Windows not walls - Isabel Ocaña likes her rooms bathed in light

Windows not walls - Isabel Ocaña likes her rooms bathed in light

Having an architect as a brother gave Isabel Ocaña the perfect opportunity to redesign a run-down apartment in Madrid’s city centre completely to her taste. Commissioning her own brother to carry out the conversion? Some people might be sceptical. But as an account manager at an advertising agency, the 39-year-old knows just how to handle artistic free spirits.

Isabel Ocaña, is it fair to say that it was love at first sight between you and your apartment?

It was built in 1953. When I first went to view it, I encountered a completely dilapidated building with three rooms across an area of 50m². I knew right away that everything would have to be done from scratch.

So why did you decide to buy the apartment?

The apartment may have been an eyesore, but the light conditions were sensational. Due to the southeastern orientation, the sun rises in the kitchen and sets in my bedroom. I’d already viewed a lot of apartments, but as soon as I stepped foot in this one, I was blown away by the light – especially because the apartment looks out into the interior yard rather than the street. But the yard is huge, which means lots of light gets in.

Something like that is hard to find in the centre of Madrid.

Definitely. It was hard to find a central apartment that was within my budget and also bright enough. It seemed almost impossible. But the light was one of my main criteria when deciding. By the way, when you look out of the window, between the other houses, you can even see a small section of the Palacio Real – that’s one of the things I love the most about this apartment.

The apartment may have been an eyesore, but the light conditions were sensational.

The district that you live in is central, but it’s still a little off the beaten track. Do the steep roads make it a bit inaccessible?

Yes, it’s a strange neighbourhood, but quite unique. Not even the taxi drivers know their way around it, even though it’s not far from Plaza de España, Palacio Real and Parque del Oeste. Still, this area isn’t very popular and seems a little bit neglected, but I think that’s starting to change. A film school has just opened here, for example. This should at least raise people’s awareness of the district.

What do you like most about your neighbourhood?

I have a few favourite places, like the rose garden at Parque del Oeste. It’s a very romantic spot where I sometimes like to go for a stroll or to read a book. The Egyptian Temple of Debod is also beautiful, especially at sunset. I sometimes have lunch at Café Mur, which is located near Plaza de España but is still somewhat hidden away.

Did you know from the start that you wanted to commission your brother to convert the apartment?

Yes! I’ve been following his projects from the beginning, so it was a no-brainer for me. But I also had a few concerns about working with him, an architect with many years of experience.
There are 12 years between us. I’m his little sister and he is a very creative person who needs to be given lots of freedom in his work. Fortunately, due to my work at the agency, I know how to deal with creative people and I understand that people like my brother have an urge to express themselves. But at the same time, I also communicate my own needs very clearly. It’s a balancing act of respecting their creativity without interfering with their personal way of expressing themselves. In these situations, you have to limit yourself to saying what you want as the client and what your priorities are. That’s exactly what I did with Manuel: I explained my wishes to him in a three-sided briefing, emphasising that light and spaciousness were especially important to me.

What other requests did you have?

I explained to him that I would prefer white as the room colour, that wood is one of my favourite materials, and that I like tiles with geometric patterns. And I also wrote down some specific details about my everyday needs, such as having lots of drawers in the bathroom and wanting a bath rather than a shower.

I know how to deal with creative people.

Light was Isabel Ocaña’s most important criterion, so the apartment has glass walls.
White walls have a calming effect.
All the charm of a loft over 50m².

There aren’t many décor elements in your apartment.

I don’t like buying things just to fill space. I like white because it’s easy on the eye. But we’ve kept some of the original decorative elements, such as the ceiling rose that the lights used to hang from. The rest consists of the raw concrete structure. We painted the inside of the front door white, but I wanted to keep the statue of Christ on the outside of it.

What’s the story behind the floral pattern on the floor?

It was created using a stencil and some car paint. The pattern also continues along the wall. It’s one of Manuel’s designs and was inspired by a tattoo. I thought it would make an interesting detail in an apartment that otherwise has an industrial and geometric style. Even if I usually prefer things to be neat, I felt that this decoration would give the rest a special touch.

Book shelves and the view from the window.

The lamps are quite modest, but they have a strong visual impact.

They were also designed by Manuel. The free-standing pillar gave him the idea of having two protruding metal poles around which the cables could be loosely wound.


Wood is one of Isabel Ocaña’s favourite materials.

I liked the idea for the glass walls from the beginning.

There’s a neon sign above your bed that reads ‘Paraisa’. What does it mean?

It’s a play on words. I’m called Isa, so the name of the apartment is Para-Isa (meaning ‘for Isa’ in Spanish). It’s also a reference to my own personal paradise, as Paraíso is the Spanish word for paradise.

Where did the idea for the glass walls come from?

Manuel also came up with this. I thought it was great, as I love the idea of having a loft. Because I live alone, I have no reason to feel watched. And I could always put up curtains if needed. To be honest, though, I love it just the way it is.

The workmanship on the window elements is very coarse. You can still clearly see the welding seems, for example.

Yes, Manuel likes it when the workmanship is evident, even if every other inch of this apartment has been meticulously thought out and designed. Nothing has been left to chance. It was also his idea to leave the concrete pillars exposed. He doesn’t like what he calls ‘the fat layers’ of an apartment. They conceal how something has been created.

Wordplay on the wall: the neon sign in the bedroom means something like ‘Isa’s paradise’.
Exposed concrete pillars and welded joints: it’s okay for the handiwork to show.

And when you feel like some time to yourself?

There’s a small room behind the kitchen, the only one that is separated from the rest of the apartment. I specifically asked for it. I still live alone, but that may change one day. At the moment, I’m using the room as a small office, but it could also be converted into something else.


Not far from Isabel Ocaña’s apartment: the Temple of Debod in the Parque del Oeste.
The rose garden in the Parque del Oeste.
A walk through the neighbourhood .

Isabel, thanks very much for opening the doors of your home to us and giving us a glimpse into your living environment.


Text: Ana Domínguez Siemens (@la_opinionista)

Photography: Adrián Cano Franco

Production: FvF Productions UG

We visited Isabel Ocaña for our ‘Spaces full of life’ series, in which we introduce inspiring working and living spaces and the people behind them.