House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

Nigel Coates

A tour of Rio’s design district yields a stunning surprise

Nigel Coates

June 22 2011
Nigel Coates

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Just below my window, there’s an old VW camper van, a popular workhorse in Brazil. At precisely 07.15 every morning the driver tries to activate this trusty hulk, with the starter grinding away time after time. Eventually the thing rumbles into action and heads off for the beach with its load of red nylon deckchairs, by which time I’m very much awake. No doubt other people, less noisily, make the descent from the favela to sell stuff on the beach. No doubt much of it comes from stock up in the hills behind us.

An event organiser friend has asked me to join him for lunch, followed by an introduction to the design district of Rio a few blocks over on the western side of Ipanema. Lunch involves a buffet that is charged by weight, whatever you choose. Brazilian food often consists of a bewildering mix of textures and flavours, and this is no exception. I have a steak with a fried egg on top, rice and black bean sauce, and a couple of savoury custard tarts all in one plate.

First stop is a fabric shop with a nice line in bamboo floors. Passing a revamped store with huge Kartell signs on the windows, we eventually track down Via Manzoni, a small shop crammed with overpriced “Eurogoods” (that killer import tax again), including lights by Tom Dixon and the French collective Via. They also have the ubiquitous rolled neoprene fruit bowls by the Campanas. I buy a gadget pen for a friend back home.

More illuminating is a shop around the block: La Lampe has a cool quality thanks to all its Artemide pieces with low-energy lamps. We chat with the owner and check technical data on some of my products for Slamp. They like my more architectural designs. We’ll see.

The surprise of the afternoon comes in the shape of a glorious shop called Arquivo. Instead of imported stuff, it has four floors of very sophisticated Brazilian furniture designs. Two designers stand out for me, both of whom work in wood – Carlos Motta, whose exquisite designs have a deconstructed simplicity, and Sergio Rodrigues, whose curvaceous forms interlock like bones. I’m genuinely inspired and pleased to find extremely elegant work that elucidates a Brazilian design tradition. If I had a house here I’d fill it with all this stuff.

Before heading home we take a detour to check out the new Philippe Starck hotel, the Fasano. Much to my surprise it doesn’t have the usual collection of baroque thrones and design classics in the lobby. It’s clean and simple except for some 1930s-style Murano chandeliers. The adjacent restaurant has some Sergio Rodrigues pieces, not the newly produced ones we have seen earlier, but vintage pieces with wooden frames and a kind of knotted netting that supports the leather cushions. It seems that someone has been paying attention to Brazilian design.

I’ve had an e-mail from back home with some disappointing news. It plays on my mind for the rest of the evening. Joined by some of my best friends in Rio, we finish up eating at a sizzling beef restaurant in the middle of General Orozco Square. There’s a chill in the air. Without paying attention, I splurge chilli sauce all over my grilled red meat, sausage and chicken, overwhelming any difference in taste they would otherwise have had.

See also