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Patricia Neish lives with her husband, Alex, on the ever-changing Carrer de Sant Pere Mès Alt. When they made the move there from Brazil, the Born neighbourhood was still a fairly seedy place. Luckily, Patricia respected the history of the district, rather than being deterred by it, and had faith that it could only get better. Today, looking back at her photos from the late Nineties, when they chose to retire here, the area is barely recognisable. “The drastic transformation in just under 19 years is fascinating,” said Patricia. “This is where the textile trade grew up. This is where the painter Josep Lluìs Sert—who was instrumental in saving Catalan art during the Civil War—was born. If these bricks could talk, you know.”
Stepping off the street and into the apartment, you don’t know if you’ve entered a museum or a home. First-time visitors gasp as they venture under marble white arches into the living room and take in the sheer size and elegance of the place. You would never know it was originally a factory that made costume jewellery, abandoned and left to become derelict. Patricia once met a man who was brought up on Sant Pere Mès Alt and used to play hide and seek in her apartment. She admits, “When I first looked at this place, I wanted to cry. But I saw the potential and had time on my hands.” She was also persuaded by the layout of the apartment. After viewing numerous apartments with typical Barcelona floor plans—a long, dark corridor with big rooms on either end, but nothing in the middle—she was overjoyed by the rectangular shape of this apartment, with rooms branching off from the centre. It’s incredible how Patricia’s vision, hard work and 52 years’ worth of belongings have transformed this once-derelict apartment into a spectacular home.
At the start of the renovation work, Patricia had a number of internal doors removed to gain movement and achieve a sense of openness throughout the apartment. She also had to wash all the ceilings to reveal their true colours. She was inspired by the colours of the living room ceiling, but inverted them, making the soothing sea green more prominent to match her vibrant couches and chairs, covered with green peacocks and giant, pink flowers. The ceiling of the couple’s bedroom is a patchwork of textured, wood-coloured plaster. And if that wasn’t enough, the ceiling of the office is a truly breathtaking, gold-painted, three-dimensional marvel. One of Patricia’s construction workers told her that every plasterer has a signature that they hide within the designs of their rooms. After staring at her ceilings for countless weeks, they found it in the tinned crown molding of the dining room—a tiny snail and frog, meaning there were two people who worked on the ceilings. “If we had a euro for every photo taken of our ceilings, we would be extremely rich,” she joked. “But they are something to behold.”
Besides the overall grandeur of the apartment itself—the location, size and intricate ceilings—it’s the small trinkets and inconspicuous items with interesting histories that make the Neish home so special. Patricia personally created the stained glass ceiling of the front room to represent her life. Underneath this personalised masterpiece, is a wall of shelves holding endless pewter pieces. Alex collects pewter and donated much of his collection to the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Scotland. He kept enough, however, that it took Patricia eight hours to place all the pewter plates, chalices, candlestick holders, ink stands and snuff boxes on the shelves. “Everything was shipped, unpacked and spread out on the floor. That’s when we were like, now how do we set this out?” said Patricia. “It was quite overwhelming.”
When asked what her favourite thing in the apartment is she laughed and said, “That depends on my mood.” Some days it’s a special pewter snuff box with two faces of newlyweds on it. Patricia excitedly slid it out from under a glass lid to show me that the image is, in fact, an ambigram; turning it upside down, the newlyweds faces remain the same. She has a whole showcase of divinos—various types of bird statues from Brazil that represent the Holy Spirit—and one in particular that she fancies. But, as her pace quickened and her voice raised a pitch, she revealed her true favourite—a dental cabinet in the corner of her bedroom. “When I saw it in one of the antique magazines, I begged Alex to get it for me. Look. Look,” she said ardently. “All these little drawers spin out, and I can put away all sorts of random, small things that would otherwise get lost.”
There are prominent pieces that Patricia loves, as well, like the dark, wooden wardrobe from a home in Edinburgh, which extends the entire length of the guest bedroom wall and has a rare curved centre door. Or the number of books by Manuel Moleiro that she has propped up and open to her favourite pages. M. Moleiro is a prestigious publishing house, specialising in the reproduction of codices, maps and works of art—usually made on parchment or papyrus between the 8th and 16th centuries—in the form of illuminated books. “I am amazed by Moleiro’s wisdom and skilled craftsmanship every time I look at the pages of his books. They’re art,” Patricia praised.
Inside Patricia´s apartment, you don’t know where to look first, and you certainly don’t want to get your fingerprints on anything. Although a lot of the things are collectors items, displayed in glass cases throughout the apartment, Patricia said, “It’s home. I’ve had this stuff my whole life. It’s a conglomeration of all our old homes, the structures and the cities”. Who would want to keep such interesting things in boxes anyway? She proudly displays the tangible pieces of her past just like the photos that show the evolution of her family. “It’s all laid out so I can reminisce every day, so I can keep my memories alive and part of my present. Alex and I don’t get out that much these days, so we have to find joy in the walls around us.” She did say, however, that she has warned Alex that, although the apartment is spacious, they mustn’t let it get too cluttered. “I said to him, for heaven’s sake, don’t go on buying stuff. I’ve nowhere to put it.”