An oasis outside Barcelona

An oasis outside Barcelona

An oasis outside Barcelona

As industrial tension rose and the anarchist movement swelled in Barcelona in the late 1800s, it became fashionable for factory owners to set up industrial colonies — self-contained mill towns away from the corrupting effects of the city.

The best-known and the most utopian of these experiments is Colònia Güell, constructed by the industrialist Eusebi Güell in Santa Coloma de Cervelló, about 10 miles from Barcelona’s commercial centre.

It was from his summer retreat here, Can Soler de la Torre, that Count Güell planned the colony. Based around a textile mill, the colony would feature high-quality housing and amenities for workers, who he hoped would be turned away from revolutionary politics by these innovations. The whole project would be built in modernista style, as the Catalans call their take on Art Nouveau.

One of the few non-modernista elements in today’s colony is Güell’s house itself. From the outside it looks like a typical Catalan masía, or stone farmhouse, shrouded in bougainvillea. Inside it is largely rustic in feel, with baked clay floors and heavy wooden ceiling beams. But it also bears elements of design from the most famous modernista architect of all — Eusebi’s friend Antoni Gaudí, who had a workshop in the basement of his home and was enlisted to design the colony’s church. The most notable elements from Antoni’s redesign of the second floor of the house are the fireplace and ornamental chandelier in the main living room.

The house, which was originally built in the 14th century and was rebuilt several times, is currently owned by Janine Vacassy, an antiques dealer from Pézenas, in the south of France. It is on the market for 4.8 million euros, or almost $5.4 million, with Engel & Völkers in Barcelona.
Ornate designs

Janine points out the fireplace’s decorative wrought ironwork and the colourful
mosaic tiles surrounding it, which were specially designed for the house. Other features include the carved eucalyptus woodwork around the windows and
elaborate mechanical systems of ventilation that allow drafts from outside to be let in or closed over with the sliding of a lever.

The carved porticoes that decorate the ceiling were later reproduced in another Gaudí design, Count Güell’s palace in central Barcelona, the Palau Güell, Janine said. She and her husband bought the property, which has a surface area of 3,460 square metres, or 37,200 square feet, 20 years ago originally with the intention of turning it into a small hotel.

The kitchen’s original marble counter tops and a hand pump used to supply water remain. A covered patio terrace conserves what she believes to be the original wooden ceiling beams. In the main bathroom stands a marble bath made from a single piece of marble. There are eight bedrooms in the property, which is being sold with three other adjoining houses and 3,695 square metres, or nearly 39,800 square feet, of land.

Among aspects of the house that have attracted historians’ interest are the tall, pointed arches in the second-floor corridors — another Gaudí element. Manuel Medarde, a founder of the Gaudí Research Institute, said the same style of catenary arch would feature in a later Gaudí design, the Teresian College in Barcelona.

Manuel said that from 1898 to 1903 Gaudí used to travel to the workshop daily from Barcelona. Count Güell would become noted as the architect’s patron and would supply Gaudí with commissions for some of his most famous work, such as the Güell Park, in Barcelona, which attracts around 2.3 million tourists a year.

Advanced & successful

The colony itself was initially successful. Manuel said it was one of the most advanced communities of its type in Europe. The church was never finished, though its crypt, a short walk from the house, is considered one of Antoni’s
masterworks. However, in the early 1970s, the factory was closed and was abandoned until 2000, when it was renovated to provide accommodation for shops and offices. These days, around 800 people live in the colony.

Edgar Figueres, an assessor for Engel & Völkers, said that while the Antoni-
designed elements of the house are subject to high level of protection — the whole colony is a Unesco-designated world heritage site — the other houses can be freely adapted.

Edgar estimates the property requires an investment of about three million euros to fully restore it. “This is a project for someone who has sufficient capital,” he said. As for Janine, who is finding the house too large for her needs, she said she will miss living in the colony, which she describes as “an oasis outside Barcelona.” “It’s peaceful here and we all know each other,” she said.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox