IndesignLive sits down with BAR Studio’s Felicity Beck and newly appointed Madrid director Maria Garcia-Arribas to find out how an amalgamation of opportunities led to an international expansion at one of the most trying times in recent global history.
October 14th, 2021
Expanding internationally is difficult at the best of times. But for Felicity Beck, co-director of BAR Studio, the perfect set of circumstances led to an expansion from Melbourne to Madrid – something the studio had never planned on – in the midst of the pandemic, no less.
“A critical mass was building and opportunities started to come our way from Europe,” says Beck. This critical mass came in the form of BAR Studio’s “strong contingent” of international staff that she built up in Melbourne, many of whom eventually decided to head back to their home countries.
Four out of the seven people who now work in Europe started in Melbourne and continued to work with BAR once they left the city – a testament to the studio’s strong culture.
“We’ve always been about being out in the world and getting to know places, having immersive experiences of different places and cultures that inspire us and help drive our design work and just bring joy in life,” says Beck. Beck and her co-director Stewart Robertson began BAR on their return to Australia from New York, and have worked hard to maintain an international focus since.
Maria Garcia-Arribas, who has been with BAR Studio for ten years – the last five of which were in Spain – was a clear fit to lead the Spain studio. During her time in Australia, Garcia-Arribas was a project leader of BAR Studio’s Park Hyatt Sydney project, “which was a very formative project for our studio,” says Beck.
“She’s got a lot of all-round great skills in client engagement, her understanding of designing, and really critically overseeing the implementation of design,” says Beck. “It’s a very difficult thing to keep a project on track through all of the twists and turns and chaos of construction and she’s particularly strong at herding that.”
As an early member of the studio, Garcia-Arribas also helped shape BAR’s culture, says Beck. The studio’s strong and positive culture is perhaps what allows it to retain staff, even as they move internationally. It’s this culture which is something Beck talks about a lot – and is evidently proud of. “We really have a relaxed working with friends culture that’s underpinned by a strong drive to do good work,” she says.
Parallel to BAR’S growing faction of international staff, one of the studio’s clients, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, was also growing in Europe. “They’re a really important, valued client-collaborator for us, and they’re expanding in Europe. Happily for us, they’ve taken us with them and are introducing us to projects there,” says Beck.
The potential of the Madrid office is significant, according to Beck and Garcia-Arribas, and not just because the diversification of regions ensures a consistent flow of work. Being immersed in European culture and forming a connection to the Americas through Madrid also “opens up a whole lot of the world to us”, says Beck.“Madrid is a bridge between European and American cultures, not only because of its geographic location but also as connected to the historical, cultural and language ties, both sides of the Atlantic,” Garcia-Arribas adds.
As variety of location increases for BAR Studio, a strong focus on place remains at the heart of its design philosophy. Backing each of its projects is extensive research into the culture, design history and principles of the location, allowing a sense of narrative to develop around each project.
This attention to place is evident across BAR Studio’s projects. The Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, for instance, embraces the serenity of the location, with calm palettes that look to create warmth and bespoke detailing inspired by local artisanal sources. In Europe, while the underpinning philosophy towards place remains the same, the way in which the team approaches the projects has evolved.
“In Europe it is about embracing the old and new and responding to the local design history and architecture, while in the Asia-Pacific it is more about reinterpreting the cultural cues and injecting the spirit of tradition and craftsmanship through subtle layered detail,” says Garcia-Arribas.
Currently, the team is working on Rosewood Villa Magna, a refurbishment in the heart of Madrid and the studio’s first European project, and Rosewood Rome, a property spanning an entire block on Via Vittorio Veneto – “both landmarks in their respective cities,” says Garcia-Arribas.
“With the enormous variety of cultural and historical influences, from country to country and from town to town, each European project presents a unique challenge and opportunity for knowledge and growth,” says Garcia-Arribas. “However, in any destination, our end goal – to create modern sophisticated spaces and approachable laid-back luxury experiences – remains constant.”
While there’s been every opportunity to find hardship since early 2020, Beck and Garcia-Arribas have found only positives, with the pandemic having increased communication between the two studios.
“One good thing COVID has brought us is the realisation that working and connecting with sometimes remote locations is possible and with the right tools and mindset can work,” says Garcia-Arribas.
“I hope BAR Studio in Madrid will not only be the European hub for the practice, but also stays fully connected to its origins and values while bringing in new influences through our European heritage.”
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