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How One Barcelona Firm is Taking the City's Historic Housing to Stylish New Heights

Nook, Nook. Who’s there?

Apartments in the seaside Spanish city of Barcelona, especially those situated in the late-19th-century Eixample district, often come with desirable assets: double-height ceilings with fancy friezes; French doors leading to balconies; cement tile floor tiles embellished with a riot of colors and patterns.

What most don’t have is a layout suitable for modern life: Original kitchens tend to be minuscule (they were designed for the maid after all), and windowless bedrooms can make you feel like you are doing penance.

"The first thing we do is look at the light and the how we can alter the floor-plan to let more of it in," says Rubén Berenguer, one-third of Nook, a Barcelona studio that has become the go-to for (principally foreign) buyers looking to turn their fixer-uppers into homes as sunny as the city's weather.

The other two "Nook People" (as they call themselves) are Ann García and Joan Cortés. They work together in an old industrial loft in the Poblenou neighbourhood, which they converted into a spectacular co-working space with a freestanding volume in its center that serves as a meeting room.

Berenguer explains that the trio met while working at a large architecture firm that specializes in very large projects, especially public housing. As Spain's economy dipped, so did their workload, and, subsequently, their allocated office space, until they ended up being squished into a tiny corner—or ‘nook’—of the office. When they decided to set up their own studio, the moniker came with them.

In order to kick-start their portfolio, Nook’s first project, in 2011, was a small renovation project at García’s parents’ 1980s apartment. Nook integrated the previously sealed-off kitchen with the dining area via a large opening with a wooden frame for passing plates of food and facilitating conversation during prep and meal times. From then on, it seemed not a month went by when a Spanish design blog didn’t feature another charming reno orchestrated by Nook.

"I think in the beginning, clients came to us because we were cheap," laughs Berenguer. Be that as it may, Nook has hit on a Zeitgeisty, Scandinavia-meets-Mediterranean style that not only appeals to a large number of northern European buyers, but also Catalans, for whom a more functional, Nordic approach is trending.

And then there are those gorgeous cement tile floors—patchworks of color, fantasy and symbolism—that this writer ventures are becoming a hallmark of a Nook abode. "That wasn't really the intention," says Berenguer. "I think it’s more to do with hanging onto what we can. We don’t like makeovers that wipe out all memory. We look for a balance."

Over 20 projects later, Nook has become adept at finding effective ways to open up apartments with small footprints; maximizing storage space; creating flexible, functional living spaces with sliding walls; and adding specific functions using lo-fi materials (the plastic, baby proof stair enclosure Nook created for a client's 130 square-meter (about 1,400 square feet) row house is a good case in point).

But—and this is a large part of the charm—the architects also know when to leave well enough alone; whitewashed rafters, pine beams on the floor with palimpsests of torn-down walls, and restored wooden shutters combine to infuse a cozy sense of nostalgia in a Nook home. As their projects become larger and more complex (and now include commercial properties and new builds), it will be interesting to see the firm expand their horizons.

Projects [Nook Architects]

Clever Remodel Gives Barcelona House More Space, More Light [Curbed]

All Barcelona coverage [Curbed]