41.3874° N, 2.1686° E
‘The strange thing can be the beautiful thing.’
Gems in this
Andrew Trotter has a resumé as diverse and impressive as his travels. His creativity has found numerous forms of expression and has taken him across the globe. Originally from the north of England, he moved to Australia as a teenager and worked in London and Bilbao before settling in Barcelona, Spain.
He co-founded the brilliant biannual design magazine Openhouse, has worked as interior designer, fashion buyer and some-time gallerist, and most recently is the founder and architectural designer for his eponymous studio. The first project for Studio Andrew Trotter back in 2016 was the boutique hotel Masseria Moroseta in Puglia, Italy, and today his studio is working on some–20 projects around the world, from Doha to Utah. We chat to Andrew about travel inspiring his creative ventures and his never-fail recommendations for Barcelona.
On your first major travels leading to fashion
I studied interior design at the Queensland College of Art in Australia, which was part of Griffith University in Brisbane. I lived there for six years, and then all my friends were going to London, so I thought I’d go with them, and eventually return to Australia. I never did. I worked for a year for Anoushka Hempel in London. But after that I found it hard to get an interior design job, so I went into fashion.
On working with Yohji Yamamoto
I love Japanese fashion. I was doing an office job at the time. I put my CV into Yohji Yamamoto. They called me five minutes later asking if I could come by. I said, ‘I'm not dressed for an interview.’ They said that didn't matter. We talked for two hours about nothing to do with clothes or selling. I started working in the Harvey Nichols branch of Yohji. I was 28. I had no fashion experience but I managed to work my way up to buyer and seller and was there for eight years.
On lessons learned from Japanese design
I picked up important ideas during that time: simplicity; an eye for detail; that the strange thing can be the beautiful thing; asymmetry; colors, or rather lack of colors — he often used black; and believing in yourself — Yohji always did what he wanted, he didn't follow fashion trends.
On making an unexpected move to Spain
I loved London. It's so close to Europe and has its own identity at the same time. People are different in London — they have a drive. Of course, I had my party years too! And then went into more artistic things later on. And you can have a good mix of those in London. Around 2007, my employer Yohji Yamamoto went bankrupt. He was helped by Adidas but a lot of us lost our jobs. I was like, ‘What do I do with my life?’ I wanted a big change. A lady who sold Yohji in Bilbao — she has an amazing shop called Persuade — told me to just come and live in Spain. I spent two years there and learned a lot from her. It was amazing living in Bilbao but importantly it produced the drive for me to do something for myself.
‘I picked up important ideas during that time: simplicity; an eye for detail; colors, or rather lack of colors — he often used black; and believing in yourself — Yohji always did what he wanted, he didn't follow fashion trends.’
On moving to Barcelona
The idea I had in Bilbao was to move to Italy and open a shop in Umbria, where my best friend of many years lived. But I got there and it was a village in the middle of nowhere... I'm sure it would have worked and been very cool, but I couldn't live there in that period of my life. I knew a lot of people in Barcelona, so I just packed my car and drove. Six months later I opened a shop called Openhouse in Barcelona, selling objects, interiors and furniture. It wasn't difficult getting started — Barcelona is a very easy city. But, it is difficult for shops. I would never have a shop here again. It was the time of the financial crisis so people weren't buying €2,000 vases. The locals aren't the biggest spenders. It's not a city all about style, like Milan or Paris — Barcelona is a city for having a drink and a paella.
On launching Openhouse magazine
I had no vision for starting a magazine. At the time, I was living with [the now-editor of Openhouse] Mari Luz Vidal, in an old apartment that was about 120 years old, very close to Plaça de Catalunya. It was beautiful. We started opening the house to the public as a photo gallery — initially exhibiting Mari Luz's own work. That did so well, we decided to do more. We had a Japanese flatmate who is a chef, so we did Japanese dinners for up to 50, 60 people. 4,500 people came to the house in three years. And learning about other people opening their houses to the public, Openhouse magazine started. We crowdfunded the first issue and it took off: we're on number 15 issues now.
On designing your first building: Masseria Moroseta in Puglia
At the same time as we launched Openhouse, my best friend from the village in Umbria, asked me to help him look for and do-up an old building in Puglia. We couldn't find a building he liked, but he had land to build a new house on. I said, ‘Let me design it.’ He said, ‘You're not an architect.’ To which I replied, ‘If you like it, we'll find a way to do it. If you don't, I'll help you find an architect.’
