Barcelona shop AR.NO focuses on Mid-Century modern design

February 27, 2013
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At a glance, nothing seems special about the white desk lamp.  With its long neck bent at a forty-five degree angle, circular base and bulbous head, the lamp looks like it came straight from the opening credits of a Pixar movie.  To Ulric Gordenne, it is more than just a reminder of a playful animated lamp; it is his business.

The lamp is actually a self-balancing table lamp produced by a Spanish manufacturer called FASE Madrid in 1965 and is only one facet of Gordenne’s design shop, AR.NO.

His shop carries chairs, tables and lamps that span from 1950 to 2000, from many different designers.

“The category of design we focus on is called Mid-Century modern or modernist, in the international sense of the word,” Gordenne said.

In Barcelona, the word modernist refers to the Catalan Art Nouveau period led by Antoni Gaudi, he said.  The international style in architecture and interior design started in the United States in the 1940’s by multi-talented architects like Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and Oscar Niemeyer.

“We are fans of the pure minimalistic, sometimes futuristic, lines of that era,” Gordenne said.

Gordenne said that this style of design has dominated the content of the most important decoration magazines for more than 20 years.

“We don’t focus on big names only, though,” he said.  “An anonymous seat with nice lines can be of interest to us, too.”

Gordenne, who was born in Liege, Belgium, attended Liege University where he studied law and the arts and sciences of communication.  When he graduated, he moved to Paris, France, to work as a copywriter for advertising agencies in the area. It was in one of these agencies where he met his Spanish wife, Marissa.

“After 10 years in the hectic world of marketing and publicity, we left Paris and moved to Barcelona,” Gordenne said.

The  ‘Formento de las Artes’ declared 2003 the ‘Año del Diseño,’ or the year of design. Founded by a group of artists and craftsmen in 1903, FAD, as it is known, is a Spanish organization that promotes the decorative arts.  The Ano del Diseño (the year of design) was held to celebrate the organization’s 100th year in operation.  According to an article in the design magazine Domus, there were more than a hundred festivals, street events, awards, competitions, conferences, workshops for children and city initiatives that were held as a part of the Ano del Diseño.  It was because of the Ano del Diseño  that Gordenne and his wife moved to Spain.

“We settled in Barcelona with the idea of taking advantage of the design boom that was occurring in Spain,” he said.  “The economic climate looked very positive, and the city was fantastic, with only a few Mid-Century furniture shops.”

Gordenne said that running a Mid-Century furniture shop in Spain is different from running one in Germany or France.

“With 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship, an immense majority of the population still has no idea who some designers are, for example Le Corbusier,” Gordenne said.  “So we have to work from the beginning, like a teacher or a preacher, to communicate our enthusiasm.”

He said that the cultural gap and the limited design creation in Spain from 1930 to 1975 led them to the relatively unknown FASE Madrid.  They wanted to promote this Spanish lamp design manufacturer.

“From the beginning, we decided to make room for that very particular range of lamps that were unknown both globally and locally,” he said.

Now the FASE Madrid lamps are featured in a lot of Hollywood productions like the TV show Mad Men and the latest Indiana Jones film.

“We are proud to have contributed to popularizing that unknown brand,” Gordenne said.

Even though they will buy unknown brands, a large part of the AR.NO design shop is making sure each piece is real and authentic.  Gordenne said that, recently, there has been an invasion of cheap copies overflowing the market. Copies make for hard competition in the basic furniture market but not for AR.NO., he said.

“It is not real competition, as a collector could recognize them at first sight,” he said.  “They are very easy to recognize.  If you have a good eye or can get a detailed picture of the piece, you won’t get into trouble.”

Located at 71 Av. de Roma, AR.NO design shop is set up like a contemporary art gallery.

“The shop is supposed to emphasize the design quality of the pieces,” said Gordenne.  “We wanted open spaces with lots of lights and an industrial aspect.”

Gordenne said that the name AR.NO could mean “No Art”.

“We don’t think that design is art, “ he said.  “But as an applied art, it deserves a good showcase to underline its qualities.”