Exuberant design runs through Barcelona's 10 districts like wine. For 2,000 years the city has built itself on beauty, from its 13th-century Gothic cathedral to Anton Gaudí's modernisme masterpieces: the sand castle-like spires and bright mosaics of his late-19th century churches, walls, pillars, and parks. You cannot separate the city from the Catalan architect whose bold vision has set it forever apart.
Since Gaudí, generations have continued to experiment, raising buildings like the Torre Agbar (a 38-story bullet of many colors) and the nearby Museu del Disseny (Museum of Design), as well as public art like Frank Gehry's "El Peix," a 184-foot metallic gold-fish that seems to be swimming over the rooftops out to sea. The city is home to creation factories (repurposed factories for artists) and, perhaps most famously, the Barcelona Design Festival, which draws hundreds of exhibitors and more than 15,000 visitors every summer.
Who better to express the renewing current of this city than Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years in Barcelona? "This is where it all began," the artist said. "Where I understood how far I could go."
This sunny and slimmed-down take on the time-honored icon of R&R gives kicking back an elegant new air. From Norwegian furniture designer/manufacturer Ekornes, the svelte Stressless City Chair is upholstered in soft leather and sits on a swiveling, curvilinear steel base, elevating its profile in more ways than one; ekornes.com.
Designed with your bucket list in mind, Ithaa (meaning "mother of pearl" in Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives) is an oceanic treasure of the rarest kind—the world's first undersea restaurant, located 16 feet beneath the Indian Ocean's surface. Just 14 diners at a time experience the kinetic wonder of tropical, darting fish beyond the barrel-shaped, transparent walls and roof (heads up: shark!), while lunch and dinner are served amid the sea of pure blue; conradhotels.com/maldives.
New York interior design firm foley&cox turned out this sleek, swank version of the leisure chair earlier this year. Nice curves give it decidedly midcentury leanings, but the lightweight frame is all modern. Hardy polypropylene fibers, handwoven in Mexico, mean long-term durability, and the brushed-aluminum base is rust resistant; foleyandcoxcollection.com.
In a new spin on the produce aisle, designer Ann Sacks—with artist Tony Davlin—has introduced an innovative tile collection starring garden-grown fruits and veggies. Vibrant, tissue-thin slices of tomatoes, pears, carrots, and other edibles are dried and then placed between panes of glass, ideal for a colorful backsplash or wow-worthy powder room; annsacks.com.
These open-air homes along the Ayung River in Bali look as though they sprouted organically from the earth. And that's precisely the point: The structures are handmade primarily from bamboo. "It's an incredibly sustainable building material, and it's as strong as steel by weight," says Elora Hardy, founder and creative director of design firm Ibuku.
Hardy leads the team of architects, designers, and master craftsmen behind the homes of Green Village and other nearby projects, which are all constructed with the native material. "The taper and curve of each pole inspire our designs," she says. Commissioned by buyers from all over the world who want to commune with nature, the homes have benefited from game-changing new treatment methods. "Most bamboo structures have fallen to dust because of the powderpost beetle. We permanently protect the wood from insects with a natural salt solution," says Hardy; ibuku.com.
On a small speck off the already remote island of Newfoundland, the Fogo Island Inn stakes a breathtaking artistic claim as soon as it comes into view. A starkly white and rectilinear "X" balanced on the rocky shore, the inn is as startling as an iceberg. From some angles it even appears to hover, with the help of slender, angled pilings that support a dramatically cantilevered wing. Within, architect Todd Saunders captures the elements through floor-to-ceiling windows, while 29 white-painted suites (inset) provide sanctuary with wood stoves, traditionally inspired contemporary furniture, and a riot of colorful quilts, all designed and made by locals.
A nonprofit foundation owns the inn, employing local artisans, staff, and guides, and then channeling the inn's profits back into the community through a business trust. "An inn like this," says Zita Cobb, the foundation's president, "creates a wonderful opportunity to build into it the things that we have learned as a people in our 400 years of being on this lovely rock;" http://fogoislandinn.ca.
Within four blocks of the shore in San Diego's Ocean Beach neighborhood, 18 vividly colored murals grace the exteriors of stores and offices. A closer look shows that these aren't typical paintings: Each work is made up of more than 200 tiles, and each tile was painted by a member of the community at the Ocean Beach Street Festival, held each June.
The project began in 1999 as an effort to beautify the area's commercial district and instill local pride. Since then, more than 3,600 tiles have been painted. Artist Janis Ambrosiani is part of the team that selects the murals' themes, which have ranged from area history to local hobbies like surfing. "It's like a huge, colorful storybook," she says. "The murals become our time capsules."
After already having made its mark designing beautiful benches, Forms + Surfaces delights us with the Boardwalk Bench. True to its name, the seating is made with hardwood repurposed from portions of the Atlantic City Boardwalk that were replaced in ongoing renovations: a piece of coastal history with a modern groove; forms-surfaces.com.
Design junkies and pragmatists alike relish Granada Tile's urbane cement collections. Impervious to sand, sea, and anything else feet may bring, the antique-inspired patterns are splendid, ranging from Moroccan shapes and prints to fresh interpretations of the Chevron stripe. Founder and native Nicaraguan Marcos Cajina used century-old remnants as his muse, and first began turning out the tiles from his L.A. basement. We're floored; granadatile.com.
The architecturally astute minds behind NanaWall sliding and bifold doors have made chic science of merging indoors with out. The "disappearing" glass walls pioneered by the Northern California manufacturer put sweeping vistas front and center, using aluminum, aluminum-clad, wood, and glass panels to slide the barriers between you and the salt air well out of sight—and, more importantly, out of mind. They have major environmental cred, too: NanaWall products are certified for energy efficiency in all climates. Not a bad view; nanawall.com.
Dominic and Frances Bromley's coolly dynamic lighting collection is a glowing interpretation of life beneath the ocean's surface. The husband-and-wife team and founders of U.K. design firm Scabetti loosely based their Shoal line off decorative mobiles popular in the 1950s, crafting fish of luminous bone china and then stringing them around a light source.
The result is the brilliant illusion of sunlight streaming into the depths. The Shoal collection ranges from table lamps to chandeliers and commissioned pieces for locations as diverse as London's International Maritime Organization headquarters and Konoba restaurant in the Seychelles; scabetti.co.uk.
The bohemian dream of a surf shack is tricky to translate into a luxury hotel, but that's the magic of Hotel Escondido, a four-hour drive south of Acapulco on Mexico's Pacific coast. Architect Federico Rivera Río's 16 bungalows are in the traditional palapa style, where reclaimed parota woods contrast with stone walls. Turquoise chevrons painted on wood floors not only emulate rugs, but echo the blue-green sea on constant view.
A garden of 10,000 cacti surrounds Escondido, making it feel all the more natural and spontaneous. But the most inspired design touch is a shimmering centerpiece—a 50-meter saltwater pool set directly into the sand between the hotel and the surfline. A slender parade of hammocks along one side offers respite and reminds us of that ideal surf shack, where a hammock under a thatched roof meant home—and heaven—for seekers of the perfect wave; hotelescondido.com.