How Lorenzo Castillo’s hometown of Madrid inspired his collaboration with The Rug Company
The interior of The Rug Company, which shares a space with The Odd Piece gallery in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, has been rearranged to accommodate a concoction of different chairs. On the ground floor of the loft-style warehouse, brown leather chairs are mixed in among industrial, cage-like seats, white designs upholstered with bold floral prints and barstool styles covered with cross-stitched, embroidered cushions. This mismatched combination of seating is no accident – The Rug Company is hosting a talk about mixing old and new design elements to create a home with eclectic interiors.
Giving the talk is Spanish interior designer Lorenzo Castillo, who recently joined forces with The Rug Company to create four new rug designs. Castillo’s portfolio of work is bursting with exciting projects for affluent clients and companies, from luxury hotels and fashion brands to an Arab royal family. He started out as an antiques dealer, before transitioning into the world of interior design, and attributes his success to the fact that he was the first to specialise in mixing antiques with contemporary pieces.
Castillo has a tendency to contradict himself. In the same sentence, he’ll correct and then disagree with himself instantly. For instance, while describing the location of his first antique gallery, he says, “it was in a seedy old neighbourhood in Madrid”, and then in the same breath, “actually, it was the most glamorous part of Madrid”. But this is part of his charm, and probably reflective of his expertise in juxtaposing different thoughts and concepts.
This contradictory nature is reflected in the design elements he uses, from decor and furniture to artwork – his personal favourites include 17th-century Spanish antiques, Italian-made pieces from the 1960s and French designs from the 1940s. “Everything is a mix of everything,” he says, referring to a room in his own apartment in Madrid, where a 17th-century Dutch portrait is complemented by objects of a more contemporary nature.
When The Rug Company approached him with the idea of collaborating, Castillo naturally turned to the city of Madrid and its historical architecture for inspiration. Spanish marble floors, geometric shapes and earthy tones are central to his four designs. And while images of his interior projects often highlight decadent drapery, beautiful wallpaper and statement furniture, Castillo says that rugs are just as crucial to a design. “Rugs are as important as the ceiling and walls – the space is like a box, and the rug unifies the space,” he says.
The designer has started introducing the rugs to his own clients, and is also planning on using one in particular, named Isabella, in his own Madrid apartment. “I’m refreshing the drawing room; it’s a big space, everything was in blue, and now we are changing the palette from blues to pink,” he explains.
One of Castillo’s first high-profile projects was to update and redecorate a Loewe store in Spain. He also collaborated with Cartier to create its boutique interiors, marking the first time the brand called on an individual outside of the maison.
In addition, Castillo is working with Shangri-La hotels in Hong Kong and Singapore – his first projects in the Far East. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is the fact that King Abdullah II of Jordan hired Castillo to decorate the royal family’s summer villa. Sworn to secrecy, Castillo won’t reveal the whereabouts of the house, but proudly shows off some images of the interiors. The project was completed last year, and incorporates a mix of decor, including marble flooring, Spanish white-painted furniture, 18th-century maps and a Napoleon III mirror with an ebony inlay.
While elite designers with endless budgets are often happy to sacrifice comfort for style, Castillo likes to maintain a balance. “Comfort is the most important thing in a house, more than aesthetics. But you can have both,” he says. And although clients may sometimes have a clear vision of the types of interiors they want, often, reveals Castillo, they don’t even know how to describe their personal tastes. In these cases, Castillo starts out by determining whether they prefer classic or contemporary decor styles, and then takes it from there.
But he’s not one to be ordered around by what a client dictates. “I’m a designer, not a project manager,” he says. He stresses the importance of harmony and achieving the perfect balance of volume and colour. At the same time, he avoids sticking to conventional colour schemes – like the unspoken rule that a summer house should be blue and white. And, if a client is not entirely comfortable with a palette of different colours, he advises them to consider different shades of a single colour: “Like 50 shades of green, perhaps.”
Castillo has a penchant for mixing prints – like floral and geometric patterns, and often opts to cover walls in fabrics rather than wallpaper. But when it comes to refurbishing and decorating a home, he finds it difficult to articulate a single tip, trick or rule for putting it all together. “It’s difficult to give a magic recipe,” he says. But, I ask, if a client can only afford to splurge on one key piece of furniture, what should it be? Castillo thinks for a moment, and then, rather unexpectedly, decides on a desk. “You can have a very neutral space, like everything in white and beige colours, and then have one big piece of furniture to focus all of the decoration around – like a desk, in a dark Alexander wood,” he says.
For Castillo, flea markets are a treasure trove of interesting antique finds. He recently picked up a painting by a famous Spanish artist from the 1960s at a flea market, for what he says was peanuts. “It was a bargain, something like €4,000 [Dh15,552]; that is really nothing,” he says.
He is also fond of antiques from this part of the world – his country house features an enormous hanging lantern from the Middle East, and he also owns an ivory mirror from Syria, aged rugs from Persia and various ethnic tiles and ceramics.
In addition to frequenting flea markets, Castillo names Paris, New York, London, the south of France, northern Italy, Sweden and Denmark as his shopping hotspots. The best antiques, he says, can be bought at Christie’s auctions in Paris, London and New York, although the pieces sold via this route are not always accessible to all. A few years ago, he recalls that the personal collection of Yves Saint Laurent was sold at Christie’s in Paris, but even Castillo couldn’t get close to any of the designer’s highly coveted possessions. “It was impossible to get even an ashtray,” he says.
One might assume that such a fan of antiques would become overly attached to his prized possessions, but Castillo takes an unexpectedly pragmatic approach – and often parts ways with his valuable finds. For instance, when moving flats recently, he auctioned off some of his antiques. “I’m not a collector, I’m an interior designer,” he explains. “I have to make money also, to buy and get new pieces.”