Have you ever experienced a place—iconic, perhaps, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, Machu Picchu in Cuzco, or the Great Wall in Beijing—so astonishing and breathtaking, it felt as though you were truly in the presence of greatness?
As it turns out, I would discover my own ‘Wonder of the World’ in Valencia: specifically, Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela’s City of Arts & Sciences. An awe-inspiring example of neo-futurist architecture which cross-pollinates technology and building design, the €300-million cultural utopia spanning several city blocks, houses nine massive entertainment structures which draw inspiration from living organisms: El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe museum resembles the skeleton of a whale; L’Hemisfèric planetarium is shaped like the human eye; and so on, each a white, soaring representation of Calatrava’s signature style. All nine combined, it is the largest grouping of the Valencian architect’s work anywhere, and now one of “12 Treasures of Spain.”
This architectural feat—combined with the largest port on the Mediterranean west coast—is a backdrop ‘apropiado’ for Feria Hábitat Valencia: the annual international furniture and lighting showcase hosted by the ‘City of Joy.’ In its 54th year, 2018 drew a record-breaking 26,140 attendees from 56 markets across the globe (up 13 per cent from 2017), which included a 24 per cent increase in foreign buyers. While Hábitat appears to be a mere shrimp in the colossal paella that is the world trade fair circuit, all the main players are present. Like Spaniards, the style of these designers is influenced by French, Italian, and Moroccan neighbours, however slightly more subdued, unabashedly humorous, and decidedly audacious; not surprising as the city’s Latin name, Valentia, means ‘valour.’
Economically, Spain is recovering remarkably well from its recession following the financial crisis: unemployment has decreased since an unprecedented peak of 26 per cent in 2013; cost of living has lowered making its desirable metropolitan hubs affordable (Barcelona is 36 per cent cheaper than London); the GDP began doubling that of the Euro zone average two years ago; and young professionals have started flocking from abroad amid a growing crop of start-ups (see: 300+ days of sunshine plus good coffee), not to mention the support of top names like Patricia Urquiola, Lievore Altherr Molina, and Jaime Hayon, who promote the Spanish aesthetic globally through sheer force of their covetable creations. While neo-futurism has been defined as ‘an idealistic belief in a better future,’ it appears as though ‘The Red Fury’ is finally turning hope into reality.
One of the first companies to ever show at Hábitat, the 63-year-old brought in big names for 2018: Patricia Urquiola, Jasper Morrison, Alfredo Häberli, and Piergiorgio Cazzaniga. Urquiola presented chairs and stools born from the idea of creating a seat from a single piece of paper. Available in bright and muted shades, the ‘folded’ seat comes in three options (thermoplastic; upholstered with padded seat; or upholstered with padded seat and backrest) with a variety of bases, in various heights.
Majestic and Heritage│Carmenes
Tailored seating, traditional cabinetry, and subtle sophistication define the offering from this Barcelona brand. Among beautifully-furnished contemporary vignettes, Carmenes introduced an updated version of its Majestic sofa—now 90 centimetres deep—to accommodate additional lounging positions; and its Heritage sideboard in taller (123 x 113 centimetres) and reduced versions (213 x 63 cm)—all designed by Valencian studio La Mamba.
Who better to collaborate with on a whimsical Spanish textile collection depicting all-things wonderfully Mediterranean (orchard, garden, beach) than Valencia’s own Javier Mariscal? Comprising six animated styles characterized by bold colours and brush strokes, this unconventional line of fabric by the jovial artist and designer is water-resistant and flame-retardant making it also suitable for outdoor use, in hospitality or residential settings.
The local company called on Spanish architect, BD Barcelona co-founder, and Alessi and Driade designer Oscar Tusquets Blanca (who also created the iconic polyethylene red lips sofa with friend Salvador Dalí) to devise lightweight chairs that would suit a variety of hospitality settings, kitchen islands, and waiting rooms. For this year’s fair, Tusquets Blanca added three slick stools in varying heights to his existing Fontal line, Expormim’s first to incorporate rattan.
Thanks to a simple rotating backrest and movable cushions, this tailored sofa atop short spindly metal legs by Barcelona-based studio Lievore Altherr Molina can be converted into a chaise longue or bed appropriate for small or large spaces. The Valencia manufacturer also launched new seating and side tables from the likes of Francesc Rifé, Ximo Roca, and Javier Pastor.
London-based Jonathan Prestwich presented a collection of tables for the Alicante company, comprising five types of 100 per cent recyclable polyethylene bases (glossy or matte) plus an extensive range of tops to create a multitude of table styles. In addition, Essens can be equipped with sockets, chargers, connections, and cable management accessories for workplace environments.
Contemporary and light, this innovative modular storage system from Valencia manufacturer Momocca offers a blank canvas on which users can create their own shelving unit through employment of a seemingly infinite variety of pieces, including colourful upholstered and padded sliding doors. The final—and uniquely personal—result exudes warmth and sophistication.
In addition to a sprawling retrospective of Mario Ruiz’s prolific work in the main lobby of Hábitat, the Alicante designer created a series of sideboards for Valencia manufacturer Punt. Sleek yet delicate, Malmö features subtle curves and layers of wood and metallic materials, available in three configurations.
Under the theme ‘Jungla,’ the Murcia company easily took the prize for wildest exhibit. Against an electrifying backdrop of bold animal prints, Sancal presented eight new products including occasional tables by Note, an addition to the Swedish studio’s existing line of archipelago seating. La Isla is available in two heights, with round or oval fumé glass tops and bases in several different lacquers.
Vondom returned to Hábitat after taking a year off. The Valencia brand—known for its avant-garde, minimalist, and mostly white offerings—launched new pieces from the likes of Karim Rashid, Eugeni Quitllet, Jorge Pense, and Ramon Esteve. Daybed by Esteve, the latest addition to his Vela collection, comes square or round with a retractable top, reclining head rest, and an ice bucket holder.
Like Vondom, Viccarbe returned to the fair following a year’s hiatus. For 2018, the local manufacturer brought back Jaime Hayon who introduced three new members to his Aleta family: a stool, a chair with armrests, and a bistro table. Characterized by rounded forms and muted shades, the pieces exude a slight cartoonish quality, typical of the homegrown designer’s playful aesthetic.