On entering the studio of Sergio Rodrigues in Botafogo, one very soon realizes why he is known as the most influential figure in the history of Brazilian design. Set back from the bustling street Conde de Iraja, the mustard yellow house pulses with the energy of his family of famous chairs, each unique works of art that clamour for individual attention. The outstanding Mole ‘Sheriff’ chair lounges by the window, basking in the glory of projecting Sergio into the international spotlight when he won the IV furniture Biennial in Cantu, Italy In 1961.
For over 60 years Sergio’s has consistently innovated with regard to what design and interior design means in Brazil. In the 1950’s the Brazilian architectural scene, with the likes of Oscar Niemeyer, was gaining considerable acclaim on the international stage for its uniquely modern outlook but, as Sergio states, ‘there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to match on the inside’. Sergio’s pieces have a soul that is unmistakably Brazilian, yet they are executed in a way that has long appealed to the international aesthetic.
Here the father of Brazilian design speaks about design and his beloved home town, Rio de Janeiro.
You have been credited with bringing Brazilian design into the International scene – what was your vision with your creations?
First and foremost, my work has always been very much my own – it is my artistic vision, my feelings and they don’t relate to anyone else. I have always been my own client, seen myself as the client. When I make something, I think, ‘Would I want to buy this? Have this in my house?’ And then I take it home and try it out for a while, and if we like it, well, then it can go on sale.
Which are the neighbourhoods in Rio that stand out for you?
I was born between Copacabana and Ipanema, in Arpoador: I am almost the ‘Boy from Ipanema’! I went to school here in Botafogo, but where I spent all my time was in Praia de Flamengo, which is where my uncle had a wonderful house with a big garden where I first began to design and make things. This neighbourhood is very special for me, but Sunday is the day that I would always go back to Arpoador to see my friends on the beach.
Who are your favourite architects and designers in Brazil at the moment?
I have a lot of good friends who design very well, many of whom have done stages here: Among them are Fernando Mendes, Aristeu Pires, and Zanine.
What would be your perfect day in Rio?
On a perfect day, I would begin by heading to Ipanema, to my friend’s hotel Ruggerio Fasano. There is a lot of my furniture there – those deck chairs on the balconies are all mine. I would spend a bit of time on the beach and then go and have breakfast or a drink there, and then carry on along the beach to Copacabana to a friend’s house to eat a really good feijoada. I used to spend a lot of time playing fresco ball, but now we spend a lot of time talking and drinking chopes, going from one friend’s house to another-After a little siesta I am ready for the afternoon, to go to Garcia e Rodrigues for a drink and then have a wonderful dinner at Roberta Sudbrack’s restaurant. She is a culinary designer.
What are your favourite restaurants in Rio?
Where do you like to go shopping?
I love the Fashion Mall, and I really like Rio Design. For fruit and vegetables, the Cobal is a really great place, but the best has to be Hortifrutti. I go every Saturday to pick up the freshest fruit and vegetables. Exceptional.
What gives you inspiration?
For me it has always been Oscar Niemeyer and his favourite expressions, that ‘The curves of Rio’s mountains flow like the curves of a woman’. The second thing that inspires me are the chairs themselves – I always see myself sat down, comfortable, reading. My inspiration is to make the most comfortable chairs, the kind cats like to sit on. Cats are very demanding, they know a good chair when they see one.’
Enjoy Sergio’s work on the balconies of the Fasano Hotel, at Hotel Santa Teresa, or contact Dehouche to arrange a private visit to his studio in Botafogo, where you can purchase one of these iconic designs to take home with you.