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In recent years Brazil has enjoyed something of a design boom thanks to increased economic prosperity and a government programme which has seen the number of design schools double since the 1990s. The country is now the focus of increasing global interest as Rio de Janeiro gears up for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics
The Campana brothers, Fernando and Humberto, and Isay Weinfeld appear regularly on international lists of best designers, while vintage Brazilian furniture, by the likes of Sergio Rodrigues and José Zanine Caldas, regularly sells for more than $100,000 at auctions in London and New York.
Rising house prices have led to an increased interest in interiors as people have more money to spend on their homes, and the country’s trade shows are focusing on the high end of the market with great success. “Internally, the country is booming as the economy, under successive presidents [Fernando Henrique] Cardoso, Lula [da Silva] and Dilma [Rousseff], improved and meant that people have more money to spend on their homes,” says Claudia Moreira Salles, a furniture designer with homes in Rio and São Paulo.
This is not a new phenomenon: Brazil’s last design heyday was in the 1950s when the architect Oscar Niemeyer designed the country’s futuristic capital, Brasília, as well as some of the world’s most famous modernist buildings – many of which were sketched at a table in Rio overlooking the famous Copacabana beach full of the women whose curves, he said, inspired his work.
Craftsmanship and the use of wood were important to the modernists, rather than industrial production, says Salles, an attitude which remains prevalent today. “Contemporary design was shaped in the early 1990s and now two trends are clear: the use of sustainable wood, inherited from the modernists, and the exploration of unexpected materials and objects.”
Daniel Kostiuc, whose company Intarya is based in London, but who grew up in Brazil, says the rise in house prices has led directly to an increase in spending on interiors. “It doesn’t make sense to have one without the other and the wealth is more evenly distributed than it was,” he says.
One barometer of the country’s interest in interiors is the trade show Casa Cor, the most important event in Rio’s design calendar. At the most recent show last November, 47 teams of designers and architects gathered to showcase chandeliers, balcony bathtubs and giant televisions.
Patricia Quentel, one of the organisers, says that “Cariocas” (the residents of Rio) have their own particular style when it comes to interior design and Casa Cor has played an important role in the shaping of their tastes.
Patricia Mayer, who together with Quentel owns the Rio Casa Cor franchise, says the Carioca taste comes from living in a city with a beautiful view at every corner. “A city that combines beaches and mountains in an urban area has led to an originality which is unusual and is now a trademark in our homes and architecture.”
Traditionally, wealthy Brazilian families tended to live in neoclassical or modernist houses set in large grounds, but many more live in apartments, which are often high rise (up to 12 storeys). Spaces tend to be open plan, with a separate kitchen and doors opening on to a balcony. “Dining is an important part of life and there may be space to eat in the kitchen for the family as well as in the large living space when entertaining,” says Kostiuc.
“Interiors are often quite neutral and pared back. There’s a lot of colour outside in Brazil . . . so people want their interiors to be calmer in contrast.” The tendency is to introduce splashes of colour against a neutral background.
“There’s a trend for Brazilianism at the moment, which is taking traditional pieces, such as embroidery, and using it as a piece of art or ironically,” adds Kostiuc. “It’s the kind of thing the Campana brothers do with their furniture made from waste products and scrap. There’s lots of different wood, such as morado, sucupira and jatoba, which might be either highly lacquered or rustic.”
Nicolau Vergueiro, of Espasso, a store specialising in contemporary Brazilian furniture with branches in New York, Los Angeles and London, says wood has always been an important element of Brazilian design. “Brazil has some incredible native trees. The name of the country comes from Pau brasil or Brazil wood – a native tree which was one of the very first, if not the first, exports to Europe.”
“Other natural materials such as stone, marble, cotton, linen and leathers are also common. Rattan is used a lot; many households have cane chairs and in Rio it is still possible to see caners fixing and reweaving chairs on the streets. A typical cheap and popular Brazilian fabric is the “Chita” (or Chitão) – colourful bold, mostly floral, cottons that date back to the Portuguese [era].”
Dylan O’Shea, founder of homeware group A Rum Fellow, travels across South America looking for artisan pieces to sell in the UK. He says typical Brazilian patterns involve natural materials and bold blocks of colour. “This makes the colours distinct from each other and gives more emphasis to an individual shade. The national colours of green and yellow are ever present, along with orange, red and an aqua or turquoise-blue.”
A number of high-end interiors shops, including Baccarat, Christian Liaigre and Poltrona Frau, have all recently opened in São Paulo.
Vergueiro believes that Brazil’s high profile, thanks to the forthcoming sporting events, will ensure the arrival of more upmarket stores. He says the country’s distinctive design ethos – providing a refreshing counterpoint to the more familiar European and US designs – will only grow in popularity as it becomes better known around the world.