Design Travels: Exploring Spanish Design Influences
The Amity Worrel & Co. Interior Design Team Takes a Trip to Spain to Explore Spanish Design Influences from Moorish Architecture to Art Nouveau Style
This year, Amity Worrel & Co. is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Over the past two years, our team has shared some ups and downs. We all collectively made it through a global pandemic of uncertainty. We moved into a new Austin interior design studio. We had some personal health issues and team transitions. And, we received top honors in the 2021 Austin Home & Design Awards. We banded together through the highs and lows to deliver some stunning interiors to our clients. However, we felt a little burned out at the 10-year mark. The bottom line — we needed an escape to find some “wow” in our community and reconnect with the rich and vibrant history of the design world of which we are lucky enough to be members. And, what better place to find design inspiration than Spain?
Recently, my design team and I just got back from exploring Spanish design influences on a celebratory business development trip traveling through Granada, Barcelona, and other charming Spanish towns. While we took the time to meet with vendors, we also relished the opportunity to bask in design history and reignite our creative spirits.
Typically when people think of Spanish design styles, they tend to get locked into the idea of this “suburbanized” Mediterranean look of white stucco walls, red terracotta roofs, and excessive archways. This style can be beautiful when done right. However, there is so much more to Spanish design that we don’t account for and would be hard-pressed to recreate today. I want to share with you some musings from my design travels and dive into some of my favorite Spanish design influences, including Moorish architecture and Art Nouveau style.
Exploring Granada: Spain’s Mecca of Moorish Architecture
Granada was one of the first stops on our design trip, and touring the city felt like we were walking through the streets of Morocco rather than Spain! Granada is located just across the Alboran Sea from Morocco, and you can feel the vibrant influences of Moroccan design. In fact, the city is best known for its Moorish architecture. While the rest of Europe was entering the Dark Ages, the Moors were inventing algebra and creating vibrant designs that would stand the test of time. One of the best examples in the city is the Alhambra.
The Alhambra: Not What You Expect from Spanish Architecture
The Alhambra is a Moorish fortress built between 1238 and 1358 to protect the city. While its exterior walls are tall and threatening, the interior is an explosion of zellige tiles, color, sunbeams, and delicate arches. Our tour included some of the most incredible views I have ever seen of the Alhambra, and it was inspiring beyond words to take in the historical beauty — from the elegant courtyards, perfectly positioned windows, tranquil water features, slender columns, and captivating tiles. The Alhambra is one of the best-preserved Islamic palaces and not at all what you’d initially expect to find in Spain. While it would be impossible to recreate these design features today, we can still splurge on some vibrant zellige tiles.
Exploring Barcelona: The Home of Antoni Gaudi and Art Nouveau
After a fantastic first few days, it was hard to imagine that there was more to see. But just like that, our design travels took us to Barcelona, where we checked into Hotel Oriente on La Rambla, one of the city’s oldest and most prominent streets. Then, we set out for an architectural walking tour that mainly featured — you guessed it — Antonio Gaudi!
Gaudi and the Art Nouveau Movement
How could we go to Spain and not talk about Gaudi? Gaudi was a leader of the Art Nouveau movement in the late-1800s, spearheading Barcelona’s own unique interpretation of the style: Modernisme. The Art Nouveau style rejected the Industrial Revolution and instead went back to nature, grounding designs in organic forms. Gaudi experimented with new materials and shapes, creating architectural designs with bold colors, glistening tiles, and not a single straight edge. Taking in his work on the tour inspired us to think about nature as the original source of design and why we connect to a sense of imperfect beauty.
Gaudi Homes: Embracing Nature
Oh, what it would be like to live in a home designed by Gaudi! Rooted in Art Nouveau design, Gaudi’s home designs embrace the beauty of nature and the organic form. On our tour, we visited many of the Gaudi homes throughout Barcelona, including:
Casa Batllo — Perhaps Gaudi’s most famous home, Casa Batllo perfectly exemplifies the Art Nouveau and Modernisme styles. The home features an exterior of irregular oval-shaped windows and flowing sculpted stonework that feels almost like plants covering the walls. There are barely any straight lines on the home, and the exterior is clad with colorful mosaic tiles that feel like glistening scales in the sunlight.
Casa Mila or La Pedrera — Translated to “the stone quarry,” La Pedrera is the last private residence Gaudi designed. The home is named for its rough stone-hewn appearance that features no straight angles.
Casa Vicens — Gaudi’s first project actually reminded me of the Alhambra. Casa Vicens takes elements of Moorish architecture but with a Gaudi twist. This home features more straight lines, but the rich colors and geometric patterns make it feel like something from a storybook.
La Sagrada Familia: Embracing Imperfection
So often, we strive for perfection in our daily lives and demand the same from our homes. However, walking through the ancient streets of Barcelona protected by the rising La Sagrada Familia reminded us that there is beauty to be had in imperfection. La Sagrada Familia is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church. Gaudi began designing the structure in 1883, and it remains incomplete over 100 years later! The design combines Gothic and Art nouveau forms and almost appears like stalagmites or roots pushing up out of the ground. It is in direct opposition to the rigid forms of the perfectly precise Palladian architecture found in Greece. Of course, precision has its place, but there is beauty in the imperfection of nature that makes it so relatable. While some forms are meant to oppose nature, others like La Sagrada Familia embrace it and make an even bigger impact on the soul.
Taking in the Inspiration of Travel
Since 2020, we haven’t really done much travel or experienced the world outside our own homes. Some of us took the time to nest and redesign our homes with the biggest trends in comfort. However, design is much more of an experience than a collection of things. Material selections, colors, and finishes can be inspired by a mood or feeling rather than a photo or magazine. Interior design affects our mood and is grounded in shared experiences, like travel.
Travel reignited my creativity for design. I found inspiration in eating Spanish ham and chocolate with my team in quaint cafes, shopping for olive oil in open-air markets, and putting my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. These aren’t ideas and feelings you can get from perusing a book of samples! Sharing these experiences in Spain with my team was exactly what we needed.
I loved every minute of it.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.