Long live Brazil! Discover the icons of its modern furniture, Part 2

Long live Brazil! Discover the icons of its modern furniture, Part 2


Since this week we are honoring the great designs from Brazil’s iconic furniture, here we present a part 2 of pieces that have impacted the world of design:

The Mole ("soft") chair, 1957

Brazilian par excellence in form and materials - as well as highly comfortable - the Mole chair catapulted Sérgio to fame. It won first prize at the 1961 international furniture competition in Italy, after which it was renamed the Sheriff chair and began to be manufactured in Italy and distributed internationally. This piece led to the emergence of other large, bohemian-style furniture. Eventually, it earned a place in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

"My own house is full of prototypes," Sérgio once said during an interview. "I bring chairs home to see if they work well - if they look good to me if my wife likes them, if my dog likes them... Because, for example, during the Bauhaus era, a cat would climb on the chairs and fall off instantly. But in my house, cats and dogs sit perfectly well".

The Mole chair was launched just after Brazil broke ground for its new capital, Brasilia, the first city built from scratch. Lúcio Costa was the planner, and Niemeyer was the chief architect. Both were impressed by Sérgio Rodrigues' work and invited him to contribute a large amount of furniture for the new buildings.

It was a very exciting time for the country, embracing an innovative, creative and nationalistic spirit in architecture and the entire artistic field. According to Aric, Sérgio embodied this spirit and fostered its progress. He produced more than 1,200 works over more than six decades.

Forma armchairs, the 1950s, and 1960s

Italian immigrant Carlo Hauner (1927-1997) co-owned a furniture store with Sérgio Rodrigues and acquired a furniture factory in São Paulo that had belonged to Lina Bo Bardi and her husband. In 1955, he and Viennese Martin Eisler (1913-1977), who had settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, founded Forma to sell their designs and pieces licensed from Knoll International.

Aric explains in his piece that, after decades of venturing into mass production and international marketing, the two designers' collaboration bore fruit: industrial design-inspired pieces that were elegant and affordable. Today, Forma's successor company, Interieur Forma, is headquartered in Argentina but still present in Brazil.

In the early 1960s, the country suffered intense social unrest and political turmoil. Then, in 1964, a coup d'état orchestrated by the Brazilian right-wing installed a military dictatorship that would last until 1985. A subsequent period of extraordinary economic growth, known as the "Brazilian miracle", benefited some designers, such as Ricardo Fasanello and Jean Gillon. However, export restrictions and repression by the military caused others to go into exile.

The Sphere chair, 1968

Raised in a wealthy family in São Paulo, Ricardo Fasanello (1930-1993) was so fond of racing cars that he learned to drive them when he was only 11 years old. His passion was such that his dream was to design them despite suffering a severe accident that kept him hospitalized for a year. Instead, he designed furniture that borrowed details from luxury automobiles, such as the stitching on the upholstery. Like much of Ricardo's designs, the Sphere chair combines new materials (fiberglass, polyester resin) with traditional classics like leather. And according to Aric Chen, when he couldn't find the leather he was looking for, he would place it himself in his backyard to give it the desired color.

The Jangada ("raft") chair, 1968

Romanian-born architect Jean Gillon (1919-2007) arrived in Brazil in 1956 and was inspired by native materials and craftsmanship for his interior designs, hotel projects, tapestries, and furniture. The Jangada, his best-known chair, is a nod to Brazilian sailing boats, both in its name and shape and materials: it stands out for its net and its jacaranda wood structure on which rests a leather seat.

The Rio chaise longue, 1971

In 1967, Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), a confessed communist, fled Brazil's dictatorship and moved to Paris. There, in 1971, he began designing furniture, for the first time, in collaboration with his daughter, Anna Maria Niemeyer, who had overseen interiors for most of Brasilia's significant buildings. The woven wicker seat and curved wooden structure of his Rio chaise longue evoke the hallmark of his buildings: "The curves I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuosity of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean and in the body of a beloved woman."

Although Oscar Niemeyer got a late start in furniture," says Aric Chen, "his designs evolved as an extension of his architecture, he recognized that in his plans it was, in the architect's words, "complicated to find a solution of comfort and aesthetics.

Solid wood carved chairs, the 1970s

During the 1940s and 1950s, José Zanine Caldas (1918-2001) distinguished himself for his design and construction of inexpensive plywood furniture in São Paulo and private residences in the new capital. The 1964 coup d'état, however, forced him to abandon his teaching position at the University of Brasilia. When he returned to Bahia, his home state, he was horrified by the uncontrolled deforestation of the area. Inspired by local craftsmen who built boats from fallen logs, he began to carve furniture from recycled wood whenever possible, and when not, he planted trees. With what he called "protest furniture," he succeeded in raising awareness of the environmentally destructive practices on which industry was based.

Today, Zanini de Zanine, son of José Zanine Caldas and apprentice of Sérgio Rodrigues, has continued the legacy of his father's furniture making, the use of materials, and industrial derivatives obtained in demolition projects and reused in innovative ways. As a result, Maison & Objet Americas chose him as a designer for the year 2015. Thanks to Zanini and his contemporaries, Brazilian design has a secure future.

Much more than chairs

In March, Brazil Modern, published in conjunction with R&Co. doesn't just highlight chair designs but offers historical context, biographical information, and more than 400 photos of 20th-century furniture.

"Brazil is perhaps one of the last great furniture discoveries of the 20th century-if not the last," states Zesty Meyers in his introduction. As Aric later develops, the fact that mid-century Brazilian designers are not as well known as Eames or Breuer, for example, is largely due to their isolation during the dictatorship, as well as the level of production, which was on a much smaller scale, and the difficulties in exporting tropical woods, as they were at risk of warping in drier climates, which also ended up becoming scarce (an international trade agreement restricts the sale and transport of products made from endangered woods)..

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