Hotel lobbies can be sophisticated showcases for art collecions, carefully orchestrated meeting areas, hip cafés, or high-tech work spaces. But for pure sensorial pleasure, it’s hard to beat a lobby that is also a working gourmet bakery. With its novel marriage of boutique hotel and local bakery (the successful Forn Baluard), the new Praktik Bakery Hotel has created an enticing space that appeals to guests and passersby alike.
Praktik is a mini-group of smart, mid-range hotels that have three establishments in Barcelona and one in Madrid. The interiors of all four were designed by Rosa Lazaro Violán, the Barcelona-based interiorista de jour whose work is typified by combining modern and antique elements into sophisticated settings that pay homage to late- and mid- 19th century European styles.
Situated in a converted clinic in the 19th-century Eixample neighborhood, where works of Gaudí and other modernista architects were built on the district’s distinctive chamfered sidewalks, Praktik Bakery’s design was inspired by Northern Europe. The 74 bedrooms, although on the
small side, have received an optimum treatment of space. Guests actually enter through the industrial, art-deco- inspired bathrooms, and the sleeping areas have been simply adorned with white cotton textiles, painted brickwork and bright yellow feature walls. As lovely and practical as they are, it’s the bakery-lobby of the hotel that holds the most interest.
Barcelona’s daily bread has done a 360-degree turn over the past few years. Before then, it was difficult to get anything beyond the ubiquitous Spanish barra (baguette). Recently, artisan bread shops have proliferated, offering breads and pastries using organic flours, seeds, fruit and other ingredients that are more associated with the heavy, hearty bread traditions of Scandinavia. Some observers attribute the success of upmarket bread as being an ‘affordable luxury’ in Spain’s cash-strapped times.
Run by second-generation bread maker Anna Bellsolà, Forn Baluard has its only other outlet in the working-class seaside district of Barceloneta. The bakery quickly garnered a foodie cult following. One of Praktik’s co-owners was a fan,and he invited Bellsolà to open a branch of Forn Baluard in his new hotel.
“When he approached me with the idea, I thought, well this is something different, so why not!” says Bellsolà.
Forn Baluard at the Praktik Bakery is not a mere ‘hotel shop’. A large swathe of the public area has been fitted out with a full working kitchen – storage vats, mixing machines, trolleys and an enormous wood–fired oven custom made in Barcelona by one of the few artisans who still make them (mainly for bakeries in France and Belgium). The kitchen activity, manned by four bakers, is in full view from behind a sound-proofed, glass partition in the lobby and behind the glass-fronted lower façade. With a front row seat of the oven, passersby will be able to see the loaves and pastries coming out directly from its cast iron door.
Back inside, the lobby-café, which brims with Scandinavian style peppered with soft Mediterranean textiles and tiles, is adjacent to the kitchen. The space will be the exclusive domain of the hotel’s guests during breakfast service (7.30-10.30am), after which it will be open to the public and wholly managed by Forn Baluard. The front entrance serves as the retail outlet and is dominated by a long display counter for the breads and pastries. Guests check in in a small section on the far end.
This layout fully integrates the bakery into the realm of the hotel (and vice versa) and makes it clear to guests and customers alike that Forn Baluard is an integral part of its offering and identity.
It also guarantees a constant flow of people in the lobby and focuses the space as the heart and soul of the hotel. Not only will it be constantly filled with the inviting aroma of freshly baked bread, but it will provide culinary theatrics from the display kitchen and act as an informal café for locals and travellers. Naturally, guests will be able to sit down and have a coffee or something to eat whilst they are waiting for check in to be finalised or a taxi to the airport. There is no reason to think that this concept wouldn’t work between partnerships of large chains, yet perhaps the most unique and appealing aspect of Praktik Bakery is the happy marriage of two small, local businesses with similar philosophies.
“The first time I put a slice of Forn Baluard’s bread in my mouth I thought, ‘Can bread still taste like this?’ It brought back memories of my childhood.” says Magaly Julien, the Praktik Bakery’s hotel director. “Baluard knows how to spoil their customers, and they take a lot of pride in their product – it’s not a fast food service. This is exactly what we want to do in the hotel, we want our customers to feel like they are in their family home.”