Javier & Gabriela
The Unparalleled Series
Potts Point, NSW, Australia

Photography Ashley Gladwish & Javier Saiz Merino

I spent a warm weekend afternoon following Javier and Gabriela around their Potts Point home. What started as a small gathering with friends in their backyard quickly turned into us talking about the little objects in their space and eventually of me snapping some shots of them explaining how they came to keep the things that lay around us.

Gabriela - Image by Javier Saiz Merino

Both from small villages in A Coruña, Spain, Javier and Gabriela speak about the influence that living collectively in Paris, Portugal, London and Spain have had on their choices in designing their spaces. In Sydney, Javier is an architect at Tribe Studio and Gabriela a planner at an advertising firm. “Both of these illustrate creativity for a reason,” they add. When Gabriela tells me about the Art Direction course she undertook at Saint Martin in London, she says, “you need to know a lot about people and have a love for psychology.”

A Piece by Javier

There is common ground in their stories that stem from their exposure to the lifestyle in A Coruña. Both grew up with creative parents; Javier’s father a photographer and Gabriela’s father a writer. Javier and Gabriela talk about their adoration for old places that are structured with thickened wood and the over incorporation of stone, “a tendency towards ‘modernismo’ design” they say. “I spent four years living with my grandfather in his house 30 minutes outside of the city centre of A Coruña. It was a big house, so big that it would be a disservice to you if someone asked you to grab something from another room. When my grandfather bought it in the 1950’s it was an old cheese factory so there were three different buildings on the estate. Eventually he turned the buildings into a four-story home with the top floor being a sunroom. It’s filled with large picture frames and exquisite richly coloured carpets,” but Gabriela adds that it’s the property that is the best thing about it. “There is a tennis court and a small lake, you can take a walk in the forest and as a kid it was up to you to make your own games.”

Items in a Home

After living in Spain for most of his life, Javier spent 3 years in Paris working as an architect at Studio KO. He lived in a 26 square meter sized apartment in the heart of Paris and claims he got lucky because it was designed by an architect and the owner worked for an interior design magazine. “It was a small place but it was designed well. It had a lot of natural light and had timber and concrete floors throughout. At this time I was okay with living in small spaces but when I imagine the ideal space for me, its located outside of any city centre and has space to entertain. These aspects are really important to me.”

Javier's Father - Image by Ashley Gladwish

Having grown up in an old apartment in the city and later with half his time in the countryside, Javier describes his father’s apartment as dark and that “everything is very stylish and old.” As a creative himself, Javier’s father enjoys refurbishing old furniture. His father has had this apartment since Javier was born and that it’s full of his own photography and pieces from past exhibits. “There is a sense of history in his home and he likes to use old things for different purposes. He has a large timber desk from the 80’s and a baby bed full of plants, everything is unique.”

On Design - Image by Ashley Gladwish

Javier states that he likes places with natural light but “this is what everyone likes.” He shows me the book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki — “its about the contrast between light and dark and how you need darkness to be able to play with light in a space.” He describes his attraction in his father’s apartment because its darkness allows you to play with light in different ways. “I like using raw materials to build a structure, nothing shiny or coated” he adds. “I would love to purchase homes one day, renovate them, sell them, and purchase something else. I like when a place has a history and its look continues to evolve with time but maintains some of the original aspects.” Javier recalls the biggest thing he noticed in coming to Australia is that Australians are still trying to create and define what is the ‘Australian style’ in terms of architecture and design. “When you go to Spain or Paris, the architecture is centuries old; its very well known. Here, Australia is a young country and everyone comes with their own interpretation and moulds structures to that understanding.” He describes living in Paris as a turning point in how he perceives culture and design. “In Paris everyone is interested in everything and when you work in the arts you are exposed to all types of art. It opens your mind in a sense, and you surround yourself with people who are interested in a lot of things.”

Gabriela - Image by Ashley Gladwish

Gabriela describes her room in a penthouse she had in Lisbon. “It was old but was very beautiful. It had tall ceilings and you could see the history of Lisbon in how the walls were constructed. I was working in Lisbon for most of the year and then took 4 months to work on a personal project, it was after that I moved to London to advance my career.” Gabriela tells me about her adoration for the buildings at the university she attended, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “The structure of the buildings were asymmetric and you could easily get lost in them.” At its beginning it was a women’s prison and later turned into a learning institution. She states that it was a very progressive university during the time that Spain was a dictatorship but what she loved most was what its structures symbolised, political progression and the representation of the public voice.

The Balcony - Image by Ashley Gladwish

“When you live in Spain and Portugal you become familiar with neutral colours and buildings constructed of raw materials. You feel ease in the use of tiling and how welcoming places feel.” Gabriela tells me that she finds comfort attractive and ‘likes a big wardrobe at her disposal.’ “Its important to have some space of my own but that’s funny to say because when I was younger I didn’t need privacy at all, I liked being around people all the time.” She explains her love for homes in the country with fireplaces in every other room, “it’s what I’m used to I guess, I loved having all of my cousins in one place, making jam in the summer, we always incorporated what’s outside within the house interiors.”

A Photo by Gabriela's Mother

They tell me about their plan for the next few years. “We have a project that we want to build. Right now its just a project but eventually we would like it to allow us to live and travel. Its a design and architecture brand and will incorporate a mix of things. We would love to buy things around the world and have our friends create things for it. It would allow us to establish ourselves in A Coruña but also travel to different places and meet local creatives.” “Javier loves being an architect so he will always work in that field but we want a project that can grow with us, one that will take us to many places and that we can also contribute to” Gabriela states. She tells me that it’s important to them to live in different places and meet different people — people who take interest in many things and love to talk about their ideas.

Published 3 May, 2017
Photography  Ashley Gladwish & Javier Saiz Merino
Words:  Ashley Gladwish
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