Tag Archives: mid-century

brazilian modernism: midcentury furniture in brasilia.

Brazilian modernism is some of the most enigmatic and delightful of the modernist genre, often designed by well known architects of the times – Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi, for example. The forms of their furniture are as iconic as their buildings – strong in form, playful and spirited. 

Here, the owner of specialist gallery Naiara gallery, Neri, shares her thoughts and findings on the best of mid-century Brazilian furniture, and where to find it in Brasilia’s civic buildings.

Furniture making has always been one of the main industries in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil since 1960. Throughout the 1950s Brazil had experienced an economic boom, which expanded the middle classes. As such, there was more demand for furniture. Some of it, like the letter Z-inspired creations of José Zanine Caldas, was made from plywood on assembly lines. This increased its affordability; at the time most residential furniture was still hand-crafted. Around the same time, Michel Arnoult introduced cheap, ready-to-assemble furniture for middle-class interiors. He used finer woods, like imbuia and pau-marfim, in the manufacture.

Little wonder then that Brasilia’s civic buildings contain many fine examples of vintage furniture. The works of top designers like Sergio Rodrigues, Joaquim Tenreiro, Lina Bo Bardi (more Lina Bo Bardi, here), and Anna Maria Niemeyer can all be found here.

Stylish and minimalistic, this beautiful furniture turns administrative interiors into art gallery settings. It’s worth noting though that much of this modernist furniture gets overshadowed by the architecture. You must pass through the exterior walls to glimpse the treasure trove of art and furnishings within.

Here are four government buildings in Brasilia where you can see some of the best examples of Brazilian vintage furniture.

The Palácio da AlvoradaPhotograph: Gonzalo Viramonte

When Juscelino Kubitschek became president in 1955, he revived the idea of building a new capital within Brazil’s interior. He chose Oscar Niemeyer as its architect, and Brasilia was inaugurated as the new capital in 1960.

The first government building constructed was The Palácio da Alvorada, completed in only a year. This magnificent structure has become symbolic of Brazilian modernist architecture. Niemeyer applied principles of simplicity and modernity to the design. The facade is famous for its colonnade of white lancet-tip arches which look like upside-down concrete kites. These same arches inspired the patterning used in the Brasilia chairs and cabinets made by the US furniture maker, Broyhill.

Niemeyer invited Sergio Rodrigues and Joaquim Tenreiro to contribute furniture for The Palácio da Alvorada. And in fact their works grace many other civic buildings he designed. But it was his own daughter, Anna Maria Niemeyer, who did the lion’s share of the interior design. In keeping with the current trends, she chose to combine Persian rugs and antiques with modern designs. The large conference tables, and any other furniture she could not source, she designed herself.

Inside, visitors walk up ramps on plush, deep red carpets. The walls are decorated with tapestries, mirrors, jacaranda panelling and abstract gold tiles. Beside the grand piano stand upholstered, brass-and-leather copies of Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona chair. Elsewhere on the main floor can be seen copies of Lina Bo Bardi’s Bowl chair, still produced today over six decades later.

Jorge Zalsupin’s unique 1960’s L’Atelier designs are on show here too, as well as at Planalto Palace, all brought in by Oscar Niemeyer. Zalsupin created a bewildering array of one-off chairs, stools, desks and side tables, often in jacaranda rosewood.

Between 2004 and 2006, The Palácio da Alvorada underwent modernisation work. All the furniture and decorative objects were restored to their original condition.

Brasilia Palace Hotel

The Brasilia Palace Hotel was the second Niemeyer building to be completed. In its time, it has played host to such dignitaries as Queen Elizabeth, Dwight Eisenhower, Indira Ghandi and Che Guevara. It was opened in 1958, two years before Brasilia became inaugurated.

The Brasilia Palace Hotel is a work of art in itself, eschewing today’s sterile urban standards. Inside, much of the furniture it houses also has considerable aesthetic appeal. There are the distinctive khaki-coloured womb chairs designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1950s. In the public spaces are provided Bardi Bowl chairs, which were designed by Lina Bo Bardi in 1951. Both vintage designs express modernity and simple functionality and are bold art statements for their time.

Other chairs on display show the same timeless economy of design and structural rigour. Pride of place is given to Oscar Niemeyer’s black rocking chair with its futuristic contours and laminated wood surface. You feel safe rocking in this, as well as very comfortable.

You’ll also find large, plush, wine red Odilon armchairs, which almost swallow you up in comfort. And the ‘Beto’ armchairs designed by Sergio Rodrigues will delight with their chunky jacaranda rosewood arms.

During the latter years of the last century the Brasilia Palace Hotel fell into neglect and disuse. After extensive restoration, it reopened in 2006.

Palácio do Planalto

Photograph: Andrew Prokos

Similar in design to The Palácio da Alvorada, The Palácio do Planalto is the official workplace of the Brazilian president and was opened in 1960. Its large white marble lancet-tip arches give the impression that the building barely touches the ground. As with many other of Brasilia’s government buildings, The Palácio do Planalto underwent restoration between 2009 and 2010. As part of its restoration, the lounge area on the fourth floor is furnished with 1960s modernist Brazilian furniture.

