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Before & After: A Bright 17th-Century House Overlooking the Sea on Mallorca, for Two Young Architects

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Before & After: A Bright 17th-Century House Overlooking the Sea on Mallorca, for Two Young Architects

May 17, 2019

One of the more original projects we’ve seen in a while, with the windows thrown open to let in summer breezes (and a fresh dose of design): Ca’n Rei on Mallorca, a 17th-century house far from the party scene and spring break resorts in the tiny town of Banyalbufar, on a cliff overlooking the sea, redone by Isla Architects. The house is the architects’ own: Juan Palencia and Marta Colón, the couple behind the firm, recently moved to Mallorca full-time to establish their practice after living and working in the colder climes of Basel, Switzerland. First, they stripped the house down to the bones, removing the fussy fittings and furniture that had been added on over the years, and designed it for carefree, barefoot living year-round, with bright white-washed walls, lime and terracotta floors, a kitchen with recessed workstations, and antique Mallorcan finds. Join us for a look inside.

Photography by Luis Díaz Díaz, courtesy of Isla Architects.

After

The house’s stately exterior, with a coat of teal-colored paint and a potted-plant garden. The couple has roots on Mallorca: Colón is originally from the nearby town of Esporles and, since moving to Madrid for architecture school in 2001, “had been always looking for a house with sea view in this part of the island,” Palencia says.
Above: The house’s stately exterior, with a coat of teal-colored paint and a potted-plant garden. The couple has roots on Mallorca: Colón is originally from the nearby town of Esporles and, since moving to Madrid for architecture school in 2001, “had been always looking for a house with sea view in this part of the island,” Palencia says.

When the couple found Ca’n Rei, it had been used by a German couple as a vacation home for 40 years. “The space was basically full of objects and things, an accumulation for many years and different people using the house,” Palencia says. But it had kingly bones: “The house sits on an upper part of the village called Es Penyal where the village was founded,” the architects say. “The house is likely to be really old, probably from the seventeenth or eighteenth century, although there is no documentation about it, but the vaulted ceiling and other details of the house reveal hints about its age.”

The couple bought the house and set about repairing it. The main matter of business? Stripping away all of the additions from the past century. “The house was renewed in the 1970s and it lost the materiality of a traditional Mallorcan house, when trendy-at-that-time stained, colored cement tiles were added, and a new bathroom was created in the former animal pen. Then the house was slowly updated ‘on the go,’ with pragmatic interventions, like an Ikea kitchen, a washing machine in the middle of the kitchen, and a closed fireplace over the old existing one,” the architects say. They restored the facade, structure, and roof, added windows in the back of the house for maximum cross-breezes, then replaced everything inside with more traditional Mallorcan elements, “from floors to furniture.”

A small sign next to the door announces the house’s name. “In ‘Mallorquin,’ the local dialect of Catalan, ‘ca’n’ means ‘house of’ and ‘rei’ means ‘king,’ although it’s more likely that Rei was a family name rather than being the house of a real king,” the architects explain. “The house had that name for a really long time and everyone in the village knows the house by this name, so there was no point of renaming it.” A hand-drawn crown underscores the point.
Above: A small sign next to the door announces the house’s name. “In ‘Mallorquin,’ the local dialect of Catalan, ‘ca’n’ means ‘house of’ and ‘rei’ means ‘king,’ although it’s more likely that Rei was a family name rather than being the house of a real king,” the architects explain. “The house had that name for a really long time and everyone in the village knows the house by this name, so there was no point of renaming it.” A hand-drawn crown underscores the point.

The wooden front doors open into the high-ceilinged main room. Palencia and Colón painted the walls in matte white mineral paint from the German brand Keim, then repaired the vaulted ceilings and painted them “with lime, like the old days,” Palencia says. The architects replaced the dated cement tile floors on the first floor with a lime floor called trispol that they say feels good on bare feet. “It was the typical floor in possesiós  in the sixteenth century on the island, but also in more humble houses. It’s a mix of stones in different diameters and a lime-based mix. The surface gets washed out with use, and the smaller stones start to appear with time in the most used areas,” the architects say.
Above: The wooden front doors open into the high-ceilinged main room. Palencia and Colón painted the walls in matte white mineral paint from the German brand Keim, then repaired the vaulted ceilings and painted them “with lime, like the old days,” Palencia says. The architects replaced the dated cement tile floors on the first floor with a lime floor called trispol that they say feels good on bare feet. “It was the typical floor in possesiós [traditional Mallorcan lordly houses] in the sixteenth century on the island, but also in more humble houses. It’s a mix of stones in different diameters and a lime-based mix. The surface gets washed out with use, and the smaller stones start to appear with time in the most used areas,” the architects say.
The furnishings are sparse: a Potence Wall Lampby Jean Prouvé that can be swung from the kitchen to the living area, a custom red table, and two traditional Mallorcan rocking chairs—original to the house—that the couple had reupholstered in blue and white striped fabric from Bujosa, a local textile company. The effect is bright and beach-like.

