Santa & Cole-Design You Don't 'See'

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If you live in Barcelona, it’s impossible to escape the work of Santa & Cole.

You may not know it, but this prolific company is responsible for a huge majority of the benches, street lamps and lighting, letterboxes and even trees that grace our streets. Next time you take a break in a park, look for the company’s brass plaque on the back of a chair or bench – with its distinctive eyeglass logo.

Santa & Cole are synonymous with the city’s design culture. The company was founded in 1985, at the height of Barcelona’s ‘design boom’, by Javier Nieto Santa, Gabriel Ordeig and Nina Masó, with the aim of ‘editing’ the work of their fellow design community. That is to say, Santa & Cole would not have an ‘in-house’ design team, but rather work in partnership with creatives to manufacture and market their work, under contractual agreements by which the designers themselves would retain copyright. This modus operandi has not changed.

Santa & Cole produce many designs for the indoors as well, and are particularly strong on lighting. Two of their most famous pieces are signed by Miguel Milá – the prolific designer and pioneer who has created the ‘Cestita lamp’ – which fuses industrial design with a Japanese artisan aesthetic – and the ‘TMC’ standing lamp, with is ingeniously simple sliding system for adjusting the height of the shade. Antoni Arola is another Santa & Cole star with his giant Cirio ceiling light fitting, inspired by the chandeliers seen in Turkish mosques, dramatically enhancing some of the city’s most spectacular spaces, including the new Casa Bonay Hotel. Santa & Cole support younger, emerging talent too: La Granja, a multi-disciplinary studio born in Gràcia have designed a loop-like bike rack and elegantly functional chair (called ‘Belloch’) for the company.

But it’s in the urban domain where Santa & Cole’s presence is most influential. Who hasn’t, at some point, taken some time out on the wooden surfaces of their classic ‘Boston’ bench, or chucked a bit of rubbish in the ‘Rambla’ bin. The pavement outside Gaudí’s masterpiece the Casa Batlló on the Passeig de Gràcia is lit by Gonzalo Milá’s sleek and discreet ‘Candela Led’ street lamps, and the disk-shaped ‘Lampelunas’ light up the Olympic Village.

Although mostly unnoticed, these elements greatly contribute to making Barcelona the tremendously attractive city it is today. It is design you don’t see, but rather feel and experience in its functionality and sense of purpose.

Suzanne Wales