Interiors magazine Apartamento has made a name for itself by documenting and celebrating the everyday charm of the humble home. Each issue is welcoming and friendly, and in turn, risk isn’t necessarily something you would associate with the publication. Yet taking a risk is what launched and contributed to the biannual’s global success. Ten years on, we look back at the moment three 20-something guys naively ventured into the world of publications, and find the risk has definitely paid off.
The first hurdle its three founding members, Nacho Alegre, Omar Sosa and Marco Velardi leaped was the mere notion of going into business together. Starting a business with anyone is risky but, more often than not, the partners know each others personality traits or methods of working. These three barely knew each other. Nacho, the connection between the three, knew Omar through friends who had studied with him in Barcelona, and met Marco through a friend working in publishing in Milan. They were never actually in the same room together until the first issue’s launch party. When I remark that’s it lucky they actually got along as people, Nacho jokes: “Yeah, well I mean, the magazine has forced us to.”
The second risk was their choice of business. By 2007 the internet was in full swing as a publishing tool and not only established print titles but national newspapers were starting to flounder. While those in the industry were worrying about print’s imminent demise, these three jumped in, and put all of their own money into it too. “It was a naive decision,” the three jointly write in the editor’s letter of Apartamento’s anniversary issue. “We were newcomers to an industry seemingly on the verge of extinction.”
Despite emerging technology being the main source of the print industry’s woes, the ability to easily and cheaply communicate internationally is how Apartamento got off the ground. “We were on email every night after work, sending each other links to references,” explains Nacho. “When we finished the first mock-up I went to Milan where Marco and I tried to pick some brands to collaborate with – in the end nothing worked out really,” he laughs.
By utilising the tools they had, and the opportunities the internet brought, Apartamento began global. “We wanted to do it internationally, as there was no point in doing something just in Spain,” says Nacho. “Also, we were part of the first Erasmus generation which at the time was a big thing, and so we wanted to make everything European and transnational.” While the whole experience “felt very modern,” it wasn’t without issue. “It was a time where you couldn’t really call people internationally so we were working on Skype, but it was the beginning of it and it wasn’t really working that well. No one had fast internet, it was really funny,” Nacho explains. “I mean it was similar to now but everything was a little worse. You couldn’t really send big files over the internet, compared to now it was a fucking disaster…I mean we didn’t have to send letters to each other, but almost.”
Working as a trio is generally quite rare for creative groups. Artists regularly form collectives or there are famous duos. It’s the same in publishing: independent magazines usually portray the taste and tone of the editor and art director. Grouping together as a three gave Apartamento its edge. “It’s great because if you’re two and you disagree on something you’re a bit blocked,” says Nacho. “When you’re three and two push for something it’s hard to keep that from moving. It’s a good balance.” Rather than there being one member who calms the others down, the founder admits they’re each bold. “We’re getting better with time, we’re quite stubborn the three of us,” he says. “Each one has their own way to live, but yeah it’s not always easy. Now we each have more of our own roles, until recently though we were doing everything as all of us, which means every decision, down to one picture over another, had to be approved by all. But it was fun, and such a good way to learn how to work with each other, and know each other.”
This unconventional method doesn’t logistically make a lot of sense in terms of how long it takes to put an issue together. Yet, in terms of longevity it has meant the publication’s readers have put their faith in Nacho, Omar, Marco and their now wider team including managing editor, Robbie Whitehead. Its global audience get excited just at the mention of a new issue of the magazine; there’s no need to hint at who will be featured or whose home will grace the front cover, you just know it will be good. “I think because we’re three, and the big decisions we still make together, that makes us really conservative in terms of moving forward,” explains Nacho. “In the end, we’re not following trends. We’re not fast enough to jump on any trends and that’s a really good thing. By the time we agree on something it’s gone so…”
The method of creating Apartamento twice a year begins by sitting together and crafting a wish list of dream features. A discussion around who should write that feature and who could shoot it soon follows, before they open up their inboxes and start reaching out. “Of course some people say no, some people can’t, so we start finding plan B’s for everything we need but that’s all email based. Every story has one person that is responsible. We work on our own stories and then we put them together. Then at the end, we see how everything fits together and we do something, or we change it or we reshoot, then we go off to print. We don’t actually meet again to talk about the magazine until the very end.”
Since 2007 Apartamento has carved its own path separate from other interior magazines. In previous interviews and talks with one or all three of its founders, words such as “home” and “clutter” are preferred over “architecture” or “design”. On asking Nacho whether the meaning of those words used to describe the publication’s aims have changed for him a decade on, he explains that no, “that still remains the same, the only thing is that, the rawness of that type of home is not so surprising or exciting for us anymore,” he says. “What has become special for us is the people, the biographies and stories behind those people, especially the way that they live. My view is that it has become for us a way to learn how to grow through the stories of other people who have succeeded in their lives. Not necessarily stories of success in regards to money, or fame, or commercial success, but in things we admire. It’s about thinking, how do I want to be when I’m 60? How do I want my life to go?”
