Barcelona Design Tour

A Local Artisan Is Preserving Barcelona's Past, One Tile At A Time
Bénédicte Bodard discovered discarded tiles in dumpsters, not realizing they were important pieces of Barcelona history.
Bénédicte Bodard
Artisan & Collector; Owner, Mesa Bonita

Bénédicte Bodard didn't set out to be an arbiter of local history, it just sort of, happened. A former wardrobe stylist for film and commercial television, she's now a knowledgeable collector, artisan, and protector of pieces of Barcelona's history that are on the verge of extinction.

Bodard rescues tiles discarded from demolished buildings or in the midst of renovation, and creates artisanal, one-of-a-kind tables from the scraps. The decorative flooring was part of the city's signature architectural aesthetic during the early 20th century's Modernist movement. "Part of the remodeling today, and through the years, sadly consists of removing any design characteristics from the past," says Bodard.

Today, Bénédicte Bodard has a workshop beneath her apartment in Sants, where she creates artisanal, one-of-a-kind tables.
Lost Treasures
Find New Life

After moving from Los Angeles, she and her husband, Robin, settled in Barcelona's Eixample neighborhood, where the architectural personality from the Modernist era was visible everywhere. At the time, the city was in the midst of a real estate boom. "It was 2001, and there was so much construction going on." As she walked through the streets, she began to take notice of dumpsters filled with tiles decorated with motifs. "I'd grab one and put it on my terrace, but not think much of it."

After a few weeks, she began to realize just how many were being tossed away. She remembers wondering, "How could something so beautiful be considered garbage?"

Bénédicte Bodard puts tiles together to re-create the original patterns.
Pretty Tables
Putting The Pieces Together

Bodard wanted to find a way to make the tiles matter to people again. The solution? She began creating tables, and loved the first one so much, it remains part of the furniture in her own home.

"When guests would walk in, they would say, 'What a pretty table.' " Searching for a name for her new-found business, she found inspiration in those compliments. Pretty table. In Spanish, it translated to Mesa Bonita. It was simple and perfect.

A selection of restored Barcelona tiles.
Chipping Away
A Labor Of Love

There's nothing easy about preserving history. Restoring the squares to pristine condition is serious work. First, Bodard chisels off three or more inches of cement stuck to the back of each tile, working by hand so as not to break the precious find. Then there are the puzzles to solve. She insists on matching pieces to recreate the pattern as it was originally intended.

Her now 10,000-plus collection is priceless. Case in point: a few years ago, Bodard recalls that curators of Casa Milà, a masterpiece building also known as La Pedrera, and built by Gaudí in the early 20th century, had been searching for tiles that re-created an entire Gaudí floor. "They were looking for one of two floor tiles for an exhibition inside La Pedrera. I had both of them!"

Local Recommendations

Stroll The Streets OF Barcelona With Tilist, Bénédicte Bodard

Born in Normandy, France, Bénédicte Bodard worked for 18 years in Los Angeles as a wardrobe stylist, but it was along the streets of Barcelona where she discovered her true calling, bringing discarded tiles back to life. She revels in the city's dynamic mix of past and present. Here, the artisan puts the pieces together to share her decorative view of Barcelona.

Reeling It In

Catch A Movie In Any Language

Phenomena Experience (168 Sant Antoni Maria Claret; +34-932-527-743) draws cinephiles to one of the biggest screens in Spain, with multi-dimensional sound that makes everything larger than life. Offerings run the gamut, from classics to the latest blockbusters. Popular, too, are VO (version original) cinemas, which show mostly indie films, and in the language in which they were originally produced. One of the most popular is Filmoteca de Catalunya (1-9 Plaça de Salvador; +34-935-671-070), which is run by the city's Ministry of Culture.

Going Green

Walks In The Park

Ideal for long strolls amid the greenery, Parc de la Ciutadella (21 Passeig de Picasso; +34-638-237-1150) has a regal air about it. Maybe it's because the Parliament of Catalonia is located here, but it is far from stuffy. The large park is also home to Barcelona's zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. For a lighter experience, head to Tibidabo (3-4 Plaça Tibidabo; +34-932-117-942), the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola, where the draw is a more than 100-year-old amusement park. If you haven't had your fill of Antonio Gaudí, visit Park Guëll (5 Carrer d'Olot; +34-902-200-302). The architect was hired by an industrialist, Eusebio Guëll, to build a miniature city on grounds he owned on a hillside. Gaudi used mosaic tiles in just about every space imaginable.

Art Crawl

Recycled Works And Repurposed Buildings

One of Bénédicte Bodard's favorite places is Drap-Art (1 Calle Groc; +34-932-684-889), which promotes works created from discarded materials, and hosts festivals of recycled art gathered from around the world. Another example of re-use is a former textile factory that has been transformed into a museum. While the exterior of CaixaForum Barcelona, (6-8 Av. de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia; +34 934-768-600). is reminiscent of a medieval castle, what's inside is anything but ancient. With one of the most robust contemporary art collections in Barcelona, CaixaForum has more than 1,000 works by almost 400 artists representing 37 countries.

On The Town

Checking Out The Neighborhoods

Today, Bénédicte Bodard's lives in Sants, in an apartment building that was a former soap factory, and shares the building with her atelier, Mesa Bonita. The working-class neighborhood has the feel of Barcelona 100 years ago. Small, family-owned shops line Carrer de Sants, while Las Arenas (373-385 Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes; +34-932-890-244), a bullring turned into a shopping center, is nearby. Head to the fifth floor, where a circular terrace offers 360° views of the entire city.
Graciá is where the hipsters hang out, and one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town. Carrer de Verdi, the neighborhood's main street, is a cool exploration of artsy shops and vintage stores, plus cozy cafés. Bordering Graciá is Sarriá-Sant Gervais, one of the most expensive residential neighborhoods in the city. You'll find lots of locals milling about in this non-touristy area, and many visitors find the area maintains a small-village ambiance, with its abundance of green parks, and narrow, quiet streets.

Flavor Adventures

Catalan Cooking At Its Most Delicious

To eat in Barcelona is not only to experience authentic Catalan cooking, but to take in the flavor of the city. For Bénédicte Bodard, the smaller, neighborhood eateries are the way to go. Café de L'Academia (1 Carrer de Lledo; +34-933-198-253) set in a tiny square in Plaça de Sant Just, is meant for a leisurely lunch on the terrace, perfect for lounging and people watching on sunny days. Close to the Sants Market, La Bodegueta de Cal Pep (12 Carrer de Canalejas; +34-933-393-037) is an amazing journey into Catalan culture and cooking through and through. The family-run restaurant has a regular clientele who come for a seasonal menu that changes daily, made up mostly of seafood. Inside La Boqueria market, wait your turn for a place at the 14-seat tapas stand, Bar Pinotxo (Mercat del la Boqueria, 89 Carrer la Rambla; +34-933-171-731). There's even a book about the place, God is in the Garbanzos, which tells classic stories about the famous tapas bar, and doles out 31 recipes for cooking enthusiasts to try at home.