A wave of open, progressive Portuguese designers is lighting up the country’s design scene right now. From Porto to Lisbon, creatives are drawing on their nation’s rich craft heritage and working it into modern, cutting-edge pieces in a style that’s all Portugal’s own.
Drawing on memory
The Alma de Luce brand, whose motto is ‘feel the memory’, upholds traditional Portuguese craftsmanship through the production of furniture and artefacts that evoke stories and experiences from times gone by. Conceived by Helena and Carlos Costa, it comprises individual collections that showcase a range of pieces united by the memory of the beautiful and the historic.
One example is the Naperon collection, naperon being the Portuguese word for doily. It includes a cabinet made from glossy black-lacquered wood with a handcrafted inlay of topaz Swarovski crystals and legs of solid walnut; through the crystals, the look and feel of a naperon is etched on to the furniture. The history of the crochet naperon runs through the heart of the Portuguese people, as the Costas explain. Crocheting naperons was a pastime of the wealthy classes during the Renaissance and 300 years later this became the work of nuns, who sold their craft to feed needy children during the 1940s.
Inspired by nature
Ginger & Jagger is a young design house founded in 2012 in Porto by Paula Sousa to create handcrafted, modern products inspired by nature. ‘I wanted to explore different aesthetics, techniques and materials,’ explains Sousa. ‘In Ginger & Jagger we could explore a connection with nature that is very personal, from within.
We have a contemporary design approach inspired by nature’s sculptural shapes, with a unique blend of fine materials such as copper, brass and marble, all handcrafted in Portugal. The result is pieces that embody the textures and shapes found in the natural world.’
Ginger & Jagger products range from cabinets and tables to mirrors, rugs and lighting. The ingenuity comes from Sousa’s ability to transform natural materials into sleek, desirable design pieces. ‘Our Vine mirror has a frame handmade from vine branches moulded in brass casting,’ says Sousa, adding that the branches were found in the Douro Valley, home to Portugal’s celebrated port wine.
De La Espada was founded by Portugal-born Luis De Oliveira. The house partners creatives who design and curate their own solid wood pieces and supports them through the manufacture and distribution of their works from De Oliveira’s factory in the Porto region. The result is a new take on simple design styles by individual artists who are quickly building reputations in their own right. They include architect and designer partners Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, together known as Neri & Hu, who describe their work as being ‘rooted in cultural provocation’.
Their Capo collection injects mid-century design with a tailored aesthetic; chairs and tables have a functional feel that is elevated by the use of elegant black walnut or white oak, and accented by leather belt-strap arms and small brass details. The duo’s Shaker collection takes its cue from the 19th-century movement of the same name ‒ the ladder back of a chair allows it to be hung on the wall just as the Shakers would have done.
Looking to luxury
Arguably the most established of Portugal’s new wave of design houses, Boca do Lobo has been helping to secure the country’s place on the design map since 2005. Interpreting the past for a new take on modern design, the Porto-based company produces elaborate, luxurious creations with a focus on ornate elegance and sumptuous materials.
As the company’s head designer Marco Costa notes, ‘each piece has a unique, timeless character, revealing attention that goes down to the smallest detail.’ For 2016, Boco do Lobo has released the Metamorphosis series, a three-piece set inspired by the Franz Kafka novella after which it was named.
The set reflects the magical realism of the book, which follows the story of a man who wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect; the Diamond sideboard and two mirrors are transformed by an inlaid selection of bugs. The collection, says Costa, ‘has a special meaning that has been a part of Boca do Lobo’s purpose and creative DNA ‒ breaking creative boundaries and being capable of constantly making something better.’
While each of these design houses displays distinct differences in style and source material, they are united by a common theme: the desire to carve something new and exciting out of a thread of history, a beautiful base material and Portugal’s longstanding devotion to handicrafts. ‘The glamour comes from the materials, the proportions, the design typology and the narrative behind the piece,’ says Sousa, succinctly summarising Portuguese designers’ recipe for success.