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A New Perspective

Celebrating 50 Years of Design at Milan Design Week’23

Text by Emily King

BD Barcelona Design

BD is a wildly original outfit. Its range of products, its breadth of approaches, the myriad of ways in which it responds to product design’s most fundamental questions regarding what is worth making and why, all these qualities mingle with a consistent irreverence that renders the company quite unique. If I were to try to put my finger on the origins of this singularity, I might hark back to BD’s gestation in Barcelona’s hottest ‘70s nightclub, Bocaccio. Back in 1972, BD’s founders, a group of architects and designers, were all regulars at the club that was owned by the flamboyant impresario Oriol Regàs and known as the crucible of Barcelona’s Gauche Divine, a movement of the city’s intellectual left. When the dancefloor gave birth to a plan to make products that would meet people’s needs in imaginative and attractive ways, it was an obvious move to turn to Regàs for investment. Hence, the original name of the company: Bocaccio Design.

“BD was responsible for provoking design curiosity and informing the taste of several Spanish generations.”

Even by BD’s standards, the first releases were adventurous: waterbeds, posters of iconic furniture intended to stand in place of the real thing, soft tubular lights that stretched up to 12 metres long. Unsurprisingly, the company lost money from the get-go and Regàs, being a hard-nosed businessman, wanted out. Regàs delivered this news to his fellow founders inuncompromising fashion in the unlikely setting of Barcelona’s fanciest restaurant, which was also a part of his empire. Having received a brutal lecture on commerce, the remaining partners retreated, bloody but unbowed, to the bathroom. Clustered near the urinals, they decided to ignore Regàs’ realism, buy him out, and continue with BD. From the point of view of the last founder to remain involved in BD, Oscar Tusquets, that defiant gesture was truly the birth of the company.

Like BD’s founders, its new collective owners—Apartamento magazine, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, Igor Urdampilleta, and Hernan Cortés—are also all architects and designers, long-time associates, and friends from Barcelona, and represent continuity for a company that has always treasured disjunction. They grew up visiting BD’s shops with their parents, buying items for their own home or wedding presents for their friends, and receiving a design education along the way. Along with its fellow Barcelona retail outlet Vinçon (which closed its doors after 75 years in 2015), BD was responsible for provoking design curiosity and informing the taste of several Spanish generations.

BD Barcelona Design
BD Barcelona Design

It is impossible to characterise BD’s output over the years beyond the umbrella term ‘eclectic’. Some early significant designs were direct responses to architectural needs, such as a functional cooker hood for a small kitchen or an elegant, efficient mailbox. Others were more playful, for example, Jane and Charles Dillon’s Tallo lamp, which uses a sandbag to anchor a stem, bulb, and simple shade; or Ettore Sottsass’s Shiva vase, a priapic ceramic vessel dreamt up when the designer was spending time in Barcelona wooing a young lover. There are the reproductions of celebrated historical pieces, first by Antonio Gaudí and later by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and the collaborations with Salvador Dalí, the best-known being the Dalílips sofa created together by Dalí and Tusquets. And then there is the Gaulino range, furniture designed by Tusquets in joint homage to Gaudí and Carlo Mollino. In short, where else but BD would you see the wavy lines of Javier Mariscal’s Duplex stool—a pillar of postmodern design—juxtaposed with the economic outline of Konstantin Grcic’s Table B?

Since its inception, BD’s attention to process has been pivotal in attracting the collaboration of internationally-celebrated designers. Using the most appropriate means of manufacture each time, often with an emphasis on local, small-scale makers, it sets an international benchmark, while keeping its heart in Barcelona. Transferring to its present owners, these values remain key. The output is various, but the quality is consistent. Following the trajectory of the company, there have been several iterations of BD’s name along the way, from the 1972 ‘Bocaccio Design’ to 2022 ‘Barcelona Design’. Among them was ‘BD Ediciones de Diseño’, and this may be the name that most closely reflects the ambitions of the new team. Driven by an inquisitiveness that has been evident in the magazine Apartamento since its launch in 2008 and very much shared by its partners, the company’s current mode is editorial. There will be the same seduction, intelligence, wit, and surprise in BD as there is on the pages of the magazine.

“Using the most appropriate means of manufacture each time, often with an emphasis on local, small-scale makers, it sets an international benchmark, while keeping its heart in Barcelona.”

In May 2023, BD comes to the Salone del Mobile in Milan for the first time in its new guise. Exhibiting at the Palazzo Belgioioso, a beautifully restored late 18th-century building, it is showing a selection of pieces from the last 50 years, all elevated on a structure fashioned from industrial aluminium. This display device is the work of Arquitectura-G. The intention is to create, quite literally, a new perspective. Looked at afresh, against the background of the Belgioioso’s elegant interiors, BD’s provocations—its teasing confrontations of beauty, humour, and practicality—are as wild and original as ever.

The strong connection that links Peres Projects to design is far-reaching and the desire to increase the presence of cutting edge design within the larger art world has brought the gallery to launch this limited edition collateral project Functional Art. With this new collaboration with BD Barcelona, a new series of works by Canadian artist Beth Letain will open up a visual dialogue on colours and geometric compositions to bring fresh light in the spaces of Palazzo Belgioioso.

BD Barcelona Design

BD Barcelona was founded in 1972 by a group of young architects and designers in Barcelona. They aimed to produce and market furniture with complete creative liberty, free from the rigid criterion of most companies in the sector, breaking molds in both function and shape. Today, BD Barcelona is the most recognised Spanish design brand, renowned for its unconventional approach to design and its commitment to artistic expression.

Founded by Javier Peres in 2002, Peres Projects is a contemporary art gallery promoting international contemporary artists to a global audience. The gallery represents a diverse group of artists with interdisciplinary and experimental practices, supporting them throughout their careers. With locations in Berlin, Seoul, and Milan, the gallery’s strong connection to design has led to the launch of a limited edition project called Functional Art, which aims to increase the presence of cutting-edge design within the larger art world.

Arquitectura-G is a Barcelona-based architectural practice founded in 2006 by Jonathan Arnabat, Jordi Ayala-Bril, Aitor Fuentes, and Igor Urdampilleta. Their projects include furniture design, private houses, public facilities, and historical renovations. Their work has been widely published and received numerous awards, including a European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, the 2015 Mies Van Der Rohe Emerging Architect Prize. They also run the architecture section of Apartamento Magazine and established the furniture company Indoors in 2012.