Spanish architect Carlos Ferrater’s Menorcan idyll may be a family home but its counterintuitive design means it also makes for a productive workspace.
“This is the only place in the world where I work really well,” says architect Carlos Ferrater. It’s a surprising statement considering that the place in question is his family’s summer retreat. Situated just a few kilometres inland from Ciutadella in Menorca, the island is typically viewed as a place of rest and recreation. For the Ferrater family it’s a home away from home: they have been upending from Barcelona and coming here in the summer months for decades.
Purchasing a small patch of land in 1991, the Ferraters went about converting a modest dairy farm into their own island getaway. They began by turning a traditional stone barn into a modest living space. However, as the family has evolved, so too has the property. Today there are three standalone buildings lining the periphery, each providing independent living quarters for the parents, son, daughter, and their growing troupe of grandchildren.
“It’s become a house of houses,” says Ferrater. “We can all live together without getting in each other’s hair.” It’s a concept that at first glance seems almost primitive. “The sophistication comes from the solitude of architectural separation,” Ferrater hastens to explain. This separation is conducive to peaceful co-existence, allowing the family to truly unwind in each individual space and come together in the more central communal areas.
For the tireless patriarch, this also means that he can continue to work inside his own pavilion – undisturbed by the inevitable noise generated by three generations living in close proximity.
“I once wrote an entire book in just one summer,” he says as if to prove the point. “By deliberately inverting the traditional model of building in the centre of the property, we have liberated the centre.” A small pine forest has been planted in its place. In the afternoon the family congregate here for meals and often retire to one of three hammocks.
The three pavilions combine simple linear forms with subtle nods to the ancient vernacular of the island. The converted stone barn is now home to the kitchen and interior living room, while a wooden patio connects the adjacent living quarters of their daughter and her family. The wooden deck often plays host to late-night Mediterranean meals.
On the other side of the property, the pavilion belonging to Ferrater and his wife Inés has been built with large blocks of thermal rock that provide natural insulation. Farther afield, the last pavilion – a two-bedroom structure – houses their son Borja and his family.
Inés, an interior decorator, naturally assumed the role of filling the interiors. Wooden furniture is complemented by the classic light shades of Catalonian architect José Antoni Coderch, a plethora of local artwork and even curtains made of fishnets. Sourced from local fisherman, the curtains hang from the door frames in order to keep out the insects.
The integration of natural elements is also seamless. When he bought the property, Ferrater was also overseeing the construction of Barcelona’s new botanical gardens on the city’s verdant Montjuïc hilltop. It nurtured a deeper understanding of horticulture, expressed here in the plots of vegetables and fruit, the herb garden and the jasmine that acts as a natural mosquito repellant.
The stunning two-tiered pool is the most recent addition to the home but it also turned out to be the most challenging. The island’s impenetrable bedrock meant that it had to be built above ground. As the sun bears down overhead, Carlos and Inés have just taken a seat under the shade of the fig tree for a mid-afternoon aperitivo. It’s part of an enviable daily routine that will see the couple rotate around the property over the course of the day. “Menorca is still a virgin island in the Mediterranean,” says Carlos as he sips from his Aperol spritz. “It is one of Spain’s last true paradises.”