All photos by Toby Golus.
The foundation of Toby and Tamar’s Poble Sec apartment is all Barcelona, but they have added international touches from their numerous escapades to make it their own. Toby, 33, is originally from Australia and Tamar, 30, is from the Netherlands. They both value their home countries, but have always known their wanderlust is too great to stay put. Travel allows them access to different cultures and to meet people they would never meet otherwise. “People from various backgrounds, with totally different lives from us,” said Tamar.
The couple met at a wedding in Australia while Tamar was there on a nine-month work visa. “It was 10-10-2010,” said Tamar. “Pretty easy to remember.” After months of going to the beach together, socialising, cooking, etc., they moved in together. When Tamar’s visa ran out, they knew they wanted to be together without the strain of long distance, but the question was where. They needed a city where they could both live and work.
“First, I tried to get a work visa in Italy, but they move so slowly with those things, I had to get one for Germany instead,” said Toby. They called Berlin home for a while, until the cold drove them to Barcelona. Residency restrictions had just changed here, however, and they had no choice but to leave after an allotted time. They travelled around Morocco, then up to France where, on 10-11-2012—another memorable date—Toby proposed in front of the Eiffel Tower. “It was super cheesy, and I loved it,” Tamar gushed. “I was jumping around like crazy.”
After their wedding on a beach in Australia, for which they personally made all the decorations and cooked all the food for their 50 or so guests, they popped down to New Zealand. It was part honeymoon, part working holiday. “We found jobs picking apples,” said Tamar. “When we told people, they assumed we were having so much fun, living the dream.” Wrong. They both confessed that it was some of the hardest work they have ever done. After finding new, more enjoyable jobs at a campsite and saving money for two months, they spent the next three months shooting a travel documentary, still in New Zealand, and finally landed back in Barcelona. Toby said they came back because they felt like they had cut the experience short on their previous sojourn.
They found their current apartment in January this year. “It was pretty dodgy when we first moved in,” Toby admitted. For starters, “everything was yellow,” he said somberly. “The walls, the doors, even the ceiling in places. Everything was this dark yellow colour that clashed with the beautiful Spanish tile floors,” Tamar added. But it was nothing a couple of gallons of white paint couldn’t fix.
“We had to find a way to make it look nice, staying within our small budget,” said Tamar, “without it turning into an Ikea showroom.” The couple are innovative and were happy to recycle things from the street or buy secondhand. When they did resort to buying something at Ikea, it was just to have a base, which they readily revamped. For example, after they bought the cheapest Ikea bed, they painted the headboard a solid colour then spread candlewax in random spots, added a different colour coat, and scraped off the wax. Voila! A cool, patterned look that vanquishes any blandness of the original piece.
Another example of this resourcefulness is a simple, square Ikea table lamp, which they purchased and then covered with the fabric from a broken Gustav Klimt umbrella, so the light shines softly through the delicate yellows and golds of ‘The Kiss’. “Ikea products do enhance our creativity,” said Tamar. And it doesn’t hurt that Toby willingly admits he loves Pinterest. “I’m always on there getting new ideas,” he said.
The kitchen, in the middle of a series of doors that line a long, narrow hall—typical of Barcelona apartments—also needed a redesign to combat its tininess. They quickly trounced the challenge of minimal storage and nonexistent counter space by ripping off the kitchen door and extending their chopping and dicing area into the hall. Their knives are aligned on a magnetic rack attached to the wall, and for some extra illumination over their expanded food prep station, Toby squeezed a white shower rod between the walls near the ceiling and wrapped a red, bendable, bare bulb light fixture around it. “Every time we have people over, we all wind up standing huddled around here,” explained Tamar with a chuckle. “No one wants to leave the cooks alone in the kitchen so I guess it’s a good thing we use the space outside it, too.”
And the door? It is now the dining room tabletop. Toby sanded it down in places to get different layers of colour. Then Tamar found four secondhand chairs that they painted bright red, aqua, canary yellow and cerulean. “I like them because they remind me of chairs you would find in old restaurants, with the arm rests curving in from the back”, as if the chair is giving its inhabitant a hug. Covering the walls of this section of the apartment are postcards from Seville, portraits of flamenco dancers in which the girls’ dresses are made of ruffled fabric, canvases painted by Toby and Tamar, and others. In the centre of their mementos is a painting of a girl lying on her stomach, feet bent up, eyes gazing out at the viewer. Toby painted this for one of their anniversaries, using Tamar as his model.
Between the kitchen and the dining room, there are two facing rooms. One is the unfortunate, windowless interior room that is common in Barcelona apartments, and which Toby and Tamar are happy to use as their walk-in closet. And the other, Toby uses as his studio. However, this summer “it was basically a guestroom,” said Tamar. “We were constantly hauling Toby’s DJ equipment out onto the dining room table to accommodate friends and family that came to visit.”
Despite a few snags, the couple were drawn to this apartment. For Toby, it reminded him of a country house, much like the one he stayed in the first time he lived in Spain. Tamar loves the traditional, colourful tiles. And both of them boast about the location atop a sloping street, at the base of Montjuïc. The couple revealed that they have a love/hate relationship with Barcelona. Toby explained, “I love the city, but sometimes I need peace and quiet.” Poble Sec feels a little more tranquil to them. “But it’s also practical,” Tamar said. They’re only a 10-minute walk from the Raval where they like to go out, not to mention Poble Sec itself, which has a number of trendy pintxos bars and nightlife venues, relatively undiscovered by tourists. With Montjuïc as their backyard, they can also just “walk up to a bench with champagne and cheese in the evening,” said Toby. “It’s so romantic,” Tamar beamed.
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