what attracts me to this world.
16- Do you have any advice you can share to make your own home design?
I have always liked sports a lot. Sometimes when I was very young and injured myself, the wounds healed very quickly or I ignored them. When you get a little older, maybe you pay more attention to them, you look online, you try to understand what is happening to you, why it hurts and how to be able to self-medicate or self-massage. Sometimes you get to solve the problem.
Now when I get injured, what I do is put myself in the hands of a good physiotherapist. When I explain what is happening to me and where it hurts, he knows exactly where to put my hands and how I can heal quickly. I always think that a good physiotherapist has magic in his hands, but what he has is knowledge and passion for his work and this shows when he treats you. The world of physical therapy has never attracted me, but I know how important it is when your body hurts and I know how good it looks when I finish the treatment. This is exactly applicable to the world of interior design…
We are very grateful to Josep Puigdomènech for being open to sharing his thoughts, feelings and opinions. We take all your advice and try to apply it to continue growing as professionals. We send you lots of encouragement to continue the week with energy!