Brazilian design: from Joaquim Tenreiro to the Campana Brothers (part 2)

In this second part on Brazilian design, we look at the more recent period of its history (if you missed part 1, you can find the beginning of our article on Brazilian design here)

If Brazilian design is now internationally recognised, it is largely due to its striking duo: Fernando (1961) and Humberto Campana (1953). Brothers and designers, the younger studied architecture at the Beaux-Arts while the latter is a lawyer by training. In 1983, Fernando joined forces with his older brother, who had given up law, and asked him to create Brazilian design furniture.

Eight years after their debut, they received almost worldwide recognition with their Favela Chair, a seat made from recycled wood scraps. They were then labelled as designers of the “favellas”


Fernando & Humberto Campana, Favela Chair, 1991. An incredible assembly of recycled wood pieces. The piece has been manufactured by the Italian publisher Edra since 2003.

This emblematic piece launched a success story that is still ongoing. In 1998, they were the first Brazilian artists to exhibit at MoMA in New York; since then, they have been exhibiting in the most prestigious galleries and museums. At the Musée d’Orsay, the temple of European artistic culture, they completely renewed the décor of the Café de l’Horloge (the museum’s café), renamed Café Campana. On the spot, they created a colourful and abundant atmosphere.


View of the Musée d’Orsay’s Café de l’Horloge, renamed Café Campana. The Campana brothers have completely redecorated the place with an abundance of colours in homage to art deco.


Overall view of the Café Campana, Musée d’Orsay.

Unlike their elders, the Campana duo’s daring designs are far removed from the aseptic lines inherited from the Bauhaus. The duo draws its creative DNA from the megalopolis of São Paulo where they were born. Their design is a bit like this anarchic, chaotic and inhospitable city, where luxurious neighbourhoods follow the poorest ones. In short, an art of mixing and contrasting, to which they have married a Brazilian way of life that recycles materials and objects.

From this art of recycling and this taste for diversion, we can cite a few emblematic pieces that mark out their career. The Sushi Chair (2003), for example, was designed using plastic strips and under-carpets transformed into sushi rolls. Or their series of benches/seats that recycle stuffed animals. The Campanas touch on the baroque and verge on the kitsch, but with an economy of means and an art of improvisation that belongs to them alone! They are thus able to use wicker pieces from Thonet chairs and assemble them with tennis racket strings!


Sushi Chair, 2003. Design Fernando & Humberto Campana.


Fernando & Humberto Campana, Banquete Chair, 2002. Production L’Estudio Campana.


Fernando & Humberto Campana, Panda Banquete Chair, 2005. Production L’Estudio Campana.


The Detonado Buffet by the Campana brothers (2015) makes the most of the assembly of wicker pieces recovered from Thonet chairs


Fernando & Humberto Campana, Detonado buffet, top view.

However, it would be wrong to sum up contemporary Brazilian design to the Campana duo alone. Other figures embody it with talent. Claudia Moreira Salles (1955), a native of Rio de Janeiro, founded her own studio in São Paulo in 1988.

Claudia Moreira Salles designs simple and rational furniture in the tradition of Brazilian woodworking. For example, her sofa São Coronado (2003), a classic of Brazilian design, revives the geometric forms of modern design.


Claudia Moreira Salles, Sofa São Conrado, 2003. A typical piece of Brazilian wood warmth.


Claudia Moreira Salles, Serena Armchair, 2012. Publisher: Espasso. Another beautiful piece by Salles, this seat is as comfortable as it is elegant.

The piece, as well as others by the Brazilian designer, are published by Espasso, the first historical distributor of Brazilian furniture in the United States. If we want to remain faithful to the made in Brazil, let’s mention, among the Brazilian furniture manufacturers, the unavoidable Etel. The brand (re)publishes the best of historical and contemporary Brazilian design. Launched and managed by Etel Carmona, a ‘figure’ of design and female entrepreneurship in Brazil, Espasso attaches particular importance to the preservation of Brazil’s own biodiversity.

Another current figure in Brazilian design, but this time a true product of the post-Campana generation, is Brunno Jahara, a Carioca man trained in design in Italy and Holland. Brunno Jahara fuses tropical Brazilian culture with a more global conception of design. We like the Babilonia credenza (2010), a wooden piece of furniture with a multicoloured look that reflects the mixed culture of Brazil. Further away from wood, we like Brunno Jahara’s creativity when he designs a series of lamps in plastic and aluminium ( Multiplastica Domestica Collection, 2012), or when he revisits the Portuguese tradition of porcelain for the Vista Alegre factory.


Babilonia credenza, 2012. Design Brunno Jahara for the Neorustica collection (Jahara studio).


Brunno Jahara, Lamps from the Multiplastica Domestica collection. Jahara studio.


Brunno Jahara, Transatlantica project (2012), porcelain pieces for vista Alegre.

Many of the Brazilian designers featured above have in common a respect for Brazil’s natural resources. This concern is at the heart of the work of architect-designer Carlos Motta (1952), who graduated from the São Paulo School of Architecture in 1976. This designer has an international reputation, has received numerous awards and exhibits worldwide.

In the early 1970s, Carlos Motta designed his first pieces from driftwood that he collected from the large beaches where he used to go surfing. His credo: to produce honest design by favouring the use of solid wood, such as basalt or peanut wood. Among the emblematic pieces of this designer, we can admire his São Paulo chair (1982), the Braz armchair (2006), or the Guaráseat (2015).


Carlos Motta, chairs São Paulo, 1982.


Braz armchair, design Carlos Motta, 2005.


Guará armchair, design Carlos Motta, 2015. Published by Espasso. A beautiful work on pink peroba wood, the legs are made of iron.

Finally, this panorama of Brazilian design would be incomplete if we forgot to mention the late Mauricio Klabin (1952-2000), author in 1982 of the Eclipse lamp, a classic of Brazilian design which is part of the MoMA museum collection, a reference. This lamp is published by Objekto, a company that publishes a catalogue of a dozen exclusive products, some of which are best-sellers in Brazilian design (Reno Bonzon, Michel Arnoult).


The famous Eclipse lamp by Mauricio Klabin for Objekto, 1982. The structure (a strip of plastic) can be manipulated to change the shape and orientation of the light.

written by François Boutard