A little over a decade ago, Swedish sweethearts Klas Käll and Barbara Bergman had their feelers out for a new retail premises in Palma de Mallorca. Their search had led them to various one-or-two-windows-plus-a-door shop fronts, but the vision was for something much larger.
One evening they were savouring a postprandial stroll through the city’s old quarter, then a rather deserted, disorganised and poorly lit part of Palma, when they saw ‘se alquila’ and ‘se vende’ signs hanging on the now-silent Cine Rialto in Carrer de Sant Feliu. After a quick phone call, it transpired that the Mallorquin owner wasn’t quite so keen (or ready?) to sell after all, virtually hanging up upon being asked ‘how much?’. A decision was made to buy a place closer to home in Santa Maria del Camí.
Just after the signing, Klas was having a celebratory lunch with the lawyer and his mobile rang – ‘are you still interested in Cine Rialto?’ – the owner was now ready. In record time, the Santa Maria property was back on the market and in 2006 Klas and Barbara started work on their retail concept.
Of course, the story begins much earlier than 2006.
Born in Sweden, Klas was always fascinated with meeting people and languages so studied at the London School of Foreign Trade in London. His first serious job was in sales for American underwear and sleepwear company, Jockey, but Klas became an annoyance as he always wanted to tweak and tinker with the shapes and styles. They wisely moved him into product management and design where he remained for a number of years.
Along with two colleagues, Klas’ next move was to acquire the licence to design and market the GANT clothing brand in Sweden – this happened in 1980. Such was their success that Sweden morphed into a licence for all territories outside America. Then, in 1999, with funds injected by LVMH Capital, they acquired the rights to the entire global brand – including the USA – keeping their headquarters in Stockholm. After years of sustained profitable growth, Klas exited the business in 2008. “The business had grown so large that I felt detached. For me, GANT was too global, I craved something more hands-on and local.”
Barbara’s backstory is equally as colourful. Born in Brazil to Swedish parents (her father worked for ball bearing manufacturer SKF), Barbara conducted her early education in Mexico and was fluent in Portuguese and Spanish by the time she moved to Sweden at the age of eight. Barbara’s migratory lifestyle continued, attending high school in the US and completing further education in the arts in Granada, Spain, before settling down to a career in advertising and graphic design in Sweden.
In the midst of this all, in 1987, Klas and Barbara were introduced by mutual acquaintances. They have been inseparable ever since.
The very same year they met, Klas bought an apartment in Palma’s Plaza Cort and Barbara was duly invited to spend New Year in the sunshine. He’d been holidaying on the island since the 80s, staying with various colleagues and friends, and fell for Mallorca’s culture and climate. With much of the GANT range being produced in Portugal, Italy and Turkey, Palma proved to be a great stopover where Klas could prepare designs and gather thoughts. He and Barbara became regular visitors.
One November, Klas went from sitting on the Plaza drinking coffee in the winter sunshine to landing in Stockholm where they were gritting the streets to ward off ice. He had his ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’ light bulb moment. As his ownership of GANT was phased out, a permanent move to Mallorca was phased in – Barbara by his side.
Cine Rialto’s story began in the 18th century. The baroque palace once belonged to Irish military doctor John O’Ryan who came to Mallorca to flee Catholic persecution. He married Francisca Flor i d’Alemany, daughter of a wealthy local businessman, and together they set up home in Can Flor. Later it was sold to Don Antonio Fortuny who refurbished the palace to a modernist style, whilst preserving the central patio and wooden vaulted ceilings typical of a Mallorquin manor house.
The next chapter of the building’s life was written on 3 April 1926 when it was inaugurated as a 500-seat cinema complete with bar and tea room. Cine Rialto became one of Palma’s most iconic and emblematic picture houses. Capacity was reduced to 300 in the 1990s in order to accommodate a large stage for theatrical performances. Sadly, the curtain went down for the final time in 2002 and the building fell quiet. Klas and Barbara brought it back to life.
“We spent one year lovingly restoring Cine Rialto, finding many charming original features along the way,” says Barbara. “When we pulled down the artificially-lowered spot-lit ceilings we found one or two metres of extra height, when we dug down into the foundations we found stone pillars from the 1700s. It was a real voyage of discovery.”
“It was compulsory for us to have an archaeologist on site throughout the excavations, and as we sifted through the earth various pieces of ancient pottery were rescued and carted off to the museum. We asked ‘if you find a pot of gold, who does it belong to?’ – sadly the answer was ‘the museum’.”
“With the help of our incredible architects, Guillermo Reynés and Sergi Bastidas, we do feel like we have given something back to Palma. Instead of tearing out the original features such as the coffered ceilings and stained glass windows, we have preserved them, restored them and reintroduced them to the fabric of the building.”
Klas and Barbara did their initial ribbon cutting in the summer of 2007 and, having acquired the floor above, almost doubled the store’s size from 800m² to 1,400m² in 2014. The concept store of their fantasies was complete.
So what exactly is a concept store? The rise of online shopping has heralded the fall of many bricks-and-mortar brands which has spawned a trend for experience-focused retail. Concept stores are about discovery, story-telling and inspiration.
“Globalisation has sadly made every modern high street look the same,” argues Klas. “Rialto Living is our way of retaliating. In essence we have a mini department store with beautifully curated ranges of fashion, deco, gifts, books and homewares, alongside an art gallery, interior design studio and our atrium-topped café. Pulled together from different brands and designers, and displayed in the most attractive way, the store is essentially full of ‘things we like’. When Rialto Living opened, we had never seen this range of products together in one place – and we still haven’t.”
“The café, open for breakfast lunch and early dinner, helps to build a community around our lifestyle. Like-minded people spend time together and it encourages them to linger amongst our aesthetically pleasing products.”
Homeowners come to buy carpets and beds, tourists snap up notebooks and trinkets, and superyacht crew come to Rialto Living for ‘small’ things.
“Yachts aren’t known for their straight lines, windows and walls are curved and irregular,” explains Klas. “Neither are yachts known for staying put in one place for too long, so it’s tricky for us to be a go-to supplier for made-to-measure curtains for example. Instead crew stock up on cushions or table top items such as glassware.”
Although Barbara asserts that not all glassware is as it seems. Daytime dining is suited to glass, but as the evening wears on this can be stealthily swapped for a less-breakable plastic version. One imagines this ‘sober set tipsy set’ trick is particularly useful for charter boats partying their way around Ibiza.
“If crew wear their uniform or flash an STP card, our staff will serve a complimentary coffee in the café while they wrap their goodies,” offers Barbara generously.
“We are both here every day. It’s a fulltime job – actually more like double a fulltime job,” says Klas. “We do all the buying ourselves, everything we sell we have personally handpicked using our artistic judgement, and Barbara, of course, is the Rialto Living ‘marketing department’.”
Klas also applies his textile and fashion design flair to ‘on-location’ interior design projects.
“We work on two or three large ‘entire house’ projects each year, alongside many more smaller projects and maintenance ‘touch ups’. We work with all nationalities, but the English in particular are very good at asking for help with design, the Swedish on the other hand want to do everything themselves – just like we are guilty of doing in the store.”
“We have no plans for Rialto Living ‘two’,” finishes Barbara, “one is plenty enough. However, we do have a little undeveloped floorspace remaining and we are planning a creative co-working space and community. It’s actually a bit of a secret, but I guess people will be finding out soon…”
By Sarah Forge