INÉS MIRÓ-SANS, AKA THE UNCOOL GIRL
CAUSE: Redefining the concept of a luxury travel brand as an organic, crowd-sourced movement designed to encapsulate a particular way of life, rather than simply a locality.
ICONS: Casa Bonay
MOTTO: On creating a believable lifestyle brand: “it’s the things we love and it’s the people we like to work with, there’s no more science behind it.”
Inés Miró-Sans thinks she’s uncool. I know because she says, “We are not cool.” At this, it’s all I can do to splutter overly familiar, highly nerdy protests to the contrary, my previous line of questioning entirely forgotten.
Because the co-founder of hip new Barcelona hotel Casa Bonay is one of the coolest women – scrap that, people – I’ve spoken to. What began as a pipe dream in her days working at Ace Hotel New York – “That was like a big influence for me for sure, because I really wanted to go to work every day. I was really motivated and I was really influenced by that feeling; I knew I wanted to build my own hotel” – has slowly but surely manifested over the course of eight years, culminating in the hotel’s opening in February 2016. True to her original vision of a collaboration between friends, all of whom “have put a little piece of themselves in the project”, the resulting product is both incredibly personal and delightfully eclectic.
It’s clear that Miró-Sans’ time at Ace has a part to play in her vision for Casa Bonay. “When I was at Ace it was a beautiful moment there, it was great. That moment where it was something small… Of course, it was big – we were opening in New York – but it was still that moment where it was this group of friends developing this idea. It was big in terms of structure, but it was small in the sense of like you get to know all the people there and everyone knew that they were doing something great and awesome.” Despite crediting Ace with reinventing hospitality, when it comes to her own innovative, crowd-sourced approach to creating Casa Bonay she remains modest; “it’s the things we love and it’s the people we like to work with, there’s no more science behind it.”
Far from viewing the project as a purely commercial undertaking, I get the feeling that for Miró-Sans it’s been something of a social experiment. “I think it’s more fun to not just take the brand and live the brand, but to work together. One of the most important things I think in hospitality are people.” Among those collaboratively writing the brand book for Casa Bonay are Marcos Bartolomé and his renowned Satan’s Coffee Corner; Spain’s first cold pressed juice bar, Mother; indie book publisher Blackie Books, who curated the library; Shanghai-founded, Spain-made shirt brand baTabasTa with their lobby shop; design store AOO, who created the wooden furniture in the rooms; and Teixidors, who have handcrafted an exclusive collection of blankets for the Casa. “I think it’s always better to have two minds than one,” say Miró-Sans… Make that seven, or more.
By her own admission, there was never a clear plan for how the numerous contributors would work together on Casa Bonay – “We started growing with these collaborations organically.” And for all the advantages of this relaxed, crowd-sourced approach, the drawback must surely be the risk that it all ends up looking a bit, well, random. Yet Casa Bonay manages to retain its own unique identity, be it not as, dare I say it, predictable as other contemporary travel brands in the industry. “You totally redefine the idea of the brand, which is a collage of people, and it’s a collage of the way we see life,” Miró-Sans explains. “Sometimes all these things, I never see them together outside, but inside of the universe they work and they feel right.”
Perhaps that’s due to Miró-Sans’ insistence that Casa Bonay is a collaboration of minds, rather than simply a curation of others’ ideas. When working with furniture designer Marc Morro, for example, she tells me, “We didn’t want to put signature pieces of furniture he was selling. We loved them, but it’s something that he already developed by himself. We wanted to do something together, hand in hand.” Apparently Morro began by creating the front desk, which Miró-Sans describes as “the heart of the hotel”; then he moved on to trays for the minibars, before using the “leftovers” to craft tables. The haphazard way in which the hotel appears to have come to fruition is only testament to Miró-Sans’ level of involvement at all stages of the process – when there’s no plan, there’s no handing over to a project manager.
