A Conversation with Silvia Hengstenberg
Three years ago and pre-Covid, restoration plans were presented for Casa de Mareas, a 16th-century mansion in Cantabria, Spain. “This is the house of the future, not just of the things we need right now,” investors told Silvia Hengstenberg, owner of the avant-garde home.
Silvia hunts for homes with character, then remodels and incorporates them with the proven methods of neuroarchitecture (the study of how the body and brain respond to the built environment). One consideration for a strong piece of neuroarchitecture is art, as the presence of it is believed to affect how we act and think.
Enter Casa de Mareas, with its permanent art collection, an evolution of ArtUReady, a platform that Silvia founded in 2016 that has drawn numerous known and emerging creators to contribute society-enriching works.
We connected with Silvia to find out more about Casa de Mareas, its impressive collection that includes an artist named Leonardo who was creating Basquiat-like works by the age of five, and how a home can improve our health.
HOW DID THE ART U READY PLATFORM COME ABOUT?
SH: "Six years ago, we owned three unique locations in the city: we had a greenhouse for an office, a palace, and another location, and they were all on the same street, San Lorenzo. Arco, the most important contemporary art fair, was going to be in Madrid in February. And I thought we should create our own satellite art fair - so we did, and we had maybe five participating spaces on the street that year. We kept doing it year after year, and eventually created a “U” shape when we joined San Lorenzo with San Mateo and Santa Brígida streets. We topped at having ten businesses participating, and became known for our round tables with architects, interior designers and collectors.
"Three years ago, we changed the format to only exhibiting in our greenhouse. We started focusing only on artists aligned with values that improve society. We invited emerging artists to make pieces specifically to be in the greenhouse, with the goal to inform - more like an installation.
"For example, we worked with a German artist named Ülf Saupe, concerning plastic in the oceans. He did a photograph exhibition. And whenever we do an opening, we arrange a performance. In this case, we invited dancers who wore costumes made out of ocean waste.
"The next exhibition was Arquitopía by Sergio Femar, an artist who paints street furniture made out of 3D-printed building materials created by Acciona. No waste is generated, because you use 100% of the materials.
"Finally, we worked with Carla Cascales, an artist who is inspired by kinsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by fusing it back together with gold, which also reduces waste."
Exhibition for Ülf Saupe
CASA DE MAREAS HAS A PERMANENT EXHIBITION OF ART U READY. WHAT IS IN THE COLLECTION?
"Leonardo Rodriguez-Pastrana Caldarola is an artist from here who is now only eight years old. He started painting in his closets at home when he was only two and a half. He made some pieces for us and gave the profits to the NGO Kabuka, for children and we arranged a workshop for children. In Casa de Mareas, we have two pieces by Leonardo.
"We have a Remed piece, one of his first paintings he ever did in Madrid. He paints around the world, and started out in street art with children who live in marginalized neighborhoods. One piece that we exhibited of his ended up bought by Longchamp and was hung on Fifth Avenue in New York. One thing I am very proud of is that the artists that work with us - the next step was very high for them. We also have some pieces by Sergio Femar, who did Architopia, and this summer, we will introduce Carla Cascales art.
"Finally, we have art from Debajo de Sombrero, a non-profit association that works with people with intellectual disabilities, to help them develop their creativity. The movement began in the United States with Judith Scott, a woman who lived for 36 years in a psychiatric institution and became an internationally-recognized sculptor.
"In Casa de Mareas, you will find art pieces in all the places and rooms. During all the years of ArtUReady, we tried to buy as many pieces from the artists we worked with as we could."
WHAT OTHER WELLNESS MEASURES DID YOU TAKE AT CASA DE MAREAS?
SH: "We introduced an air purifying system, and we only used non-chemical paint that cleans the CO2. We also have a LiFi-system for people who want to co-work here - it's a faster connection, but it's cleaner and reduces electromagnetic waves. I believe we are the first house in Europe to have it. We also have ergonomic furniture and received an Actiu WELL certification. And we have a biophilic vegetable garden.
WERE YOU ABLE TO RESTORE THE HOME IN AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY WAY AS WELL?
SH: "The house was destroyed when we found it, but we wanted to treat the restoration like a circular economy, reusing and recycling whenever we could. More than 70% of the materials used in the restoration were recycled including centuries-old pine and the original hydraulic floor. And we found all the local places that sold old doors and windows. We even used materials recovered from demolitions, and ended up mixing the old with some contemporary materials."
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS ON ART AND WELLNESS?
SH: "We discovered the Global Wellness Institute, and they believe real estate is the next wellness frontier. We have to adapt our wellness measures depending on where every house is. Houses in big cities have to be more careful about air and water. It's time that houses take care of you.
"A few years ago, my mother, who is also my business partner, and I were in Centro Botín, an art space in Santander, and there is a bookshop focused on creativity and art. We were reading about the connection between wellness and art and how art is curative. We are collaborating with Humantific in New York, arranging visual thinking workshops in universities around the world, hoping to do a five-day program on creativity with them at Casa de Mareas.
The home is a really great place to live and work, with art pieces in all the rooms. Cantabria is a small town and close to the beach - it's a very beautiful place year-round. We hope that people come here and open their minds."
To book a stay at Casa de Mareas, click here.