At the heart of the Apartamento family
We will always favour an intriguing personality who lives in a modest place that someone boring living in a palace
Marco Velardi, Nacho Alegre and Omar Sosa, the three founders of the magazine Apartamento, never stay long in the same city. The Italian Marco, editor-in-chief, lived in Milan for a long time before moving to Berlin, and the Spanish Nacho Alegre and Omar Sosa, creative director and art director respectively, live and work in Barcelona. The occasion was too good to meet them in Paris, at Colette, for the launch of their latest issue (#19) and the catalogue produced in collaboration with Pierre Hardy where the trio highlights the French designer’s Atelier collection. A first informal meeting as an introduction to our interview the next day. “Nine thirty is a little early, isn’t it?” nacho joked during the evening before signing our copy of the catalogue. “I’ll answer yes or no to the questions!” Finally, it was Marco alone that we found the next morning, excusing his partner who was recovering from the festivities of the previous day. Not dismantled for all that, it is with enthusiasm and sympathy that he spontaneously started to talk about the magazine, anticipating our questions. Referring to the Apartamento signature, he began by mentioning the magazine’s strength: an intuitive and horizontal approach, always independent of their respective activities. “Apartamento was never a project motivated by money, it’s a hobby.” A vision that opens new avenues of development for them at the dawn of the magazine’s tenth anniversary, such as the creation of a studio or a festival… Putting the human being at the centre of its purpose, Apartamento is not intended to remain frozen, it is an object that feeds on those who read it, do it, and leave their mark there.
Apartamento has existed for ten years and has a strong identity, which today allows you to consider other activities. Did you anticipate, when you created the magazine, that your organic approach would be successful?
Not really, there was no business plan from the beginning. We just happened to be two guys in Barcelona and one guy in Milan with a completely different work life, and that kept it very organic. Nacho is a photographer, and I’ve always been doing a bit of writing, then gone to art direction and consulting, and Omar is a graphic designer. We celebrate ten years of the magazine this November already, and now it’s almost become an advertising pitch, but in the end it’s just another issue of Apartamento. The word “organic”, which I use a lot, is very important. But sometimes you have to have structure in order to get things done. In a sense we are lucky because the way Apartamento was built was not specific, we thought “Okay, we have a magazine. We need advertising, we need distribution, we need this, we need that”. And in the beginning we met with people to try to implement specific deals. Dealing with the shops help us create a relationship with people. Apartamento has very much been me, Nacho, Omar, and one person for distribution doing the work, and that’s it.
Do you think this organic way of working is the real definition of what is a niche magazine?
In general, I think when you do something independent there is always the need to create a very seamless structure. The way we were so loose helped us all stay on the same level and nobody had ego. Nobody gave orders. We created a formula which was very easy to replicate and every other issue we changed something and it grew with time. I think if we had sat in the same office every day, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The idea not to have an agency from the beginning meant that we were not forced to sell the brand right from the start and make money to survive. We were doing our jobs, dealing with our clients, and the magazine was not involved. If you do other things, it can help you grow. If you do the same thing over and over, you sometimes start struggling feeding the machine. Now we are moving towards a new life for the magazine, “Apartamento 2.0”…
You are Italian, and your two partners, Noacho and Omar, are Spanish. Have you met around your respective conceptions of interior design? Were they complementary?
Well, it still doesn’t match today! In a way our conceptions are complementary and we have levels of common ground. Personally, I very much like Scandinavian or Italian designs, and Nacho is sometimes more interested in folk and a classic French approach. Well, I’m generalizing now, I think Nacho likes everything! He has a much wider conception of interior than I have, I am more restrictive. We met through a friend. Nacho had the idea to create a fanzine, a little publication around interiors, and we talked about my experience in publishing. It took about a year before the magazine came out, and from that moment on I kind of dictated the way. We still laugh about it, how I used to send emails with my bullet points… We were all doing stuff around publishing and we were interested in interiors. It brought us together, but it was not a vision of a certain type of interior, it was a vision of how we’d like to see a magazine that tells stories about places and people.
The idea of”home” is an essential element of the magazine. How would you define it?
It’s a tricky one. Home is not necessarily the place where you eat and sleep. It’s difficult because the more you look into people’s homes, the more aspects to the way people live you discover. The bottom line for us is that we’re really interested in the places where people do sleep and eat. It’s a fine line, but home is essential to our idea of the magazine and people we feature. At the end of the day we’re a magazine about people sometimes more than interiors. Interiors are an excuse to reach people.
