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Key features of the interior design at the pastry shop-school L'Atelier Barcelona

Virgina del Barco, from Ideo Arquitectura, is responsible for the captivating image of this multispace in Barcelona co-founded by Eric Ortuño and Ximena Pastor.

08 Feb 2021

Virginia del Barco, founder of Ideo Arquitectura

Holder of a degree from ETSA in Madrid in 2001, Virginia del Barco devises, directs and coordinates architecture and interior design projects at the Ideo Arquitectura. Her passion for construction has made her an expert in its pathologies over the years. She is currently studying her PhD in this field, and is carrying out projects for the rehabilitation of highly complex buildings.

This architect and designer was commissioned to do the interior design at L'Atelier Barcelona, a pastry shop and school co-directed by Ximena Pastor and Eric Ortuño, a speaker at InterSICOP. It is an establishment that, in just over a year, has been distinguished as one of the best 50 pastry shops in Catalonia in the Fava de Cacau Awards, and that won the Dulcypas Award for the Mejor Pasta de Té (Best Petit Fours) 2020.  

1.- Is interior design important to a pastry shop? Can it be used to tempt new customers to enter?

Interior design is to a pastry shop as a suit is to a person. It conveys the personality of those who are behind it.

Twenty years ago, when I started out in this profession, image was beginning to take hold. But really, up until then, pretty much the only thing that mattered was whether the cakes were good or bad. Clearly that is no longer enough today. Companies need to build a brand identity that makes them unique. It is vital to think about networking, branding, marketing and, of course, the establishment. To buy a croissant, you first have to move through the sales area. So if the architecture used there is able to seduce you, the decision to make a purchase will be all the easier. Increasingly, brands, when they want to promote a product, are designing pop-up stores, where interior design becomes the true star. What they are seeking is to make an impact and, of course, to attract new customers, and they do this through the commercial space.

2.- What are the secrets to making the design of a premises work?

If I knew, I would be a genius. What I can say is that, for a business to work, all the agents involved need to have a single, shared objective and, of course, it needs to be clear. I’ll give you an example. If you want to risk making a croissant using the raw material in an unconventional way, the logical thing is that the space that accompanies its sale also be transgressive. If you want to display an exquisite cake, the space should reflect sophistication. I can’t imagine the French toast my grandmother used to make, half broken and sometimes even burned, on the counter at L’Atelier. 

3.- What are the current trends in pastry shop design? Luxury? Practicality? Modern, rustic or urban premises?

I would suggest that most of them try to be rather urban and carefree, even if they reflect classical criteria. In Japan and other Asian countries they are a little more daring. I see very clean and avant-garde spaces where the product is displayed without a showcase on islands with a strong message of “serve yourself”. In Spain we are more conventional, but I am starting to see a clear intention to get closer to the customer with larger counters open to the public.

Success story: L’Atelier Barcelona 

An atelier is a generally private space for the elaboration and cultivation of a creator’s ideas. By choosing L'Atelier as a brand name, Ximena Pastor and Eric Ortuño show us their desire to show their most intimate universe to  the world. The project was conceived through this idea. 

They both knew about my work at the bakery “Pan y pasteles” in Alcalá de Henares in Madrid, which enjoyed extraordinary publicity in international media and was the winner of the 2016 NAN award for the best Spanish interior design project. Ximena called the studio directly and we understood each other right away.

The pastry space had to show the workplace, that is, the bakery workshop. We take this idea metaphorically into the interior design. We use the colour ochre to paint all the existing walls and ceilings as we find them, as well as the ducts, downspouts, light wiring, brick blocks, etc., and then we wrap them in a translucent polycarbonate inner skin, leaving everything in sight. 

What we wanted to express is that behind that inner skin, which I like to call “glass box”, lies the chaotic and unadorned place of the pastry workshop, where aesthetics are unimportant. The customer will notice this as he or she walks through the shop. The glass box is the metaphor of the jeweller who wraps the cake ready for display and sale after being polished in the workshop or atelier.

When it comes to colour, the cakes at L’Atelier are like little pieces of jewellery. Gold is immediately brought to mind. However, perhaps it would have been excessive to use this colour for the establishment, and after many tests, we were left with the colour ochre, which is similar but a little more restrained. Unintentionally, it soon became the branding colour for everything. Graphic design, packaging, uniforms, etc.

“Ximena and Eric infected us all with their enthusiasm”

The design and execution process was very swift. I think the secret to it working well, even in the very short time frames we had, is that Ximena and Eric knew how to form a very solid team from the beginning. They infected us all with their enthusiasm at the same time. Both they and the others (builder, engineering, graphic designer, pastry chefs, etc.) had the belief that we were part of something new and exciting. And we gave ourselves up to it. Time is proving us right. I know that L’Atelier has already become a model of a pastry school with a creative space of the highest quality. And this was precisely the goal from the outset.

I must say that I prefer to have everything intricately detailed in a design before starting the work, even if it means the work takes longer. That is the best way to ensure the best possible development, and to limit the surprises that can always crop up in a refurbishment. But in this case, we only had two months and there were details that we still had to resolve after the work had begun. Surprisingly, this was not a problem. Each challenge we encountered was solved with an extraordinary determination on the part of everyone. On the high speed rail travelling to Barcelona, every week I was sketching the construction details. They knew that my way of designing is unconventional, that I always look for a new way to place a wall light, to create a false ceiling, etc. Far from responding to my proposals with the typical builder’s refrain of “that’s impossible”, they ran with it all and even dared to look for alternative solutions, having caught on to my way of doing things. In the end, they realised that stepping outside their comfort zone was exciting for them too.

Also, I gave birth to my daughter Mariana a month after the opening, and Ximena shortly after that. So we were creating life twice over, and I am convinced that the entire team was part and parcel of this moment of vital explosion.

Order versus chaos

Looking first at the name, the studio where Francis Bacon worked immediately came to my mind. For years I was obsessed with his work. I always wondered how such clean and pure canvases could come out of such a chaotic and decaying hovel. His works are exhibited as the true jewels that they are. But the studio was just the opposite. And really, what does that matter? 

I thought it would be interesting to play with both extremes in the project. Order versus chaos. The bare walls and old ducts are visible, but they like behind are a transparent enclosure or box which is as pure as a jewellery box. Inside this polycarbonate box is where the sweet delicacies made in the chaos of the workshop are exhibited as the true jewels that they are, just like the paintings by the English artist. 

Details of the interior design

We have the rigid and resistant polycarbonate sheet, which is traditionally used on façades. Here, we take it inside to generate the partitions in the project. In the school section it separates the classrooms from the offices. In the pastry shop it wraps all the walls and ceilings.

Furthermore, since we had very little height on the premises , we came up with an openwork grid as a false ceiling instead of the classic continuous plaster. In this way, the facilities are not so visible, but spatially we add the height of that false ceiling to the total. What’s more, we place the general lighting above the grid, achieving a highly original lighting effect. 

In the pastry shop, all the lighting is concealed behind the polycarbonate sheets. The bulbs were placed in a perfect checkerboard layout on both the walls and the ceiling, leaving some round caps on the surface for easy maintenance access.

Lastly, Ximena and Eric didn’t want a conventional counter. So we proposed a central island unit. This unit would act as the counter and a tasting bar. The customer can walk around and conquer the entire space, making it feel like their own. It is a more dynamic proposal, and I think that possibly when making a purchase you do not feel so closely observed, having more freedom to decide.