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Design Focus - Brazil

By Kate MacLeary on Apr 30 2015

For most of us, Brazil evokes thoughts of colour and carnival, football, the famous Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer presiding over Rio from the mountain top and the thumping beat of the samba drum. With the 2016 Olympics taking place in Rio, Brazil is receiving heightened media attention, allowing the world to scratch beneath the surface of this fantastic country from afar. I was lucky enough to travel to Brazil recently and see for myself the rich artistic culture and vibrant nightlife that pumps through the veins of this incredible destination.

However, modern Brazil is so much more than these stereotypical associations. In fact, it paves the way within South America as a country breaking new ground in the fields of architecture and interior design. I’d like to share with you some of my experiences in the country, with a nod towards how art and design play such a large role in modern Brazilian culture and also casting a spotlight on some spectacular examples of Brazilian interior design.

First stop, São Paulo. This heaving city is packed to the gills with people living to work but for all its thousands of looming grey office buildings, São Paulo is THE place to appreciate modern art and design. Visitors are spoiled for choice with dozens of galleries and museums to choose from.

Avenida Paulista by day

No visit to São Paulo is complete without a visit to MASP (Museu de Arte São Paulo) if not for the extensive art collection (ranging from Picasso - Van Gough), to admire the design of the building itself. Designed in 1968 by Brazilian modernist architect, Lina Bo Bardi, the museum is a classic example of brutalist architecture and is suspended above the ground by four bright red pillars. It’s certainly a love it or hate it building but a must see, nonetheless!

I also checked out Museu Afro Brasil, located in the Parque do Ibirapuera on my visit. The museum is largely focussed on African culture in Brazil, with lots of historical exhibitions on show. However, aside from these interesting retrospective collections, there’s also some fabulous modern sculpture on display.

I was particularly taken with this amazing installation of everyday utilitarian objects crafted in marble and brass, by São Paulo born artist Sidney Amaral.

Slightly off the beaten track in the upmarket Faria Lima district, is the Museu Da Casa Brasileira (Brazilian House Museum). A former private residence, this museum has a smattering of original antiques, interspersed with large scale art installations and modern furniture exhibitions.

The Santinho restaurant alone is worth the trip, for delicious fresh food served in a gorgeous atrium, amid stylish surroundings and even more stylish Paulistas (São Paulo natives/residents).

Architecture is king in São Paulo. There are so many fabulous buildings to admire such as this incredible construction that I stumbled upon during a walk around a residential leafy neighbourhood in the city.

Images via Deezeen

French-Brazilian architects Triptyque ( designed this commercial gallery space to look like an ice-cube! Clad in marble, with the striking juxtaposition of glass, the building appears to defy gravity. The building is aptly named Groenlândia (Portuguese for Greenland), after the street where it’s located - it’s definitely one of my favourite pieces of architecture from the whole trip.

Next stop on my travels was the iconic city of Rio. I definitely expected hints of Miami Beach and Copacabana didn’t disappoint with it’s wide promenade, deco buildings and fitness fanatics pumping iron on the beach, with plenty of toned, tanned bodies rollerskating along the strip.

The famous promenade exudes glamour but also demonstrates high design with the bold, abstract wave shapes decorating the walkway, which look as appropriate and cutting edge now as they did in their heyday.

The interesting thing I found about Brazil as a whole, is it’s ability to change perceptions. As someone passionate about interior design, I’m often inspired by objects, shapes and colours found in daily life that catch my eye but I was totally unprepared for the amazing array of street art and artistic expression that can be found all over Rio. Round every corner are walls covered in spectacular murals and works of graffiti.

A simple bollard gets some serious personality.

Colourful graffiti brings this tired wall to life.

This mural in the artistic Santa Teresa neighbourhood in Rio, depicts the Brazilian football team riding historic ‘bonde’ (tram) which was de-commisioned following an accident. The eyes have been blacked out, perhaps as commentary on the unexpected defeat in the World Cup!

These ad-hoc creative expressions of art are as much a part of Rio’s identity as the major attractions that define it in view, which is what makes the city such a joy to visit. Contrasts abound, there is something for everyone.

Head down to Centro and you can see the famous tiled steps. This creation is mainly the work of one single artist, with thousands of tourists and locals alike having donated tiles to the project.

There’s definitely no escaping the use of patterned tiles throughout Brazil and this classic design tool manifests itself even in modern interior schemes. Check out this incredible apartment belonging to designer Marcelo Rosenbaum, which uses monochromatic tiling pretty much everywhere to amazing effect!

I love the use of concrete and raw, industrial finishes paired with brightly coloured textiles.

But bold design isn’t reserved just for bourgeois city living as I discovered when my travels took me onto Salvador, a wonderful historic city in the Bahia region of Brazil. The first colonial capital of Brazil, Salvador was historically, at one point, the most important port in the Americas. As slaves were first brought to Salvador, after slavery was abolished, many returned to settle there, which has contributed to a culturally diverse modern Salvador with West African, European Catholic and Native Brazilian influences. If colour seemed prevalent in Rio, arriving into the old quarter of Salvador was like turning the volume dial up to loud!

I was lucky enough to stay in the fabulous Aram Yami Hotel (, a stylish blend of sleek, modern design combined with all the lively colours, so typical to the Bahia region.

Here design is very much the ‘thing’, with funky, themed rooms, stunning architecture and decor sourced locally, all referencing the local Bahian culture, like these ‘wish’ ribbons tied to a chair to create a colourful design statement. The ribbons themselves represent a plea for health, happiness, peace etc and illustrate the African religious influences blending with Catholicism.

On the other end of the spectrum, a chic pad that uses colour as an accent rather than the driving force behind its design, is this edgy studio apartment designed by Guilherme Torres (

Simplicity is key and the stripped back industrial finish allows the individual pieces of furniture and objects to sing. The harsh angular concrete contrasts beautifully with the rounded, sculptural ‘G’, whilst the soft textural rug, natural wood finish of the cabinet and elaborate French style chandelier provide balance to the scheme.

I saw plenty of cutting edge interior design on my travels and contemporary shapes and simple design classics were prevalent in many of the spaces I observed. I love the creative use of physical space in this Rio penthouse, designed by Luiz Fernando Grabowsky, which uses simple, retro inspired pieces of furniture to stunning effect.

Images via HomeDSGN

By cleverly zoning the space and using a limited colour palette, the overall aesthetic is clean, contemporary and edgy. The use of high shelving on the back wall integrates itself into the kitchen area, where simple black cabinetry ensures that the eye is drawn only to the objects of interest. In a city such as Rio, where space is at a premium, the achievement of making this one room serve multiple functions, whilst achieving a feeling of space and cohesion is testament to the skill of the designer.

The design I observed in the larger Brazilian cities was largely cutting edge, sleek and modern, with focus on iconic design. However, travelling around Brazil, i was fortunate enough to find inspiration in colonial buildings, colourful ribbons, the bold shapes of the landscape and feats of industrial engineering. Colour too plays a huge part in Brazilian life. Whilst not all Brazilian interiors are bursting with colour, the vibrancy of Brazilian culture and the bold colours associated with the country, seem to easily translate into tantalising, punchy decoration. I love the way that the colour and pattern synonymous with carnival, finds its way into stunning interior design schemes, whether it be traditional patterns or splashes of modern neon hues.

In writing this article, it was virtually impossible to select which aspects to focus on, such is the enormity of Brazil as a country and the diversity of it’s architecture and design. But in choosing just a few of my favourite parts, I hope it gives a flavour of the vibrancy and talent showcased by artists and designers in this amazing country.