An example of how Apartamento does this is through a unique editorial approach. Adverts in the magazine are few compared to other magazines, and if they are featured it’s usually something you would actually want to buy. There is also never just one voice in the magazine. Both in editorial stance and those featured, someone older such as Alessandro Mendini is just as welcome a read as a younger artist like Maria Pratts, or a creative household name such as Ryan McGinley or The Gentlewoman’s Penny Martin. “I think the thing with Apartamento is that the magazine is not personal at all,” explains Nacho. “You never hear our voice or see our face. I think that is one of the key elements and maybe why people relate to it. In other magazines you see the voice of the editor, somebody’s opinion, there is nothing like that behind our magazine. We don’t point out things like buy this, buy that. We have nothing to do with that, and I think that’s important.”
The reader can spot this approach in the tiniest of details. One key example is how every interview is presented as a Q&A between interviewer and interviewee. Despite certain care being taken over deciding who should write a piece on a certain person, Nacho insists that “the journalist shouldn’t be the protagonist,” and instead the writer takes on the role of a kind of creative translator, “helping the reader discover this person, that’s what their job should be”. The magazine continues this ethos in which photographs of homes are featured. Never appearing posed, images of book shelves brimming with records, novels and postcards show you much more about a person’s taste than the colour scheme of a room. It also does so in regulars that crop up in each issue, essays on subjects like The Importance of MTV Cribs, or the regular still life shoots of household items, a tradition the team do collectively, as “a way to get together and celebrate the end of the making of the issue too”.
Consequently, Apartamento has become like the older sibling of publications, one that taps you on the shoulder and hands you a cultural landmark to discover, but leaves you to make up your own mind about it. Now, ten years later and with twenty issues under their belts, it feels like Apartamento’s founders haven’t changed, but grown up. Discussing this achievement in the recent anniversary issue (which unsurprisingly is already sold out), the trio writes: “Ten years is not such a long time, but the years between your early 20s and mid-30s compress so many of the big changes that define your life as an adult. We’ve grown up together, shared each other, fought with each other, and now it’s hard to imagine life without each other.”
And so, a new era of the magazine has begun. Sticking firmly in the world of publishing, back in the latter half of 2015 Apartamento released their first venture into books: ABC: Fotos i grafies, a charitable children’s photography book that boasted contributions from the likes of Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller.
Slowly but surely since, the magazine has been releasing more and more tomes to enjoy with illustration as a main focus, publishing a series of colouring books with A.P.C and recipe books, such as cakes and desserts illustrated by Oscar Grønner, to winter soups carefully drawn by Clay Hickson. Illustration itself is an exciting medium to explore, they agree: “We love illustration so the books are a really good way to be able to orchestrate it,” the co-founder explains. “It’s very different from photography and it’s more unexpected…The shoot thing is more of a one time performance. It’s more like sports, if the guy is having a good day it goes really well, or maybe that day he’s not so much in shape and it’s different. Illustration is more like writing, you can go back to it.”
While the books don’t directly stem from issues of Apartamento, “all of them somehow are connecting to the magazine,” explains Nacho. “Maybe the person was featured at some point, but I think that’s more by accident than something on purpose. I don’t think the magazine is the gravitating point of the publishing thing, but it happens because at the end of the day that’s how people know us.”
Putting more time into releasing creatively led books sees Apartamento moving forward into a publishing house, building upon the paperback magazines of their 20s to the hardbacks that will see them through their 30s. “I hope we can consolidate the book thing because for the three of us, it’s books that got us into magazines in the first place,” says Nacho. But expanding their publishing venture is still a daunting task for the trio. Conscious of the amount they print, “it’s important not to print too much and throw this amount of paper in the bin”. Nacho is honest about how selling books will be more difficult than the magazine. “The thing with the books is every one is different, so you can’t really connect how many you want to sell, or how much people are going to like them. While with the magazine, maybe each issue is a little bit worse or a little bit better, but we know how many-ish we will sell. With a book you’re always afraid you’re going to be sitting in a pile of books forever.”
Despite his humbleness, we’d put our money on Apartamento’s printed works being generally hard to come by. Already the second edition of their cookbook has sold out, and the excitement around New Yorker photographer Dominique Nabokov’s Berlin Living Rooms book published in November is palpable, with further new titles to be announced in 2018.
Not only does publishing books show Apartamento’s founders and contributing team shift, it also sees them sticking together. “I really hope we can succeed with it,” says Nacho. “We’ve also started working as a small agency, the three of us…now we do everything together under the name of Apartamento. In terms of our own work, I think that’s what is going to keep us together as well as the mag and the books. It’s very important because it forces us to create a little structure so that we can work better on each, it will help a lot.” This developed structure will help us readers too, to continue to learn and devour the Apartamento ethos of not decorating your life, but living it.