Interview with Iniala Founder Mark Weingard on Pearson Gardens


Originally from Manchester, Mark Weingard first arrived in Barcelona in 2002 and was instantly smitten by its beauty and vibrancy. He owns a house in Tibadabo overlooking the Catalan capital and a villa in Santa Cristina on the Costa Brava. Mark is currently based in Malta from where he oversees Iniala, a cluster of companies that spans hospitality, development and philanthropy including his foundation Inspirasia, supporting health and education projects in Bali, Indonesia and Malta. Here he chats to Carrie Frais about his love for the Barcelona, his vision for the project and what drives him forward.

Q. How did the love affair with Barcelona begin? And for those who may not be familiar with the Catalan capital, what do you think makes it special?

A. I came to Barcelona on a trip and I just thought it was an amazing city. I loved Spain as a whole and I thought that Barcelona had everything. It’s a very eclectic, cosmopolitan, slightly quirky city with Gaudi scattering his magic throughout the streets and you also have the Mediterranean and beautiful weather. I thought it was quite a remarkable place. I was living in Thailand at the time but when I went back to Thailand I had some very bad news. My girlfriend had been killed in a terrorist attack (Bali, 2002) and I thought ‘What am I going to do now? I want to move’. I’d just seen this beautiful house on top of a hill in Barcelona and I thought ‘It’s a bit illogical but I’m going to buy that house and I’m going to live in Barcelona’. So, I decided to up sticks and I came over for a short while to Barcelona and that’s where my love affair started.

Q. How do you think Barcelona sits in the current luxury market, compared to the big hitters such as London or Paris?

A. When I first entered the city in 2002, there were some nice apartments in Pedralbes and Turo Park and in Paseo de Gracia, there were some really nice áticos. I think that the luxury property market at the time was not that strong. You just had a scattering of properties throughout those areas and obviously Pedralbes had houses that were out of most people’s grasp. That has changed a lot over the years and a lot of beautiful luxury developments have sprung up across the city. Today there are a couple of really high end developments such as The Mandarin Oriental in Eixample and the luxury apartments in Francesc Macià in Sarrià-Sant-Gervasi. The recent sale of the Mandarin Oriental penthouse apartment in a shell and core condition came in at nearly €70,000 per square metre shattering the previous record of €15,000 per square metre which was for an apartment at Francesc Macià. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in demand for super prime homes in Barcelona mainly due to the growing number of international buyers drawn to the city’s vibrant culture, award-winning gastronomy and high quality of life, but there is very little supply. The real estate market in Barcelona is also relatively stable and prices for high end homes are also fairly competitive compared to other European cities such as Paris, Berlin or London. Pedralbes has always been the best area to live in Barcelona but there hasn’t been a really high end development until now with Pearson Gardens. The homes are ideally located, just fifteen minutes (drive) from the airport, ten minutes from the Nou Camp stadium and you’re so close to downtown Barcelona but yet it still has the peace and quiet and wide avenues that you would want in any beautiful residential neighbourhood. We’re creating this little exclusive enclave of three wonderful houses in a ‘manzana’ –  7,200m2 of botanical beauty in the centre of Pedralbes and I think it is something that is definitely missing. These beautiful houses have been designed by my favourite Spanish architects A-cero –  Joaquín Torres and Rafael Llamazares  – and I think that we are creating something very special.

Q. What was your initial vision for the project and where did the idea come from?

A. My initial vision came after I saw the land. If you wanted to create something like this in Barcelona today I don`t know how you would do it as I don`t think there is another piece of land like this available. I had built a house for myself at the end of 2008 and I then decided to leave Barcelona and I went off to live in Lugano and then Malta. I travelled around a little bit and decided to buy a piece of land (in Pedralbes). I built a house and I sold it in 2012 but I still thought this was a great place to invest. I really like the area so I looked around and there wasn`t much land available to buy. Towards the end of 2015, I found this amazing space. There was a huge sprawling house that was on an incredible plot of land. For anybody to have a piece of land like that with just one house on it, it is very expensive to run. I saw that land and I thought ‘this would make a beautiful development’ and we could create three houses. The area is very good because it is so protected. You can only use 10% of the footprint of the land to build houses and so each of these houses really is a little island – or a big island I should say – in the centre of a wonderful garden. We wanted to create houses that interacted with nature so even the materials we have used are all very earthy. We’re using colours that interact with the different seasons so we’ve got lots of greens and browns and it works well within its scenery. The houses also have incredible views across the horizon of Barcelona so you can see this beautiful metropolis below you and the sea in the distance and when you look behind you see the hills. So you are surrounded by, what originally took me, the beauty of Barcelona.

Q. Sustainability is something that many buyers are now thinking about when purchasing a new home, what eco-friendly elements does Pearson Gardens offer?