In the streamlined kitchen, nearly everything is concealed within the walls and windowsills. In one corner, the architects uncovered the original fireplace.
Above: In the streamlined kitchen, nearly everything is concealed within the walls and windowsills. In one corner, the architects uncovered the original fireplace.
To the left of the dining table, the architects enlarged an existing niche to fit—behind the righthand door—a fridge and freezer and—behind the lefthand door—a washing machine, electric oven, and food storage. “We decided to design the flashed doors as invisible as possible, so we put an integrated fridge and managed to avoid having any door handle,” the architects say. “We just left the gap at the top to open the door and for ventilation.” The niche is deep enough to allow for proper ventilation behind the appliances.
Above: To the left of the dining table, the architects enlarged an existing niche to fit—behind the righthand door—a fridge and freezer and—behind the lefthand door—a washing machine, electric oven, and food storage. “We decided to design the flashed doors as invisible as possible, so we put an integrated fridge and managed to avoid having any door handle,” the architects say. “We just left the gap at the top to open the door and for ventilation.” The niche is deep enough to allow for proper ventilation behind the appliances.
The chairs throughout the house are a mix of styles: “some existing Mallorcan-style chairs that were in the house (luckily the previous owners kept all existing furniture), some Scandinavian chairs bought in Basel and in flea markets in Paris and Belfort, an Eames Vitra Wire Chair from Basel, and a traditional Swiss wooden chair, bought in a brocki (a secondhand shop, typical in Switzerland),” the architects say.
Above: The chairs throughout the house are a mix of styles: “some existing Mallorcan-style chairs that were in the house (luckily the previous owners kept all existing furniture), some Scandinavian chairs bought in Basel and in flea markets in Paris and Belfort, an Eames Vitra Wire Chair from Basel, and a traditional Swiss wooden chair, bought in a brocki (a secondhand shop, typical in Switzerland),” the architects say.
Palencia and Colón preserved a small archway in the kitchen and installed a custom tinted-concrete sink by local company Huguet, a reference to Mallorcan stone sinks. Two cabinets underneath store cleaning products and house the waste bin. Of the subtle white light overhead, the architects say: “It’s a lamp designed in 1976 by Georg Gisel for Lehni, a Swiss furniture company that also produces an aluminum furniture series by Donald Judd, among others. It’s a simple round white aluminum plate hosted in a standard ceramic lamp holder.”
Above: Palencia and Colón preserved a small archway in the kitchen and installed a custom tinted-concrete sink by local company Huguet, a reference to Mallorcan stone sinks. Two cabinets underneath store cleaning products and house the waste bin. Of the subtle white light overhead, the architects say: “It’s a lamp designed in 1976 by Georg Gisel for Lehni, a Swiss furniture company that also produces an aluminum furniture series by Donald Judd, among others. It’s a simple round white aluminum plate hosted in a standard ceramic lamp holder.”
The tap is made of a bent brass pipe.
Above: The tap is made of a bent brass pipe.
The architects installed a low-profile cooktop beneath the kitchen’s front window, for maximum views over the sea while cooking.
Above: The architects installed a low-profile cooktop beneath the kitchen’s front window, for maximum views over the sea while cooking.
Beneath the cooktop, two more cabinets keep kitchenware out of sight.
Above: Beneath the cooktop, two more cabinets keep kitchenware out of sight.
Above: The cabinets reveal a surprising amount of storage: behind the righthand door, shelves for ceramics and small appliances and, behind the lefthand door, three drawers for cutlery and tools. “The lower drawer is used to store pots and pans and has a high door that hides the other two drawers,” Palencia says. “The idea was to have as few doors and partitions as possible, to keep everything as much integrated in the wall as possible.”
A view toward the front of the house, with the front door, and the cooktop at left. On the right, a circular counter is a well for collecting rainwater, the last vestige of the house’s centuries-old utilities. A bucket is perched above for easy collecting.
Above: A view toward the front of the house, with the front door, and the cooktop at left. On the right, a circular counter is a well for collecting rainwater, the last vestige of the house’s centuries-old utilities. A bucket is perched above for easy collecting.