Did you have an idea of the personalities you wanted to meet from the start?
In a way yes, I think of people like Andrea Zittel or Alessandro Mendini for example. In the beginning we were more interested in the anthropological point of view of looking at interiors, it really fascinated us. We started curious about people’s houses and then we moved on to people, and that brought us to specific characters. We still want to interview David Hockney, we’ve reached him a few times but we never managed to go further. We did a video of Glenn O’Brien, who sadly past away recently. We never featured his house in the magazine because it was done so many times that we felt it wasn’t relevant. So the video was a way to still feature him. It’s amazing for us to deal with all kinds of individuals. Mendini was someone we wanted to feature and we did it. He lives in a really ugly place and he has an IKEA bed sheet! But it doesn’t matter. We are not scared if somebody we are interested in lives in a shitty place, because that’s his place. If somebody is really boring, it’s possible we won’t be doing a feature even if he or she lives in a great place, because what’s the point? The average age of the magazine is quite old these days. In the latest issue, you have people from 60 to 80! But it changes, and that’s also the way we are.
Family also seems to be important in defining your philosophy.
I think family for us expands to our readers as well, who I always refer to as our contributors. Reading the magazine is contributing to it. Family is being close to each other and supporting each other, and at the same time it is a network you can rely on. This is an identity we always wanted to keep. We never had an editor’s letter in the magazine, nor a contributors’ page because we don’t take it for granted that we work with great people and we don’t want to create this disparity where people are more important than others. If you like the story, you like the person, you like the house, then I’m happy with it. Everything is horizontal and there is an organic flow between the parts.
The thing that is as interesting as it is tricky is this kind of family intention, creating synergies as you did with Nowness for instance. At the end, how do you approach a relationship that can be based both on complementarity and competition?
Our collaboration with Nowness, “My Apartamento”, was born out of mutual interest, but it ended recently because they decided to rebrand it. Sometimes when you deal a company owned by a large group, you don’t really know the dynamics all the time. I think it was a very interesting experience for us to give us an understanding of how video can elevate the content that we do. At least for us, it was quite successful in the sense of having a new way of observing stuff. Barbara did a fantastic job capturing our identity through her video propositions, and then it became a style of her own, which I think is quite nice. Now they continue the series under a new name, “My Place”, they changed it so quickly. I do think that sometimes when you’re forced to change, it helps you improve yourself. Otherwise you just sit comfortably and you keep doing the same thing over and over. And as you say, it was a very interesting relationship and a new dynamic to explore.
Does Apartamento stand out from publications such as Wallpaper precisely because it emphasizes the human?
What makes our difference is that we sell nothing. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but we don’t tell our The difference with us is that we don’t sell anything, and that’s sometimes a struggle, we’re not telling you what to buy, what to drink, which toilets to use. But we’re going to show you the toilets someone else uses! For us, it is always about the human traces rather than showing spotless, sterile environments. You want to see the bed where people had sex or cried or the kitchen where they cook. Kitchens are never clean! We wanted to really give that, and I think that’s a major difference with design magazines. And again talking about design, I don’t think we are a design magazine, we’re a magazine that calls itselfs “everyday life interiors”, and that’s maybe something that we had in the beginning, but now it is basically about people.
Which brings us to the question of intimacy.
Yes, intimacy is a question, but it is not about exposing people. We want to show their intimate spaces, we want to give an idea of how they live, how they get along in their daily life, or just capture the spirit of specifics moment. But, we also respect privacy and, in a way, it has to do more with a feeling. Of course, we have our vision of what a place should look like in the magazine and show people what it is, but I think it’s very important to respect, and not expose anyone. So we’re a bit voyeuristic but in a very respectful way. We try to portray this intimacy because it’s what you feed on, the energy, that’s how you get the realness about it. Something most magazines just polish off.
After ten years, how has your way of approaching your subjects evolved? Do you solicit the personalities that interest you or are you more solicited?
Apartamento has never been a money-driven operation, it’s been a hobby. Keeping it that pure has been very important and allowed us to move fast in our head. A lot of people come to us, but we don’t reject people on a basis of being too cliché, we can say we also created our own cliché. People come to us saying “this place is so Apartamento”. I really believe that nothing is perfect, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Apartamento is something you want to touch, and you want to feel. It’s not like one of this big coffee table books that you are even afraid of touching. Maybe it was a reaction to that when we did the first issue, a reaction to the coffee table culture. But now I think I said enough!
About David Herman & Maxime Der Nahabédian
Portrait: Valentin Le Cron