If the hotel is a “collage of people” then, while most of those people are from Barcelona, it is also an amalgamation of their experiences both within the city and across the world. “It’s a mixing between a reflection of things we have here and that we love and things we don’t have here and we would love to have in the city. So it’s also something that we give to the city. I think we have that responsibility to showcase what we love from Barcelona; but also to try to add a little bit of something new that we offer to the city, that is not just there.”
That’s what makes Casa Bonay stand apart. Many brands get so caught up in the trendy notion of everything being ‘culturally relevant’ that the result is too neatly packaged to be truly authentic. Yes, the renovation of the neoclassical home – originally built in 1869 by ‘master builder’ Francisco Batlle – has been super-sensitive to its heritage, but that’s where the cultural guidelines were cast aside. By focusing foremost on the personal tastes of individuals who hail from Barcelona, Casa Bonay has achieved what so many others fail to: a believable portrayal of a city that doesn’t claim to be anything more than “just one point of view” – and, importantly, that doesn’t box in the underlying vision. “It’s our point of view. If we like something from China, we’re going to bring it here.”
And so they have. The evidence of individual taste, as opposed to choices made to fit brand guidelines, is everywhere: the unlikely Satan’s Coffee Corner and Mother pressed juice bar pairing in the café area (reminiscent of a devil on one shoulder bickering with an angel on the other), for example – “It’s like life: sometimes you like healthy, but other times you don’t like healthy”. Simple, but true. And TÊT, the Vietnamese barbecue pop-up so-chosen because the rage in Barcelona is for Japanese ramen, but Inés and co. have a partiality for pho, which is otherwise impossible to get. Another rejection of local norms is Libertine, a lobby and cocktail bar serving plenty of whiskey. Why? Because gin is the popular choice citywide and they are, quite frankly, bored of it.
Miró-Sans hopes that these contemporary injections of global flavour will add value to an otherwise blank slate of a neighbourhood, for residents and travellers alike. “It’s really nice to walk around this neighbourhood and at the same time, it’s super close to the neighbourhoods we like, such as El Born or Gotico or Gracia, which is uptown. But it’s not in the centre of these neighbourhoods. You know, you’re not in the crowd.” The latter is part of the reason she settled on the area: home to a community of independent artists and the like, Eixample nevertheless remains under the tourist radar for now – perhaps not an obvious choice, considering that occupancy rates will rely on both national and international tourists, but I imagine this is a subtle way of filtering appropriate clientele.
According to Miró-Sans, Casa Bonay is “a place open for everyone. We let in people in their 70s, in their 40s, in their 50s, in their 20s, and we don’t care about what they do.” But what she does care about is that they share her curious, explorative mentality in some small way – which might be a clue as to why she put her hotel on the path less trodden. “We are not elitist. We know a little bit about culture, a little bit about gastronomy; we are not masters and we are not super creatives, but we like things and we like to learn every day.” I sense this explanation, and her earlier insistence that “We are not cool”, has more to do with rebelling against the unpleasantly exclusive, elusively unwritten boutique hotel rules of yesteryear. This rebel’s cause? Creating “a laid back atmosphere where everyone is included.”
And that means the neighbours, too. From the afternoon that they halted construction on the west side of the building so as not to disturb slumbering children Elena and Olivier, to the day they welcomed that same family into the hotel to enjoy the non-metaphorical fruits of their labour at the juice bar, the locals have never been far from Miró-Sans’ mind. For her, getting to know people is the most rewarding part of working in hospitality; but when I observe that the hotel is the perfect platform for creating connections between locals and travellers, she is quick to play it down. “We don’t want to push that because it’s something that should happen naturally. First we create the space, we create the ambience, we create the offering and the mix hopefully will come.”
When we turn to talking about the future of Casa Bonay it becomes apparent that, despite having finally opened the hotel of her dreams, Miró-Sans’ hard work is far from over. “The beautiful side of that project is that we’re going to have more layers of it throughout the years. Now we have the rooftop coming up by the beginning of the summer and from here we’re going to work on different projects related to gastronomy and maybe develop products. This is the catalyst or the platform to do that.”