Huguet Mallorca hydraulic tiles bring character to any floor. A unique kaleidoscope of colours, textures and surfaces. They have experienced a rebirth in the market as part of the current trend for interior design and have been updated in a company which has been producing them since the 1930s, thanks to the efforts of three generations of the same family who have worked hard to keep the business afloat despite the ups and downs in the building sector.
In 1933, Gabriel Huguet started the adventure, Damià Huguet continued it for a time – the 60s and 70s – when there were changes in the company’s initial positioning and far fewer tiles were made in response to the market demands. In 1997, Biel Huguet started a new phase by updating these tiles which are so typical of traditional Mallorcan architecture. Innovation lighting the way for progress. Traditional production tailored to the needs of contemporary architecture. The essence of Mallorca bottled and exported around the world.
Step by step, the path leads us on…
“I believe in timeless values such as hope, ambition, rigour and seriousness”
Third generation running the Huguet family business. What does continuing the dynasty mean to you?
I’ll be honest with you. At first I thought I was doing the work I liked to do and that was that. Then, as you start evolving, over time, you start to feel additional pride because you are aware that you are continuing a tradition and following a family path with a common outlook and way of working. Even so, the most important thing is to do something you are passionate about, regardless of whether it is a family tradition or not.
So, it wasn’t something premeditated…
No, it came about by chance. I finished my technical architecture degree in London and had no intention of returning to Mallorca. The death of my father – who was then in charge of the factory – was a turning point and I rethought my future. Because I am very restless and an entrepreneur, I decided to take the reins of the business. To immerse myself in our tradition again, and little by little I made it mine. And by forming part of it I started to reclaim my heritage and to put all of my experience at the company’s disposal. So I didn’t do it out of a sense of duty, I did it because I liked it, and because I’m growing to like it more and more.
And you have now been running the business for 18 years… What mark have you left on it?
Everything has evolved. In the 1930s my grandfather founded the company and it initially produced hydraulic mosaics. In the 60s and 70s, hydraulic tiles disappeared from the map with the construction boom. We spent 30 years without manufacturing any and we focussed on other materials like cement beams. In the mid-90s, when I joined, I decided to recover the hydraulics. I wanted to give new life to traditional architecture, at first for the local market.
What value have you brought to the company?
Basically one thing: restlessness. That restlessness has led to our opening up on new fronts in every sense: technical, aesthetic, commercial… and because of that, contemporary architecture and the international market have arrived.
“A hydraulic tile should be seen, touched and admired”
What values have each generation of the family embodied?
I suppose I am the sum of my grandfather and my father. My grandfather was a real entrepreneur. He built the factory in 1933 when he was still very young, and made it survive in times of great austerity in Mallorca. My father had a completely different profile: he inherited the factory because my grandfather died young and he was the only son. I remember him as a very meticulous person who was thorough with his work. He also had a special sensitivity for art. Specifically poetry. So to sum up, my grandfather was restless and an entrepreneur, and my father was thorough, serious and sensitive. I try to bring together the two of them and I very much believe in that and in timeless values such as hope, ambition – the healthy kind, of course – rigour and seriousness.
What has been the burden of having a business which has been passed down through the family?
It affects you personally and in a business sense. I like the work, what I do, and I try to do it my way, while retaining the values of my grandfather and my father. There is obviously family pride: through innovation I have been able to get the same tiles that are in my grandfather’s house into Jose Andrés’ Jaleo restaurant in Washington DC, which is often frequented by the Obamas. What particularly interests and excites me is converting what is typical or traditional into something living, something which evolves.
What is the current significance of hydraulic tiles?
I particularly like them because they are a noble, authentic and earthy product. They have a long life and you can see texture, craftsmanship and detail in them which are the product of the work of a person, and not a machine. A tile should be seen, touched and admired. From an architectural point of view, I have also always loved the world of personalisation and, for example, being able to make the floor you want and how you want it. It is architecture with character. The consumer now appreciates these values again and on the business side of things we are happy because we feel like we connect with people.
What link does the business have with the area?
One of the latest values I have added to this emotional portfolio I have been creating is that of industrialised craftsmanship in Mallorca. A model which, beyond family, also draws on the expertise of the craftsmen here. In this way, the business has become known as something which goes beyond Mallorcan craftsmanship, which is very rich and which covers many areas. The intention is to take all of that know-how, and bring creativity and love to it, and make that craftsmanship something which may be of interest to everyone.
The importance of preserving the identity of Mallorca, bringing its essence and putting it on the international map…
Exactly. We want to be global players, but what we can bring to that globality is our localism. Unashamedly, and giving importance to what we are, what we have and where we come from. That is our big challenge: to make something traditional, something very much part of us, into something contemporary and for everyone. In Mallorca we have a mine of artisans which is so powerful that we should open it to the world.
Do you see yourself as an artisan?
Yes. I am not in a practical sense, not what most people understand by “artisan”, but I really am. I am an artisan of 2016 who wants to sell all over the world and who is interested in contemporary architecture.
“I changed the path I had planned to follow and decided to continue the business”
Every tile, a world apart…
No two hydraulic tiles are the same. This gives a brutal uniqueness and has unquestionable value. Only a minority of people appreciate these things. An ever-increasing minority scattered around many places in the world.
What is the creative process?
We work in two different ways. The first way is to carry out bigger or smaller unique projects where an architect or a designer comes and we talk about what you want to do. They get a proposal together, whatever it is, and we do everything we can to make sure it is completed well. The second way is to carry out projects where we propose our collections. We contact designers and architects we feel have a lot in common with us, like Sybilla, Elías Torres, Carme Pinós, Juli Capella, Lluís Clotet, Alfredo Häberli… and we create tiles, or other pieces, together. They offer their great creativity and love for these materials, and we offer the know-how and love for architecture. We trust these people, we share values and we even have a personal affinity. We give them creative freedom and as a result very beautiful, very special creations are born.
How do you work with the tiles?
It is true that a lot of hydraulic mosaics are manufactured in other countries where there is a tradition and where the workforce is cheap. The problem in these places is the quality of the product and the low value sometimes given to the craftsman’s expertise. We put quality and the importance of the craftsman’s expertise first. We also give importance to the product and we go further, innovating with the product materials, design and personalisation. We want our artisans to be clear that they are experts, that their quality is absolute, and that they are making a very special product which has to last for generations.
A project which stands out…
A very contemporary project is the Szczecin Philharmonic Hall in Poland which has been awarded the 2015 Mies Van Der Rohe prize for the best building in Europe in the last two years. We made completely personalised tiles, but we also customised the staircases, the washbasins, the furniture and everything the Barozzi Veiga suggested. It is surely the best example that we can provide of tradition being turned into something contemporary and of how we make our know-how and love available to people.
A way of going through life.
You have to go along with sincerity, calmly, with ambition. It is always a combination of several things, you can’t simplify it. Life is very simple, but very complicated.
You can judge a man by the way he walks…
I walk a lot, I have walked a lot and I will continue to walk a lot. It is this idea of keep walking, never stopping. I am a very passionate person, but I like to think calmly about the steps I take, letting essential ideas gradually mature, and always walking. As Antonio Machado said, paths are made by walking.
A philosophy which explains how your business is so successful…
We have had to walk and work a lot to get here. It is a continuous effort. The most important thing is not to tread on anyone and to enjoy the views.