March ABODE: Transplanted from Barcelona, a family puts art first

 When Spanish architect Iñaki Alday accepted his position as Chair of the Department of Architecture at UVA in 2011, it meant moving his family from a bustling life in the heart of Barcelona to a house surrounded by trees in Charlottesville. “Even though we love pedestrian spaces, we thought for the kids, maybe we should change and go to a house in the forest, under the trees,” he said. “If we were going to change, why not change all the way.”

(Photo by Andrea Hubbell)

When it came time for his wife, Margarita Jover (also an architect and partner in their firm aldayjover), and their two children to pack, deciding what to leave and what to take proved easy. They brought it all with them.

“We are not necessarily interested in comfort when it comes to our space. It’s not our main concern. We are interested in quality, personality and spaces that challenge you,” said Alday. The family’s vast collection of artwork, furniture and artifacts occupy the open floor space in their modern home, designed by local firm Bushman Dreyfus. Highlights include a Giacometti figurative sculpture, Gio Ponti Superleggera chairs acquired from a hotel under renovation, an early piece by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, and a one-of-a-kind enormous coffee table made from a slice of bubinga wood.

An oversized photograph by a well-known Spanish photographer depicts a difficult image of a row of billboards, a comment on commercialism. The photographer told Alday that not many people choose such a challenging piece for their space because they find it too disturbing, which is precisely why he acquired it.

There are whimsical touches too: an original magenta bullfighting cape made of canvas so thick, it stands on its own like a piece of sculpture. The bookshelves dividing the room into a dining and sitting area are low to the ground, as is all the furniture. “In Barcelona, we tried to have nothing exceed one meter in height. It makes for a more peaceful existence.”
The stewardship of occupying an architectural space and doing so with intention is something he takes seriously. “Architecture lasts many, many years. I’m just a temporary occupant. If a house is strong, filling it with beautiful pieces is a way of showing respect.” As an architect, Alday advocates adhering oneself to the restrictions innate in a structure. This philosophy continues to hold true for his life in Charlottesville.—Cate West Zahl

“I feel like we have no right to transform places that have their own life and personality. I get disappointed when I see that attitude of drastically tearing down walls and original details of a space in order to suit your needs. I’d like to see people change their own ways to accommodate the space, not the other way around.

“Normally being in a house, when you put your stuff in it, you fill it with colors. Most of the time you need a neutral background in which your things will provide the color. Sometimes you need to use color to bring something else out. Say you have a magnificent door. And then you paint the wall around it a certain color to make it appear. You have to ask that wall and ask that door, how do you want to get along?

“We really should dare to live in and use the spaces of our times. Just as we use the cars of our times. We aren’t trying to use a horse to get around! I don’t understand why there is this trend to build houses that try to reproduce something that is not our time. Just look at the cathedrals: When they were constructing them, the cathedrals were changing style with the times. They start with a Romantic part, then have a gothic section, and then a Renaissance part…People just naturally built what the style of their era was.

“We were living in a beautiful flat in the center of Barcelona in an old palace. We have always given priority to quality of the space that we live. Even if we don’t have the money to buy a thing, but just to rent, and then arrange it or transform it or give life back to that place. We realize that we have been always asking more for having a special place than for having comfort.

“A compliment we received from a photographer once was that our work is hard to photograph. We think this is good. It means the qualities are not obvious and staged in a way that looks like a set. I have a hard time with spaces that are designed only to look great in a photograph. Rooms are meant to be lived in.”

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