Memories, love and stories

We all have one; that prized possession we would run back into the burning building to save. Mine is a chess set made by my Grandfather. Though good, it’s not the most expensive thing in the house. What it has, and what most people’s special something has, is the history of its making. Beyond and above the perfectly carved pieces are memories, love and a story. These intangible but all so real values are what I would save. I touch the pieces and see that solitary man, eye sight fading, bent over his workbench, making a symbol that said I had come of age . I was sixteen and had beaten him at chess for the first time. It took him three months and when he gave it to me he said “Play well. Do your best and you need feel no shame if you loose.” In his hands was the set but in his mind was a way of living. Perhaps we can have a game when you come and stay.

And so it is with Juan Valiente, a hand made house packed with objects and details from which to retrieve memories, love and stories. I see them as doors. Some only I have the key to, but most will open to you too. Art transcends its creator. So come with me, reach out your hand and turn the handle on a few.

The Benin Bronzes

I was eight and living in Ghana. My father wanted to get into the palm oil business and we were invited to visit the tribal king of the recently independent Benin. We were entertained in his mud palace where he sat on a tiger skin surrounded by his seven wives. My father presented his gift of plastic suitcases claiming them unbreakable. The king, a man of serious size, sat on them. Bent but unbroken, they survived and in return we were given three bronze heads. Two now guard the stairs and one, along with a Nigerian shaman’s prop and an owl, watch over us above the fireplace.

The Saharan doors

OK, with retrospect, taking a camel trek in the Sahara in August was stupid. But then we would never have met the Bedouin carver. He sat in the door of his tent, using his feet as a vice whilst his hands chiselled wood with nonchalant skill. He was carving doors and we wanted them but they were already reserved. I went to plan B : magic tricks and juggling, an offer the previous buyer couldn’t match. The doors are now in the wine cellar and bathrooms.

The Sacristy

One of the last jobs I did in London was to demolish a church to make way for a shopping centre. The Sacristy was a jewel of carved English oak. I drove it down to Spain in an old truck and was stopped at the border. Torch bearing police scanned the contents. This was post Franco Spain and the police all powerful. They accused me of importing furniture without a licence. Inspiration came and I told them I was building a church down south. They crossed themselves, took a group photo with me and saluted. In truth we built the kitchen from the furniture and the only thing heavenly is the smell of our food.

Repair and Relive

One of my sons reminded me that I am old and that the future belonged to him. True. But I have something he doesn’t. A long and interesting past. So it is with objects. New stuff has the promise of future but second hand comes with a past, that layering of experience that makes objects come alive. At Juan Valiente you will find hundreds of lovingly restored second hand treasures. None are replicas, all authentic, gathered over decades. Now take your pick of where to sit . Today perhaps the 19th century Isabelina gold leaf sofa. Tomorrow, who knows? Have you tried the hanging sofas from Kashmir?


Many of the materials have been recycled. So all the ceiling beams come from a 19th century flour mill and the doors from a school in London’s Dockland. Walk up the monolithic Sierra Elvira stone steps lifted from a railway platform, come through our carved Chestnut front doors reclaimed from Cordoba, walk under the Parisian Metro cold forged lamps and sit yourself down in a chair made from wood recycled from a Maharajah’s pleasure palace. We’ll be with you in a moment.

Designed and Made by hand

Apart from the likes of taps and paint, nearly everything at Juan Valiente is a one off design and made by hand. We set up four workshops and spent three years making the components that together produced this building. From the oak architraves and skirtings to the mosaic birds that fly across the walls, from the staircases to the stone wash hand basins, all are unique to Juan Valiente. Even the bricks in the walls and the tiles on the floors were commissioned just for here.

Eco Friendly

Juan Valiente leaves no footprint. The house is heated using crushed olive stones from local mills. The outstanding water gravity feeds into the house from snow melt and is heated via solar panels. Power is wind generated and each room thermally isolated. All our materials and finishes are biodegradable and when the time comes for Juan Valiente to close its doors, it will simply sink back into the earth. Don’t worry though, there’s still time to book!