Casa Balandra, a Culture of Its Own
In 2020, sisters Claudia and Isabella del Olmo opened up their childhood home in the heart of Mallorca to welcome artists, island visitors and locals. Together with their friend and long-time collaborator Cécile Denis they imagined a fresh interpretation of a European guest house and artist residency in Casa Balandra: a space celebrating multiculturalism, creativity, relationships and moments of indulgence.
We find out how the project began as intimate supper clubs in London and hear about the thoughtful steps Claudia and Isa are taking to build Casa Balandra into a purposeful brand.
Advance Copy: Many of us have been following the down to earth joie de vivre of Casa Balandra on social media and are curious to learn about the people and the dreams behind this beautiful house in the heart of Mallorca. Could you explain your individual paths and roles at Casa Balandra?
Claudia: I’m Claudia and I co-founded Casa Balandra. I’m currently the one on-site managing the chaos that is Casa Balandra and also the beauty that it is. I come from a design background, I studied multidisciplinary design at Goldsmiths in London and have always been creative but never considered myself an artist. My role is a bit of everything, I think when you do a start-up you tend to take on the ‘everything’ role, but definitely more in the creative aspect than the business.
Cécile: I studied design with Claudia at Goldsmiths University. We shared a passion for conviviality and in London Claudia and Isabella would organise dinners where friends would share hours and hours of time. My passion has always been interior design but it was missing the ‘life’ part to it. And then Clau and Isa suggested that I join their collective idea of Casa Balandra, making it a reality. That’s when I moved to Mallorca for a time and started this project with Clau and Isa doing a little bit of everything. My favourite part was organising dinners and Sobremesas. Now I have unfortunately left Casa Balandra but this was my role when I was there.
Isa: I studied business and went directly into the hospitality world. Then I took a curveball and went into a company called Desmond & Dempsey which is an amazing pyjama brand. That’s where my passion for creating lifestyle communities really began. I ended up moving to the US to work on different hospitality and hotel projects. I help Claudia and the team in Casa Balandra by doing the business side. It’s been great to build everything and see how it’s been evolving.
“We shared a passion for conviviality.”
AC: Your collective story began in London. Could you go back to explain where the idea of collaborating on an art or an event space came from?
Claudia: Before it was Casa Balandra it was called Balandra, an idea that Isa and I started dreaming up. It was very much about the fact that we’ve grown up in the Mediterranean raised by an American mum who’s half Japanese and half Italian and a dad who is Spanish but grew up in Belgium. We’ve had these different cultures in our upbringing and we’ve always felt like we didn’t belong to one specific place. Going to London enhanced all of it by a hundred, London being such a multicultural hub. The brand [Casa Balandra] was always this idea of bringing people and cultures together and that being a culture of its own. When we were living together in London we started to do supper clubs as a way of getting the ball rolling and seeing how people would react. In Spain, there is a word ‘Sobremesa’ it’s a word which describes the time that you spend at a dinner or a lunch table after the meal has finished. It’s a sacred time, an incredible moment of connection, talking, enjoying and indulging. It got to the point where I finished university and my sister was thinking of moving to L.A. at that time the house that we grew up [in Mallorca] was being rented out. Wanting to put Balandra in a space, we decided this was a good place to start. I remember when we told Cécile that we wanted her to be a part of it and we all had the same vision for what we wanted to create. It came together really fast, from the moment we decided that we wanted to do Balandra as Casa Balandra to the moment that it happened, it must have been about a year and a half.
AC: Cécile, you were there at the very beginning of the project, do you recall what it was like and the overall mood?
Cécile: I moved to Mallorca and Clau and I had to self manage our time with all the plans of what we wanted and didn’t want to do. We’d go to the market every weekend to search for how to furnish the house because we mostly wanted to use objects that we found that were really special. It was a period of planning and we started to organise and visualise what it was that we wanted to happen inside Casa Balandra and who we wanted to involve. The thing that hit me the most at the beginning is how this platform, this palace, attracted the kind of people that we love and that we are inspired by. Even when we were painting the house Clau had the idea of inviting friends to [help] in exchange for accommodation and a really beautiful pasta that she makes. These people were so inspired to come and help us, we met new personalities that we didn’t know, it was amazing. Once the house was ready it was that but times a hundred.
“We’ve always felt like we didn’t belong to one specific place.”
AC: What inspired you to host an art residency instead of a bed and breakfast? Was this an important element of the project?
Claudia: We wanted it to be a space where like-minded people could gather, connect and inspire each other. The residencies are focused on community and the people that you meet. I remember when I just finished university so before starting this huge project I wanted to learn and gather experience. I found Villa Lena which is part hotel part artist residency. It became clear that art residency is a thing and a practice before that we had all the ideas of an artist residency without actually honing in on the term. It happened naturally and organically coming from the love of creativity, of community and collaboration.
AC: How many residencies have you hosted so far?
