ONE REBEL’S CAUSE: ARMANDO RIBEIRO, O APARTAMENTO
‘This is not an Airbnb’, explains Armando Ribeiro flatly when I ask if I can stay in his Lisbon apartment. Fine. O Apartamento is a handsomely designed five-room apartment in a residential block and, like me, you’re very unlikely to stay there. Some are: ‘we’ve already had some guests — but friends, or friends of friends. We don’t charge for the room; Openhouse Magazine (Barcelona-based biannual publication that sticks its nose into the private spaces of creatives) stayed here, also one of the guys from Freund von Freunden (similar Berlin-based mag).’
Let’s get something straight: O Apartamento is not a hotel. It is, as Ribeiro has clarified, not an Airbnb. But it is very much an apartment. So what exactly is it? It is all the sort of creative programming that hoteliers are busy trying to incorporate into their offering, but without the accommodation. At the very same time, operating from exactly the sort of space you’re familiar with as accommodation. Confused? We’ll get there …
‘Don’t forget that we work here five days a week,’ the project’s founder continues, ‘our aim is to share experience and knowledge with others.’ You see, the house that Armando Ribeiro built might look like a place to stay, it might even be a place where people do occasionally stay, but O Apartamento is a cultural venue, a creative initiative, at heart. It is a venue for launches; meetings of minds; dinners; pop-ups; exhibitions; photoshoots; but not, no never, is it an Airbnb.
So why am I here, talking to its founder about travel and travellers? Because, put a guest in his bedroom, and you’ve got one of the planet’s most forward-thinking culture-led hotels. Ribeiro’s apartment has a bed, it has a kitchen, bathroom, balcony terrace and dining areas … it’s just that — unless you’re an arty pal — the only thing you’ll be doing here is attending a pop-up store, workshop, or one of the many formerly-mentioned creative applications. I can hear your cogs still ticking over, though. Why a residential apartment? Why not an artful disused space, an industrial unit, an abandoned factory?
‘For me, the human factor and the familiarity of the location was very important. I wanted people to feel at home; somewhere that could even be their home for the duration they’re here. I wanted to be based in a residential building where real people live, whilst at the same time being in the city centre. This is not a hipster area, but you’re near enough to it. O Apartamento is not for huge events, it’s for small personal ones; somewhere for people to engage with one another. It’s a place to share experiences, to connect with each other unrushed. I never thought of doing it in another location.’
Every three months, an international magazine is invited to settle themselves into the apartment, soaking up all that Lisbon has to offer in creativity and, in turn, giving Lisbon’s creatives the chance to meet likeminded folk from around the world. ‘We want to share Lisbon with others, and ensure our guests better understand the city and the people that live in it,’ the former art buyer tells me, ‘we want to share our tastes with others, and allow others to share their tastes with a wider audience.’ In June, O Apartamento’s doors will open to their first two-week artist residence. Creatives rubbing their influence off on one another is the bare essence of this project.
If you’ve finally got your head around the concept that O Apartamento is a cultural venue in what looks like a very lovely Airbnb — but is definitely, definitely not an Airbnb — then you’re probably asking: what can the travel industry learn from culture masquerading as the travel industry? ‘The room and service is no longer enough,’ says Ribeiro. And he’s right. Increasingly, cultural programming is key to the traveller experience — and those doing the programming could do well from looking at what pioneers like Armando Ribeiro are doing. Bringing creative minds together might seem like child’s play, but how infrequently are the simplest of things carried out well?
‘I’ve stayed in hostels, hotels, Airbnbs … but now I like hotels or concepts that are small, and that have cultural programs and activities. I like Ace’s concept, for example, and Casa Bonay, a new hotel in Barcelona. I really enjoy Ett Hem in Stockholm, where you really feel at home. And there’s a new project opening in Lagos on the Algarve, called Casa-Mãe, that I think has a very interesting and innovative approach. In a different way, I like Fellah and Beldi Country House — both in Marrakech — that have their own cultural programs. Eremito in Umbria, Italy, is also very interesting; and Villa Lena in Tuscany is a must visit for me.’
Call them what you will, there is one thing that unites this new breed of hotel: the application of the O Apartamento concept, and a traditional, homely experience. Ribeiro might not be moving to a fully-fledged accommodation offering any time too soon — ‘it was not in my plans, but let’s see’ — but he clearly understands the importance of getting your head down in a place where experience and creativity whirr around you. The keen traveller ponders my question about what the travel industry can do to foster this new cultural dialogue: ‘a lot can be done, it’s just a question of do you want to do it?’ As simple as that.
I had a similar response from Inés Miró-Sans of the aforementioned Casa Bonay when I spoke to her recently — humbly, she didn’t see anything too difficult in what had been achieved there, just a case of making it happen with the right people. ‘Joining in partnership with others that relate with you, and your brand, is always a plus to everyone,’ Armando adds. Collaboration and motivation. Simple. Thing is: the bed, the bathroom with its little toiletries, the key, the required tech … that’s the easy part. The challenge in 2016 is creating a purpose, a reason for people to hang around. O Apartamento might not be a hostel, or a hotel, or an Airbnb, but Armando Ribeiro is getting the hard part right. Very right. And you’d be a fool not to pay him attention.