Profile: Teresa Sapey

Designer and architect Teresa Sapey lives up to expectations – successful in Spain and born in Italy, she glories in ‘craziness’ and ‘sexing up’. Clare Dowdy thinks London should watch out, because she’s heading our way

She’s prolific, and she’s an extrovert – Teresa Sapey couldn’t fail to loom large on the design radar. Italian-born, but based in Madrid for the past 18 years, she has made a name for herself with a variety of mostly high-end projects.

She makes frequent appearances in the Spanish editions of magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle Deco, as well as in the national press, and is something of a design phenomenon in her adopted country. She sees herself as belonging ‘to the modern and avant-garde’ of Spanish design, citing hotshot architect Mansilla & Tuñón and Spanish-born, Italian-based Patricia Urquiola as her peers.

Incongruously, it was probably the design of an underground car park in 2005 that did the most for her profile outside Spain. It was the car park for Hotel Puerta de América, Madrid’s fanciest contemporary hotel, with different areas designed by the likes of Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, Javier Mariscal and Ron Arad, so she was in good company.

And now she’s hoping to crack the UK market, having recently installed architect and former colleague Tiffany Low in London to drum up business here. ‘We opened in London because it’s a trendy capital,’ she says. ‘It’s a free trading place. If you want to work in Dubai, India, Russia, you need to pass through a capital like London.’

Having seen Sapey in operation at Dubai’s International Design Forum in May, it seems likely that her brand of bold, modern design will go down well with the more style-savvy United Arab Emirates clientele. No doubt it will appeal to other developing markets, too.

She also shares that Spanish playfulness or quirkiness which bright young thing Jaime Hayon displays. ‘I think London is serious and we can make it sexy,’ she says, although it remains to be seen whether ‘serious’ London is at all keen to be ‘sexed up’. However, Sapey is so well-established in Madrid that actually having to drum up new business is an alien concept for her. ‘I’m not a good business woman,’ she claims. ‘Clients just call us because they have seen something published or they walked into a place we designed.’

It is very early days, but Low – who has very good contacts here in the UK – has already lined up a redesign of an old Indian restaurant in London’s East End and some Christmas lighting for Swarovski, and is currently in negotiations to do a showroom for a Brazilian fashion label. Sapey also has a private house on the go here.

Low and Sapey’s intention is to handle any London design work from the 20-strong Madrid studio, with a view to staffing up here, if and when the going gets good.

Her architecture studio certainly doesn’t seem to be short of work in Spain. While 20 per cent of those projects are private houses, the rest is retail, leisure, public spaces and some interesting work for children.

On the retail front, the studio is behind the overhaul of Vips, a 400-strong chain of convenience stores and drugstores famous for late-night opening. The redesign, which will roll out in September, includes the identity as well as interiors.

On the leisure front, earlier this year Sapey completed the exterior and interiors of a hotel in Valdepeñas, called Vera Cruz Plaza Hotel, which offers ‘wine therapy’. Meanwhile, the Mira Golf complex – a development near Malaga which also includes work by Hadid and Rem Koolhaas – will have 150 apartments designed by Sapey.

And she’s now negotiating the design of a gym chain for a big Italian operator planning to move into Spain with four outlets. The idea is that the gym’s design will be sustainable.

Her recent work for children includes Spanish hospital cancer care departments, and the first anti-obesity restaurant for children, which opened in Sek, a private school in Madrid, last September. Now that’s something the UK market could learn from.

While not all this work may technically be defined as ‘high end’, that’s how Sapey sees it. ‘All our work is luxury, because it’s an experience,’ she asserts.

With Sapey’s designs, clients must also be prepared for a large dose of Mediterranean personality. ‘I’m seen as a bit crazy, emotional, polemic,’ she says. ‘I like to create reaction.’

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