Before getting round to modernista wallpaper, a word or two on false friends. These are words in two languages that look or sound similar, but are rather different in meaning. Those of you who live in Spain will no doubt be aware of the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazado, with the latter not meaning “embarrassed” but rather “pregnant”.
Confusing modernism with modernisme (Catalan) or modernismo (Spanish) will lead to more than embarrassment, however. It could result in an interior design and architecture disaster of epic proportions.
In English, modernism, when it refers to architecture and design, is generally characterized by a post-war simplification of form and an absence of applied decoration. There’s a simplicity and clarity of forms and elimination of “unnecessary detail”. Think white cement, flat roofs, mass-produced steel and concrete and spaces created by architects for whom form followed function and the house was, as Le Corbusier put it, “a machine for living”. Think Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Louis Sullivan and Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia.
Modernisme (or modernismo), however, is better understood as an equivalent to a number of fin de siècle art movements, chiefly Art Nouveau, but also Jugendstil, Secessionism, and Liberty style. It was popular from roughly 1888 (the First International Exhibition of Barcelona) to 1911, was centred on the city of Barcelona, and was a cultural movement associated with the quest for Catalan national identity. It is best perhaps best known for its architectural expression, especially the work of Antoni Gaudí, and became popular throughout Spain, Puerto Rico, Cuba and, of course, Mallorca. Peep inside an old bourgeois townhouse in Sóller in Mallorca, for example, and you’ll get the idea.
Typically, modernisme draws on Medieval and Arab styles, the English Arts and Crafts movement and the Gothic revival. Here is a rich variety of historically-derived elements, with the elegant curve predominating over the straight line. There’s a wealth of decoration and detail, with frequent use of organic motifs. Indeed,it couldn’t be more at odds with the clean lines and functionality of modernism.
So if you’re inspired by the grace and elegance of an early 20th-century house and want to recreate the look, either in tiles or wallpaper, remember that what you’re looking for is Art Nouveau/modernisme and not modernism. At Espinoza & Co we stock a range of modernista wallpapers and tiles. Just get in touch.