Among Ava Gardner’s many love affairs, one of her most enduring was her embrace of Spain – a place she found irresistible for its “earthiness” and “whimsy” (not to mention its handsome toreadors). In the mid-1950s, the Hollywood legend purchased an apartment in Madrid’s El Viso neighborhood. To renovate such a storied property would be any designer’s dream, but for Isabel López-Quesada, it was more than that – it was a necessity. Have a look!
Set in a discreet four-story building, the duplex had grand proportions, including a nearly 2,000-square-foot rooftop terrace where she was known to play jazz and flamenco until the wee hours of the morning, irking her downstairs neighbor, exiled Argentine ruler Juan Perón. The apartment had been in her husband’s family for half a century, ever since Gardner herself sold it to his grandfather, the Marqués de San Damián, in the 1960s. When the longtime tenants left and the family decided to put it on the market, López-Quesada couldn’t bear to think of another designer reimagining the space. “I realized I had to get one of my clients to buy it,” she says. “And when you want something really badly, the stars somehow align.”
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Not long afterward, she began working with a young family who were looking for a home near the city center. The Gardner apartment, in one of the most exclusive pockets of Madrid, was outside of their price range, but López-Quesada took them to see it anyway. “We visited on a rainy, nostalgic kind of day, and it was love at first sight,” says the client. “The layout was bad and the bedrooms were small, but my husband and I felt the potential was magnificent.”
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The Spanish designer, whose romantic approach to interiors was chronicled in her 2018 book Isabel López-Quesada: At Home (Vendome), already had a new layout in mind. “I felt the home spoke for itself, telling me what it needed,” she says. “Looking at the high ceilings and incredible light, I decided to create something elegant and clean, with a neutral base that would allow me to play with colors.”
She began by making some major alterations to the floor plan. A narrow U-shaped staircase was replaced with a gorgeously curved one in unfinished oak, its sleek iron balustrade topped with brass handrails. One of the former reception rooms on the lower level became the main bedroom suite, complete with a sunlit walk-in closet. The upper level now has bedrooms for the children and a family room that opens onto the sprawling terrace, where the overgrown tops of neighborhood trees provide not just shade but also the delightful sense of being in an urban forest.
When it came time to decorate, she unleashed her signature eclecticism. López-Quesada is the kind of designer who can nod to British clubhouses, French country homes and Park Avenue apartments within a single space, weaving it all together into an effortlessly chic atmosphere. In one corner of the drawing room, she placed a camel velvet sofa with midcentury lines under a marine-hued abstract painting by Donna Huanca and paired it with two 1960s Pierre Paulin Mushroom chairs reupholstered in black. The opposite corner features a rustic French vintage table topped with huge glass vases in different colors and motifs. “The way she mixes styles is truly unique,” says the client. “She’ll pair a valuable antique with something very rustic, almost as if to make it less serious or important. Every room in our house has its own personality.”
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Meanwhile, on the rooftop terrace amid a garden designed by Fernando Martos, López-Quesada created an enchanting space furnished with pillowed sofas and wicker armchairs. One could easily imagine Gardner there, drinking sangria with Luis Miguel Dominguín, the dashing bullfighter who was her paramour, and entertaining friends with music until sunrise. “We love hosting, and often our guests don’t want to leave,” the client says. “We joke that it’s the spirit of Ava Gardner—she knew how to enjoy life.”
Via © Elle Decor