Casa Josephine

An Aesthetic Mood

12/17/2019 · By Rocío Navarro
Pablo López Navarro and Íñigo Aragón
Pablo López Navarro and Íñigo Aragón at Casa Josephine in Madrid. © Kela Coto

Becoming professional interior designers wasn’t among the plans of Iñigo Aragón and Pablo López Navarro. It was the latest economic meltdown that shifted their paths. Today, the projects of Casa Josephine speak Spanish beyond our borders.

Twelve years ago, Íñigo and Pablo packed their bags and bought an estate in Sorzano, a 200-inhabitant municipality in La Rioja. That house was the start of a new phase in rural lodging. Decorated with an exquisite taste, it can be read today as a vindication of the so-called ‘Empty Spain’, without it ever being their intention. But lending a contemporary language to rustic decoration was not what rose Casa Josephine to international fame. Their sensitivity for aesthetics and design became popular in their Madrid apartment. Twice a year, their home was transformed into a pop-up store visited by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and American interior designer Michael Smith. The apartment was reinvented with a load of furniture pieces and objects that sold out in a matter of hours. Both evoke the experience with a smile, although they confess it was strenuous. Now, their findings are sold in a studio located in Madrid’s La Latina, where they also conceptualize spaces and, perhaps someday, furniture pieces.

It all started at your house in Sorzano, where you recently made an artistic intervention. Is this a vindication of ‘Empty Spain’?

Pablo: The house in La Rioja was our first project. There was no intention to vindicate rural life. However, linking an artistic intervention with a village may be read as a declaration of principles on the unnecessariness of centralization.
Íñigo: We’ve made some elements of rural tradition our own, such as the iron curtain rods that were part of the house and that we use all the time. We’ve also kept the skirting boards, very common in small villages, but we’ve giving them colour. And we’ve also retained the whitewashed built-in furnishings typical of the area. In short, it’s the same language, but adapted to contemporary needs. We stripped it away of the Castilian flavour, which doesn’t lend itself easily to creating a more French atmosphere, with softer, more welcoming shades. I wouldn’t do that now.

Is rural life a trend?

Pablo: Compared to when we did it, there’s now a general demand for craftsmanship, vernacular architecture and recontextualized traditional Castilian decoration.
Íñigo: We’ve always defended it. For example, we’re advocates of traditional Ibizan architecture, we’re fascinated by it. We’ve never felt that Spanish rural inferiority complex.

Ibizan architecture is friendlier. However, how do you structure a contemporary and sophisticated Castilian-style environment?

Íñigo: It’s a good chance because it’s a style with which few people take risks, so there’s a void. Loewe, for example, is now playing with this aesthetic in their shop windows, with lyre tables and glazed clay bowls. You can update them by keeping the essence, by exploring what’s good about their aesthetic and eliminating all the kitsch elements.
Pablo: The only way to do so is by understanding the style. If you use it because it’s a trend, the risk is huge.
Íñigo: In Spanish films from the 60s and 70s the Spanish style was a trend, but it was inserted in the architecture of the time. It’s wonderful. We’ve tried to do that with some of our clients, but they don't usually dare.

Did you somehow express that Spanish essence you’re talking about at ARCOmadrid this year?

Íñigo: We used the liturgical rather than the Castilian side. There was also an Italian essence in that it was very theatrical. It was a space that played with textile architecture, colour, geometry, and light. We used a series of historical and artistic references through a language that was completely our own.
Pablo: We did textile architecture with light. It was liturgical in that we introduced three elements that are present in religious buildings of all cultures a gathering area, a cult area, and an axis. It was very conceptual. We love that kind of opportunities because they give you freedom to present ideas without the limitation of clients and space.

Going back to tradition, you have developed projects that vindicate cultural heritage, where do they come from?

Pablo: In February 2019, we organized an exhibition showcasing textile pieces from the 70s and 80s. They’d been collected by a woman from Sorzano in nearby municipalities following an ethnographic approach. All the pieces featured a geometric design from the 18th and 19th centuries, and we wanted to reclaim that tradition. We organized an exhibition as well as a series of talks to put them in context. Since it’s a closed collection, we’re having conversations with a museum in La Rioja to move it there. It’s a very valuable collection that, had it not been for the exhibition, it would’ve got lost.


Do you think crafts will remain a trend in design?

Íñigo: Both craftsmanship and the vernacular are already part of mass culture. I would love to see something similar to what happened in the 80s, where everything was new and design started almost from scratch.
Pablo: It seems that, since the turn of the century and up until now, all creative fields have been focusing on the 20th century. It has been reinterpreted very literally, by recovering pieces from the past. I get the impression people feel safer with what has already been seen. But I think we need to look to the future without having to follow an exclusively technological path.

Is the recurring return to the past a market imposition?

Pablo: In a way it is. But I also think it has to do with knowing that, as creators and consumers, we have what the 20th century was. It seems that just because something has already been done, it deserves validation.
Íñigo: There’s a psychological aspect to it, linked to our fast-paced lives. The vertigo induced by reality makes us hang on to cosiness, to memories, to what we know, to the past, and all things vintage give you that. But it will have to change at some point, we can no longer go back and forth with decades.

“The vertigo induced by reality makes us cling to coziness, to memories, to what we know, to the past, and all things vintage give you that”

How would you describe your universe?

Íñigo: We’re inevitably associated with a language. I reflect on it, but I wouldn’t know how to explain it. As art historians, all artistic references interest us. We also use textiles because of my training as a designer. We buy at fairs in southern France, so there’re hints to French design and to Italian design sometimes. We don’t use Scandinavian furniture pieces nor antiques. All this and our instinctive use of chromatic combinations creates a formula that gets repeated, but we aren’t aware of it.
Pablo: We don't want to identify with a style and reproduce it as a logo. Of course, there is something, a taste or a certain willingness in the selection of pieces and spaces, but with each project, we start from scratch.

What are you working on at the moment?

Pablo: We are conceptualizing the new ARCO room for the next edition.
Íñigo: Our previous intervention was based on textiles and in this one it will be light. That is the intention. We’re also working in a house in Segovia. Now the debate is whether to introduce in that space hints to its context, which would be the natural thing to do, or break away from it.

You do photography, artistic interventions, interior design... Is there any creative discipline you’ve never tried?

Íñigo: I would love to work on product design. I studied design and that’s the part that interests me most. Should the opportunity arise, we’d do it with no second thoughts.