When Deia native Oro del Negro set up architecture, design and landscaping company MORE with his partner Manuel Villaneuva in Deia he knew he had a responsibility to the village he has called home since he was three months old. Especially as MORE’s growing reputation has meant ever more ambitious commissions. I asked Oro how he manages to run a thriving practice while, at the same time, giving back to Deia.
First of all, what’s your Deia story, Oro?
My father, known to everyone as Del Negro, came here in 1957. Del was one of the original wild crowd. I grew up here. After doing a BA in drawing at Camberwell, I came back with my wife Tille because I wanted to gift our kids with the same creative beauty I experienced as a child.
Can you describe that creative beauty?
There’s the beauty of the place. The drama of the mountains. How the landscape opens out to the sea. There’s the pleasure of being in nature with the people you love. Regardless of what walk of life one comes from, everyone is equally capable of loving the moment. But most of all, I think it’s the people, the community, the little bit of fellowship left in the world that makes all the difference. I love the great mix of old and young people here, the amazing characters that inspire us.
How did your business start?
I fell into doing construction not by desire but out of a necessity to provide for my family. I began working with masons and fell in love with the raw materials that are timeless: stone, wood, metal, ceramics. I started doing projects for myself. People liked my work and I began to get commissions.
(Manuel, Oro’s partner, adds “We founded MORE at a crossroads in our lives. We had met in the late 90s, and had the opportunity to work in a couple of projects together but it was not until later that our paths crossed again. I had been working for a some of the most important architecture firms in Europe – Nouvel, OMA and Herzog de Meuron – when my wife Amy Sheridan (daughter of local artists George and Cecilie Sheridan) and I decided to return to Deia for a few months. In those months Oro and I had the opportunity to reform Can Anita together and, from that moment, we knew we had to start a practice in Deia combining our different knowledge and backgrounds.”)
How do you give back to the village?
Because I speak English, Spanish, German and Mallorquian I see myself as a reliable bridge between the new blood and local folk but, mainly because I’m part of the village, I like to think people know they can trust me.
I am bringing money into Deia, so I know I have a responsibility. We always try to appoint local builders and other craftsmen from the village, which gives them an income.
I’m happy to offer my skills however I can. We invest equal time and energy whether we are doing an orchard for a local or designing a millionaire’s bespoke home.
In what ways does your work preserve the fabric of the village?
We like to think of our work as an ongoing design evolution of the history of Deia, descending from the Mesopotamians, through the Phoenicians and the Moors to the Artists and the Yuppies. We are inspired by places like Son Rullan, a 14th century former monastery just outside Deia to create buildings that will endure over time using materials that become more beautiful with the years – the antidote to planned obsolescence.
Our approach to space is nevertheless contemporary so the result is extremely interesting. Manuel and I do a modern reading of the ancient architecture and construction methods and harmoniously insert the present into the old.
We work very closely with skilled craftsmen who still work in the traditional ways. We take pride in reviving the old methodologies of work, the evidence of manual labour combined with skills passed down through the millennia such as the construction of the Moorish stone walls that serpent the mountainscapes, the laborious extraction of limestone to render walls, the infinite possibilities to treat and age stone, wood, metal, contriving effects in order to appear as natural patina.
Any chance we have, we get involved in product development. For instance, such as the new un-lacquered brass push-button light appliances we’ve developed with Font BCN.
But, apart the literal materials we use, it’s about working with the local people to protect what we love about the place while accepting that, due to the major income being tourism now, change is inevitable. It’s about doing what we can to make that change of benefit to Deia.
How do you find the craftsmen?
Some are in and around Deia but they’re also scattered all over the island. And the people we work with love to have their boundaries pushed so they’re keen to learn new things – even if the new things are the old ways.
What would you say to people thinking about moving to Deia?
First of all, like we said, the village is about community and new people should be keen to contribute. If you simply want to buy a beautiful fortress, go somewhere else on the island.
Before you even start thinking about buying somewhere in Deia, spend a week here. Get lost on the island. Experience its treasures. Take out a boat. Have a paella. Visit some of our projects! It’s all part of the magic.
And are you available for commissions right now?
Great, thanks Oro & Manuel.