It was my first piece of architecture, and I hadn't worked in interior design in 20-something years. My first design was white and cubed, like it is now, but more modern: you could really see the influence between John Pawson, Álvaro Siza and the Portuguese architects coming through. When the local technical architect went to the council, they just laughed: ‘Where do you think you are? Japan?’ We had to rethink it. We started looking for inspiration in the old buildings of the town of Ostuni, and the old masserie. I thought: we can make use of this. All these old buildings are actually minimalist. I'm happy it turned out like this because now it's a building that really fits with the local surroundings. The success of it is that it's simple. It's got a lot of feeling, it's not too modern, it's not a copy of anything old but it's not something new either. People, when they're there, feel half-wowed and half-at-home.
‘We had a Japanese flatmate who is a chef, so we did Japanese dinners for up to 50, 60 people. 4,500 people came to the house in three years. And learning about other people opening their houses to the public, Openhouse magazine started.’
On fighting against the stigma of 'architectural design'
I had a bit of a fight with a magazine in Spain. They wrote me down as 'interior designer Andrew Trotter'. I said: ‘Yes I did study interior design, but our studio is doing architecture.’ They said they didn’t get it. I brought up John Pawson: ‘He doesn't have an architectural degree. Is he an architect?’ They didn’t reply. I remember when Dezeen, or maybe Designboom, called him an architect and all these people complained that he shouldn't be called that. But his practice is an architectural practice. He has architects that work for him and so do I. It's architectural design. Just because you have a degree and are doing bad architecture, should you be called an architect?
On finding inspiration and recharging around Barcelona
I love Montseny, the mountain, but also the Costa Brava. Cadaqués has some architectural gems – Apartamento magazine just released a book about it. There were some good architects there, like Josep Antoni Coderch and Josep Lluís Sert in the 1940s and 50s.
On choosing and sticking to your neighborhood in Barcelona
People don't move around in Barcelona. If you live uptown, you don't go downtown. And that really applies to me. There are really great areas in Barcelona like Gràcia, Sans or Poble-Sec but I've got everything I need around me — I live near the sea — and people often come to my house to eat so I don't move very much.
On showing visitors around Barcelona
When you go up to Tibidabo or Montjuïc, you can see the whole city. Most of Barcelona has six story buildings, so it's quite flat. You can see the Sagrada Familia and all of the other churches popping out, and the streets with their grid system. I think it's quite impressive — especially if you're arriving by plane, try to sit on the right-hand side.
I like taking people to the Sagrada Familia for the Gaudí but I think the most impressive building is the Mies van der Rohe pavilion. The Picasso Museum is incredible too because it has most of his older work, which is when he was a kid. So you have these stunning paintings that nobody realises Picasso did when he was 14 years old. Arata Isozaki renovated an old factory at the base of Montjuïc. It’s called Caixa Forum and they have a great selection of exhibitions. The House of Xavier Cobreró is a labyrinth of concrete arches, housing the late artist’s sculptures. If you get the chance to visit, make sure you get to see the pool.
‘When the local technical architect went to the council, they just laughed: ‘Where do you think you are? Japan?’ We had to rethink it. We started looking for inspiration in the old buildings of the town of Ostuni, and the old masserie.’
On eating well in Barcelona
What I like about Barcelona is that you can get good food, really fresh produce, pretty much anywhere. It's not like London where you have to pay a lot for it. There's one restaurant that I love taking friends and family to called Somodó. It was run by a Japanese guy who had been here for 30 or 40 years. He passed away but they kept the restaurant going. It is a Michelin-star-quality set menu for €30 – amazing. Dora has the best tortilla de patata in Barcelona, washed down with a café con leche. Brunells is a wonderful modern outtake of an old-fashioned bakery. Beautiful deco and great traditional cakes.
On eye-catching designers in the city
There is an interior designer called Isern Serra who's doing nice work. He's doing the offices of Six N. Five, which is a famous studio by the 3D artists Andy Reisinger and Ezequiel Pini.
On a window or an aisle seat
Window, because I like to look at the view.
On Barcelona in one word
Busy. It is full of tourists.