British-born Andrew Trotter is co-founder of OpenHouse, a project that began as a home gallery space and recently launched a beautiful print magazine. B3 talked to Andrew about the pitfulls of running a business around your living space and got an insight into where else the project will go from here.
B3: For the uninitiated, tell us a bit about Open House.
Andrew Trotter: Open House started very organically. Co-founder Mari Luz, who is a photographer by trade, wanted to show her new work to her friends. Around the same time we found this huge apartment with high ceilings and white walls. It felt like a gallery space, so we decided to put on a real exhibition and open it up to the public. Nobu, who is a Japanese chef, joined us and we started to do regular catered events. It’s our private space, but we share it with the public and that way get to meet lots of people. In two and a half years we’ve had more than 4,000 through the doors.
B3: The gallery space seems to attract younger, up-and-coming artists. Is that a conscious decision?
AT: Well we started obviously with Mari Luz, who has been based in Barcelona for 12 years and since then it has been people we have either already known or who has become a friend of Open House. Román Yñan was a friend. Mikel Bastida and Camilla de Maffei we found through mutual friends. Photographers tend to know each other. Because it’s in a private space, it’s a different way to show work. People go into a gallery as if it were a shop. We try to get very personal work, which is shown in a personal space, which I think adds another dimension. When visitors walk in the door they are often nervous at first, but after a while people relax and start talking. Often they stay for a couple of hours, enjoying the work and sometimes meeting the artists. It’s a different experience to a blank gallery with four plain walls.
When we have a sushi party we usually have 80 people in the flat and there are people sitting on my bed eating. I consider the space to be Open House and I happen to live there.
B3: Do you ever get tired of having the house open to the public?
AT: Not really. Sometimes I feel that the apartment is more of a work space rather than a real home, but actually it’s not open all the time. In between exhibitions we have a month or two off and during exhibitions we’re really only open one day a week. We got used to it very quickly. When we have a sushi party we usually have 80 people in the flat and there are people sitting on my bed eating. I consider the space to be Open House and I happen to live there.
B3: You have to have the place tidy all the time!
AT: Sometimes when we know people are coming we do have to do a last minute tidy up. The house is quite bare, it’s an old building from Eixample, so it has a lot of feeling without too much clutter.
B3: Do you have any horror stories?
AT: Actually the worst is that a few of our friends are prone to spilling glasses of wine on the furniture. People generally understand it’s a home and are very respectful.
One time we published an event in local press and we ended up with 400 people at the apartment. I had to be on the door controlling the queue as if it were a nightclub. We probably wouldn’t do that again.
B3: What did your neighbours think of that?
AT: We’re very lucky that in our building most of the floors are taken by offices, so we never have any complaints. We have classical music concerts, playing until 11 at night and nobody minds.
B3: You’ve recently launched a magazine, also called Open House. Did you conceive this as a way for you to connect Open House Barcelona with other similar projects around the world?
AT: Yes, exactly. I had a friend in London who opened a restaurant in his house for a month at a time and another in Berlin who opened a shop in their home. We starting writing about these people on our website. The more we did, the more people wrote to us to tell us similar stories, so we saw an opportunity to make it into a magazine. It’s as much about the people behind these project as the spaces. We’re building a network of places that follow the Open House concept.
B3: One of the unusual things about the magazine is that the article are in English and the language of where the feature is based. How has that been received by stockist sand readers?
AT: They love it! We talked a lot about this. Being in Spain we debated making the magazine in English and Spanish. We considered English to be essential for our international audience, but thought if we were interviewing someone in Turkish the article should be available in Turkish too. So all interviews are conducted in the interviewees language and we translate into English.
B3: You used Kickstarter to fund the first issue. Would you recommend crowdfunding to other entrepreneurs?
AT: It’s hard work. We went with Kickstarter for its US and Australian audience, but they warned us that 95% of people who put money in will be people we know through our own networks and this turned out to be true. We ran social media and email campaigns, but we had to be relentless. We asked for €18,000 and we got €22,000 in a month, so it did work really well, you just have to invest a lot of time and effort.
B3: Aside from funding, what do you think was the most challenging aspect of launching a magazine?
AT: It’s challenging every day because I’m doing things that I never imagined I’d be doing. I’m writing, selling, finding advertisers, finding new stories. The problem is having enough hours in a day to do everything. Four people should probably be doing my job.
B3: People often say Spain is a difficult place to start a business. Did you find that?
AT: I think the complete opposite. I’ve lived in Italy and London, but I find there are more self-starters here doing something creative, perhaps because of the crisis. Many are going back to doing traditional crafts like carpentry. It helps that it’s quite cheap to live here and taxes aren’t too high.
B3: What does the future hold for Open House?
AT: We’ve just taken a new space. Unusually for Barcelona it has a garden, so Open Garden is our new project. People will be able to come and stay in this space, a bit like Airbnb, but more for people who have heard of and like the concept of Open House, rather than just looking for a bed for the night. We’re going to be doing lots of dinners as it has a huge kitchen and dining area. We can also do private dinners or take guests to the market and do culinary courses. There are definitely exciting things to come.