A. The building has definitely been built to be as energy compliant as possible. We’re using sustainable and natural materials and when we were building the houses, because we were building within gardens, we had to move some trees and plant more trees. The house has been kept within a very natural landscape so we have very much respected the environment that we are in. The houses have large windows so in the summer those windows can be opened and the place can be air cooled as well as cooled by the air conditioning.  We have worked to keep the building very beautiful but at the same time respecting the sustainability goals that we have to adhere to today .

Q. These homes are outstanding in almost every aspect, who do you think they will most appeal to?

A. These properties are for somebody who wants privacy and exclusivity. They will want both nature and to be close to the city. We went out to create homes not just houses. We tried to create homes that would suit most types of people but they are definitely for people who appreciate space and appreciate the finer things in life. So for example, the Master bedrooms have their own floor and range from 200 to 270 square metres. In each sleeping space, the people sharing that space have their own dressing area, their own bathroom, their own toilet area and their own washing area and so it respects their privacy and it allows people to keep the romance alive in relationships! The bathroom is almost as big as the sleeping area! These houses are built around the owner so the Master bedroom takes pride and centre of the whole project. The sleeping area also has a lovely living space and a beautiful balcony that has a Jacuzzi with a view. There’s also an office space in the sleeping area – better than having your office downstairs where the kids could be knocking on your door. I wouldn’t say that these homes are built for people with huge families but they are built for modern families. So on the guest floor (of Villa Grande) there are four

bedrooms, each with incredible views, fantastic walk-in wardrobes and bathrooms. We have also created a separate living space for those four rooms so if your children are in there or if you have guests, they also have a separate living room. There are also many spaces for entertaining. Each property has a fantastic roof garden and a wonderful garden on the ground floor. In two of the homes, the living room is on the ground floor and in the other it is on the top floor – some people want to have their living room with a view of the city and some people prefer to keep the bedroom as the top floor. In the basement we’ve also created a beautiful entertainment area with a cinema and a gym which is very spacious, a little private massage area, a spa and an area to keep your wine collection or whatever else.  This is a house which has been created for people who really want to entertain, for people who want to live very comfortably with their families and friends and who also want their own privacy.

Q. And the location is quite special in that it is an oasis of calm in the heart of one of the world’s most dynamic cities…

A. My kids go to one of the best schools in Barcelona which they can walk to because it is only 200 metres away. So it is near enough that they can walk to but far enough away so you don’t hear kids screaming! There are also the universities, the colleges and business schools within walking distance so it’s a wonderful location for families to be in. It’s a stone’s throw to the city and it’s also a stone’s throw from the airport. From Pearson Gardens to the airport it will take you no more than 15 minutes drive most of the time. You have peace and privacy, you’re right next to the schools and for the sports minded you’ve Barcelona football club about a 30/40 minute walk, and right behind you have Collserola park so you can walk up to there and do great walks at the weekend. I just think the location is the best you could ever look for, not just in Barcelona but one of the best locations in Spain. It really is quite spectacular.

Q. How involved do you tend to get in your projects such as this one?

A. I am hands on and hands off. We go to the designers and we tell them to go out and express themselves within the space. We give them a very good brief, they come back with things and then we work with the designers and tweak the designs to make the house as perfect as possible. When you’re creating three houses like this you don`t know who’s going to buy so you have to create something that is going to appeal quite broadly. We work with the architects to include as many things as possible that we think people are generally going to look for. If you look at A-cero’s work it always stands out from the crowd. We work with a fantastic landscape artist as well who’s created great gardens. There are also terraced gardens where you can grow fruit, vegetables or just have plants. You can even have a little yoga area or something else within the space. Then there is the area around the swimming pool which is very green and manicured where you can sit and enjoy the sun. This is a lifestyle not just a home. We’re trying to give people something much more.

Q. For those who are not familiar with the Iniala brand, what do you think the brand represents?

A. Iniala represents design and art at its best. When you come to our hotels we offer much more. We’re very much looking at hospitality but I think even within this project we’re making sure that the properties are hospitable. Our hotels get awards everywhere for having the best service and the best design. We put so much care and attention into everything we do and I think our brand basically states that we care. Our logo is two hands held together – the Thai welcome, the ‘wai’ – and we want these houses to be warm and welcoming like our brand.

Q. Pearson Gardens is one of several Iniala projects, what would you say drives you forward on each new initiative?

A. I came from the world of financial technology. I loved what I did. I created a business that was successful. I left everything behind because I wanted to use the creative side of my character. I love hospitality and I love working with people and so what I’m looking for here in this project is that it becomes the cornerstone for us to build on in the future, so we can build branded residences going forward. This will be the first of many grand projects that we’ll be doing globally.