Belen Domecq is one of the most charismatic interior designers in Spain. She masters the art of creating enduring spaces, warm environments of refined, welcoming lines that do not sacrifice style or comfort. She is responsible for the design of Vega Sicilia winery, and has built homes for an extensive list of renowned customers she’d rather not mention, since discretion is essential in her line of work. She is married to Alvaro de San Nicolas and Olalquiaga, son of the Marquis of San Nicolas and handsome as a movie star. They have three children, whose pictures she proudly displays on her desk. She greets us at the headquarters of her company, Grupo Cosmic, a spacious, welcoming setting, the kind of place where it is easy to feel comfortable.
Belén is pretty, elegant, and comes from an aristocratic family. She spent her childhood in the Palace of Benavente, in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz), a 65,000 square-foot Renaissance building with an impressive neoclassical facade. Her father, Manuel Domecq Zurita, worked in the Domecq wineries, and her home was frequently visited by a diverse bunch of illustrious guests like Prince Charles, Manuel Morao, Rocío Jurado and Sharon Stone. “Some scenes of the movie, Blood and Sand, were filmed in our house, and I remember she (Sharon Stone) cried a lot after her first erotic scenes. My mother consoled her and gave her some herbal teas, and Sharon became so fond of her that for several years afterwards she used to send us Christmas cards”, recalls Belén with a smile.
When she was thirteen, after what sounds like an idyllic childhood, her parents sent her to study in England, and later to Paris. She would eventually finish her training as an interior designer in Madrid, at the IADE (Interior Design Institute).
She could have possibly chosen an easier path. After all she looks like a princess, even after trading her elegant gowns to dress like a businesswoman. Her passion for beauty and design pushed her out of her comfort zone to begin a career hands on, surrounded by dust and bricks, “I started working with Pascua Ortega, a leading figure in decoration and interior design, and I did everything: sweep, tidy up, run errands… and all without charging a penny”.
One solid step at a time, she became Ortega´s right-hand, until the designer himself, realizing Belén had a unique talent for the trade, encouraged her to become independent. She opened her own studio and began to generate business doing both: design and construction, until she had to make a vital decision: “I had to choose between brick or design, and it became clear to me: design is what I like, even if it is less profitable.”
In 1999 she founded Grupo Cosmic, where she has completed more than 140 projects. “For us, designing is like giving birth. You have to conceive a project and find its essence. Later, you have to take into account several factors: location is essential to define a concept; weather, light, the people that occupy the space and their lifestyle, are also key factors. We have to take into account all the ingredients in order to define our final objective.”
The aim is to achieve simplicity, eliminating unnecessary complexities. “I believe in contemporary but warm spaces. I like to feel comfortable in a design environment, and although I make small allowances when it comes to trends, I believe we must flee from them. Our projects require an investment and should stand the test of time. Trends are short lived and unsustainable”. That is the reason she doesn’t follow trends. “I only make small concessions when it come to design trends: perhaps with colors and some decorative touches such upholstery for a sofa, things that you can change in two years. But architecture goes beyond that”.
Belén finds inspiration in her travels. She loves Italy, Scandinavia and the United States. Mexico also holds good memories for her. “I love Barragan because he, along with Mies Van Der Rohe, marked the birth of contemporary architecture”.
The designer tries to learn from everyone around her, and appreciates other people´s success. She believes that in this world, recognition has to be earned. Behind success, there is always compromise and a lot of hard work. “People dress better after Zara appeared, and decorate better after Ikea democratized the aesthetics of design.” She sees design as a way to escape from stress.
When I ask her advice to decorate my own house, she tells me to build “a refuge where you can enjoy your leisure and increase your feelings of inner harmony”. It sounds beautiful, but I asked her if she could give me some suggestions. “Use light tones in places close to beaches and mountains, and warm colors in urban environments that tend to be cold”, and she adds, “design is balance and proportions, and that is reflected in everything. Also fundamental are the materials and their essence. You can only have a lot of wood in a house located in the middle of icy mountains; otherwise the elements will burn you”.
She admits it is not good to sell out, but believes a job well done is the best way to build a reputation. She is right. Despite the current shortage of bricks in Spain, Belén Domecq keeps hard at work, non-stop. We’ll surely continue to hear great news about her and her beautiful designs. ■