Two stairways lead to the other rooms: one bathroom, two bedrooms, a “winter living room,” and a small library.
Above: Two stairways lead to the other rooms: one bathroom, two bedrooms, a “winter living room,” and a small library.
Behind the well, a stairway leads downstairs, to the bath.
Above: Behind the well, a stairway leads downstairs, to the bath.
The architects painted the downstairs bath in a lime-based paint by Spanish brand Graphestone. Note the towel warmer at right—a modern luxury.
Above: The architects painted the downstairs bath in a lime-based paint by Spanish brand Graphestone. Note the towel warmer at right—a modern luxury.
Back in the kitchen area, the other stairway leads up to the library.
Above: Back in the kitchen area, the other stairway leads up to the library.
The library has the most lived-in look, with books and finds stashed on low white shelves. Palencia and Colón replaced the existing colored cement tiles with handmade terracotta square tiles “placed at a 45 degree angle, and treated as raw as possible,” they say.
Above: The library has the most lived-in look, with books and finds stashed on low white shelves. Palencia and Colón replaced the existing colored cement tiles with handmade terracotta square tiles “placed at a 45 degree angle, and treated as raw as possible,” they say.
The two bright bedrooms.
Above: The two bright bedrooms.
The architects added small windows in the back of the house for cross-ventilation. The small floral vent above the bed is a crucial addition: “The house is placed between terraces, so half of the house is sunken and in direct contact with the terrain,” the architects say. The clay ventilation system, placed between the house’s inner and outer walls, keeps the inner walls dry. The architects also treated the walls on the back of the house with a “highly-breathable mortar” by Keim.
Above: The architects added small windows in the back of the house for cross-ventilation. The small floral vent above the bed is a crucial addition: “The house is placed between terraces, so half of the house is sunken and in direct contact with the terrain,” the architects say. The clay ventilation system, placed between the house’s inner and outer walls, keeps the inner walls dry. The architects also treated the walls on the back of the house with a “highly-breathable mortar” by Keim.
 The beds in both rooms are traditional Mallorcan beds, found in the house.
Above: The beds in both rooms are traditional Mallorcan beds, found in the house.
At the foot of another bed: “a green armoire, bought as-is in a brocki in Basel.”
Above: At the foot of another bed: “a green armoire, bought as-is in a brocki in Basel.”
A front window overlooks the sea.
Above: A front window overlooks the sea.
The bedrooms have unobstructed views of the Balearic Sea.
Above: The bedrooms have unobstructed views of the Balearic Sea.
Palencia and Colón in front of their new home. (Note the stone bench, transformed into a warm-weather lounge space.)
Above: Palencia and Colón in front of their new home. (Note the stone bench, transformed into a warm-weather lounge space.)
In another nod to Mallorcan tradition, the architects hired artist Luis Urculo to paint small rust-colored symbols beneath the roof tiles—a play on the medieval tradition of teules pintades, said to protect the inhabitants of the house. Of the bright shutters, the architects say, “The traditional color for blinds in this part of the island is mainly green and also blue, so we choose something in the middle that we liked.”
Above: In another nod to Mallorcan tradition, the architects hired artist Luis Urculo to paint small rust-colored symbols beneath the roof tiles—a play on the medieval tradition of teules pintades, said to protect the inhabitants of the house. Of the bright shutters, the architects say, “The traditional color for blinds in this part of the island is mainly green and also blue, so we choose something in the middle that we liked.”
The view from above.
Above: The view from above.
A location fit for a king.
Above: A location fit for a king.

Before

The kitchen and dining room were dark and cluttered, with a half wall that divided the space.
Above: The kitchen and dining room were dark and cluttered, with a half wall that divided the space.
The old tiled stairway lead to a dark and cramped bath.
Above: The old tiled stairway lead to a dark and cramped bath.
The upstairs, as it was, had dated flooring and dark wood trim.
Above: The upstairs, as it was, had dated flooring and dark wood trim.

Looking for warm-weather interiors? See these other projects on Mallorca and Menorca:

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