There are no two farmhouses alike in Ibiza. Each shares certain components and uses the same materials, but they are as unique as fingerprints. Everything about the island’s typical architecture is unique. The traditional Ibiza farmhouse or casa payesa is explored in great detail in Rolph Blakstad’s book La Casa Eivissenca – Claus d’una tradició mil.lenària (The Ibiza House – Key to a millennial tradition) – soon to be published in English for the first time.
Part architectural study, part cultural treatise and part personal journey, the book uncovers Ibiza’s architectural connection to Ancient Mesopotamia via the Phoenicians. Unlike the rest of Spain and even the other islands in the Balearics, the architecture of Ibiza remained untouched by Islamic, Hellenistic or Roman influences, making Ibiza an incubator for study by some of the world’s greatest architects – Le Corbusier amongst them. The elements of a classic Ibiza farmhouse have long influenced the Blakstad style and we still use it to inform our design today, adding a contemporary spin on tradition to create comfortable and functional homes.
For millennia, Ibiza was an agricultural society made up of small family holdings, and houses were built in harmony with the surrounding landscape. The shape of the plot, the nature of the farm and the size of the family were the factors that dictated the initial design of the house. Essentially, the basic design module is the cube from which further cubes could be added as required by the family’s growth. There is an architectural grammar to the traditional farmhouses, yet fascinatingly builders never worked from written plans. Techniques, rules and styles were passed down orally from one generation to the next.
For the most part, the first room to be built was the porxo – a rectangular space with thick walls and south facing double doors. The unit of measurement used in construction was the Ancient Egyptian Royal cubit (approximately 52 centimetres), which was the unit of choice right up until the early 1960s. The porxo would be measured out according to the length of the available roof beam and the average width was 3.8 metres. Houses with wider porxos would make use of a central pillar or arches for support.
As the largest room in the house, the porxo was a sparsely furnished, multiuse space. The double doors were frequently the only source of light and within their frames, intricate work such as embroidery, shoemaking or sewing was undertaken. A set of small chairs would line the walls with the addition of perhaps a small table to be used for social occasions or as a workbench when required. Furniture was arranged when needed to match the tasks of the day – from shelling almonds and treading grapes to grinding wheat. The necessary barrels, baskets and tools would be brought in and stored away when the task was completed.
In contrast to the sparseness of this space, many porxos featured a sacred wall niche used for offerings to the gods and later – in a post-Catholic world – to store the families’ precious items. Very often the niche would be bordered with a fresco of ancient geometric designs and images depicting the goddess Tanit. These days, these niches are frequently used as a kind of minibar. Doorways were also considered a point of exit and entry between esoteric states. They were often decorated with images of the sun, moon and stars and frequently a six-petal flower, which was a variant of the Semitic Star of David.
All rooms came off this central space, with the classic first house consisting of the long porxo, two small bedrooms at the rear and the kitchen at a right angle. Extra rooms were added as needed in the ubiquitous cubic shape. Occasionally the porxo would be the sole room, housing both humans and animals until the couple required more space, but even the smaller spaces had a domed bread oven, many of which can still be seen today as whitewashed cupolas at the side of the finca. Generally, the more prosperous the farm, the more rooms were added, such as drying lofts, animal pens and storage rooms.
If you’ve ever had the chance to look through an un-renovated farmhouse in Ibiza, you’ll no doubt notice the kitchen’s black walls and ceiling. This is not paint but centuries of accumulated soot from open cooking fires. For some reason, which has been lost to time, Ibicencos cooked on open fires in the middle of the kitchen floor. In farmhouses that retain the original stone flooring, you can still spot a ghostly outline of the fire. It’s hard to understand why it took so long for the fire to be moved into a hearth but when they did start to become part of the design, they were to take on a much more prominent role in the room with enormous vaulted hoods.
In keeping with the stoic nature of the Ibicenco culture and the demands of agricultural life, the farmhouse bedrooms were also sparsely furnished. For those families who could afford it, the wooden beds were painted with religious depictions most commonly of the Virgin Mary. A new wife might be lucky enough to bring a trousseau to the matrimonial home enclosed in a wooden chest painted with geometric patterns. These beds and chests are rare finds today so if you happen to see one in an antique store, please buy it!
It’s likely many daily tasks and rituals have been lost over time and we can only use our imaginations to describe how life was lived in these beautiful farmhouses. If you take a look through some of the more recent Blakstad projects, you’ll notice how the traditions of Ibiza’s master builders are still evident in many of our designs. The materials are modern, the layouts more suitable for contemporary life and rooms are flooded with natural light, but within the bones of our style, the soul of the tradition remains.