Claudia: At this point, we’ve hosted three month-long residencies so it’s super new. The first one was in November which was an incredible start and the next one will be next November. We are doing the residencies in the autumn and winter seasons.
AC: Is there a method to your selection process, specific skills or interests that you’re interested in representing?
Claudia: The first three residencies that we had we didn’t do open applications; we reached out to artists. It’s a lot to do with the work itself. Once we’ve had the interview it’s so much about that because at the end of the day you’ll be sharing a space with five other artists, and it’s so much about the person. You do often get people who want to go to a residency but might not be right for this one because they don’t want to be social a lot of the time. Not that you can’t have a moment alone, but our residency is very much about community so we look at the work and the personality behind the work.
“We are very much here to host your stay as a resident.”
AC: What happens during an artist’s stay at Casa Balandra? From the perspective of the resident, is there a structure that you set for the month or do you prefer to give complete freedom?
Claudia: We usually have a welcome dinner and we also have family meals once a week, which is a moment when we all gather. We take [residents] to the supply stores: if they do ceramics we’ll take them to the local ceramicist in case they need anything fired or if they need to buy clay for example. We are very lucky to have our residency in a town that’s well known for its clay. Otherwise, we’ll take them to the art supply shop and then do a grocery run. We are very much here to host your stay as a resident especially within the first week so if there is anything you want to explore or people that you want to get in touch with, we are here to aid that process. I think that the first week is still a bit unstable getting to know your space and your surroundings. The two next weeks are great because everyone is connected and more comfortable with their studio so the work and the exchange of work starts happening. The last week flies by because we start thinking about how we’re going to wrap this up. We do open studios, whether that’s public or just between us, we create an exhibition of work to see everyone’s pieces together and all the artists get to talk about their work. Funnily enough, you get to see that there is some kind of influence, with this past residency when we put all the works up there was such a colour coordination, it was beautiful.
“Having our open studios and having locals visit the house has been incredible.”
AC: You’re hosting people from different countries and different walks of life, how do they interact with the residents on the island? Maybe it’s a difficult question to answer right now because we don’t have as much freedom. But how do you wish to welcome locals into the concept of your project?
Isa: As you’ve mentioned, everything is a little trickier during these times but we were lucky last winter to be able to host some supper clubs at the house where we had local guests come for Sobremesas dinners. Even throughout the residency, having our open studios and having locals visit the house has been incredible. I think the residency has helped us tap into these amazing people who are now basing their studios or their lives in Mallorca. The silver lining of Covid for Mallorca has been this influx of young people who are working on their own communities or brands. We’re hoping to build on that with a lot more events and experiences where people can come for the day, or a dinner to try a new chef, to be able to host everyone, not just the guests that stay at the house.
Claudia: There are so many incredible artists on the island. Having local artist residencies or renting out the studios to locals to create at the house is something we’re looking forward to doing, and another way that we could interact with the island.
“Being in a shared studio and able to get feedback from a fellow artist can be really changing.”
AC: Do you mind reflecting on what you’ve learnt so far from the people who’ve passed through Casa Balandra?
Cécile: I can’t speak about the artists’ residencies because I left right before but I can speak for our events before that. What I was surprised about was that the guests that came really inspired us, people who worked very hard to create their own businesses and what I loved is how much support there is between the individual businesses. I feel like that within itself is a community.
Claudia: We have a lot of things to experience still but one of the beautiful moments that I’ve found during the first residency is how two of our artists grew close together as friends. They exchanged so much positive critique of their work and I think they learnt so much. You could see that they had bonded on many levels and took so much from it. As an artist your practice tends to be quite solitary and being in a shared studio and able to get feedback from a fellow artist can be really changing.
“We wanted to build something we could afford to go to and not be out priced from our own experiences.”
AC: Even though the project is in its early stages, how do you see these ideas of art, conversation and community evolving? What kinds of projects are you looking forward to organising next?
Claudia: We are planning a lot of things at the moment, some are more hazy and some depend on the Coronavirus restrictions. We are planning many chef residencies this summer, it’s going to be a food-based experience that is accessible to both islanders and the people who come to stay. It will be food-focused and indulgent, which we love.
AC: That’s a full circle to how Balandra started in the form of supper clubs in London.
Claudia: Yes exactly! And something we’ve been thinking about from the beginning is developing the product side of things. So we’re currently developing the physical and online shopping aspects. Online will be more collaborative between past residency artists and ourselves and physical will be more unique finds and brands that we’d like to work with.
AC: You mentioned accessibility when talking about food-based experiences at Casa Balandra. Something I talk about often with collaborators of Advance Copy is making beautiful experiences more democratic. I don’t think art and aesthetics should be limited to only a certain echelon of people.
Isa: We had a lot of these conversations before we set the pricing, especially when we did the chef residency events. The three of us said that we wanted to build something we could afford to go to and not be outpriced of our own experiences.
AC: Claudia, Isa, Cécile – thank you for speaking with us from three different countries today and for sharing the story of Casa Balandra.