The fishing village of José Ignacio on Uruguay’s southern coast has long been a summer escape for stylish South Americans, but it has attracted an international crowd of late – including Ralph Lauren, gallerist Martin Summers and Norwegian entrepreneur Alex Vik. And nowhere is its mix of sun, surf and beach chic more apparent than at Santas Negras, a lifestyle boutique on the outskirts of town.
Opened in 2012 by artist-interior designers Patricia Torres and Paula Martini (first picture), Santas Negras is a showcase for an energetically eclectic variety of clothing, restored (and sometimes reimagined) mid-century furniture and stylish curios. It is on two levels, with the light-filled top floor curved to “flow organically and promote a circular way of navigating the shop”, says Torres. “We needed a large space to display sets of tables and chairs and enormous light fixtures – and we didn’t want it to feel like a crowded medina,” says Martini.
Hand-woven alpaca- and llama-wool throws ($160-$450) in vibrant fuchsia, orange and azure-blue (dyed by Martini) add colourful punctuation. Meanwhile, raffia‑framed antique fabrics (from $300), locally made sarongs, beach bags and hats (from $25, second picture), quirky collections of antique glass (from $120) and handcrafted pod-like wicker swings ($350) nurture an artisanal ambience.
Over 75 per cent of Santas Negras’s offerings are of Uruguayan origin. “I feel uneasy importing things and ignoring what can be made locally,” says Martini. Only La Huella cookbooks ($54) and Vietnamese rugs ($1,200) are brought in from afar – they’re perfect design accents for this sandy setting.
The store’s cherry-picked jewellery and fashion draw creative types. Particularly alluring are the own‑brand delicate hand-knitted sweaters in featherweight wool (from $150) and buttery leather jackets ($550‑$800). A collection of playful “bijouterie not joaillerie” includes bold, beaded necklaces by Argentine artist Victoria Magrane ($70-$150) and chandelier earrings (from $50) – great for the day-to-night chic needed for asados (barbecues) in the high season.
But it’s the rare vintage “miracle finds” that intrigue most – from a striking pair of yellow, mirrored glass lamps ($2,000) discovered in a barn, to tables and chairs by Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames and Poul Kjærholm (from $800).
The duo’s bespoke offerings – such as upholstered beds and cabinetry made of indigenous pine and eucalyptus (from $400) – attract an ever-wider clientele. “Our customer is a world traveller searching for unique pieces,” explains Martini. “I hope we show them that beautiful things can be made using very few resources.”