Black leather easy chairs with distinctive sweeping metal supports furnish the reception area. Introduced in 1971, they were the first furniture Niemeyer designed in his long and illustrious career. You’ll also find his famous black Marquesa bench elsewhere in the building, designed with tight half-coils at both ends and a braided wood seat.

Niemeyer also designed one of the very long tables, which can seat 38 ministers, 19 on either side.

A long sweeping white ramp takes visitors from the ground floor to the first. Close by are examples of jacaranda rosewood chairs and stools designed by Sergio Rodrigues.

Itamaraty Palace

Photograph: Yellowtrace

Also known as The Palace of the Arches, this building is the headquarters of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It looks out onto a large, beautiful water garden and houses one of the largest art collections in Brazil. Itamaraty means ‘river of small stones’ in the ancient Latin American language of Nheengatu.

Inside, there is a monumental 2.3 metre-wide spiral staircase without a bannister. As well as being rich in statues, rugs and other objets d’art, the palace interior houses a selection of Brazilian modernist furniture. Included is the distinctive cane-back ‘Itamaraty’ dining chairs made from indigenous jacaranda hardwood. They were designed by the pioneer of modernist Brazilian furniture, Joaquim Tenreiro, who first made a name for himself in the 1940s.

1  Marquesa chaise, 1974, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer, Espasso; 2.  Itamaraty dining chairs, 1965, Joaquim Tenreiro, 1stDibs; 3.  Lia armchair, 1962, Sergio Rodrigues, Artsy; 4.  Armchair for Linha Z, 1950s, José Zanine Caldas, Pamona; 5.  Cubo chair, Jorge Zalszupin, Naiara Gallery; 6.  Rio rocking chaise, 1970s, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer; 7.  Bowl chair, 1951, Lina Bo Bardi, Arper; 8.  Alta armchair and ottoman, 1971, Oscar Niemeyer and Anna Maria Niemeyer, Espasso

References: Brazil Modern: The Rediscovery of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Furniture, by Aric Chen, published by The Monacelli Press; Itamaraty Palace – About Brasilia & Brazil; In design, Niemeyer also created icons, Casa Vogue, Dec 8th, 2012; BRASILIA 50 ANOS/ The Buildings :: The Palace of the Dawn as Seen by Elizabeth Bishop in August 1958, June 29th, 2010

Founded in 2018, Naiara is a specialist  gallery dedicated to Brazilian midcentury design, showcasing Brazil’s top designers, such as Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Lina Bo Bardi, Jose Zanine Caldas, Jorge Zalszupin, Carlo Hauner & Martin Eisler, Branco & Preto as well as beautifully crafted unassigned designer pieces.

Featured Image, spiral staircase inside the Itamaraty Palace; here.

a perfect parisian pied a terre.

If the previous villa (‘Bohemian Beauty’, here) is my idea of the perfect vacation home, then this apartment in Paris and featured in the WSJ, may just be my perfect pied a terre. It hits just the right balance of minimal and relaxed, and proves that a minimal aesthetic doesn’t have to be uptight.

Walls throughout are lined with blond elm in a beautiful pale honey colour, floors are clad in neutral coverings. Materials are used simply and boldly – note the grey-veined marble in the bathroom used for the countertop, upstand, cabinetry and floor. I love this look.  A den is arranged in the centre of the space with wood-lined walls and warm-coloured, custom furniture; the master bedroom is lined too and can be closed off from the world with wooden shutters lining the windows. In the laundry, timber-lined cabinets add a richness to what is too often a sterile room of white cabinets. Artwork adds further warmth and personality.

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Detailing couldn’t be simpler – edges and nosings are square profile, ensuring surfaces have a solidity to them; handles are simple and square-profiled as well. There are no cornices and skirtings are kept plain. The furniture is classic Scandinavian – a white marble-topped Saarinen Tulip table in the dining room, elsewhere an AJ floor lamp by Arne Jacobsen and the Saarinen Womb chair. Accessories are neutral and bold of form, often cane or straw and beautifully simple. Heaven.

Apartment by A.P.C. Jean Touitou’s Parisian home via WSJ

Photos: Matthieu Salvaing

a very modern hotel.

Futurist, modernist, dynamic: the gull-winged TWA terminal at JFK airport is the epitome of mid-century design. Evoking a bird in flight, it is also a force in concrete construction. It was certainly a major influence on me during my architectural studies, as I poured over the images of this and other iconic modernist imagery by architectural photographer Ezra Stoller.

The TWA terminal was the last project by Finnish born architect Eero Saarinen (completed in 1962), who said of it:

All the curves, all the spaces and elements right down to the shape of the signs, display boards, railings and check-in desks were to be of a matching nature. We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment, in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world.

It is this all inclusive design that gives the building its streamlined, organic quality; everything is considered, everything belongs (I particularly adore the sunken, built-in seating). It is perhaps this that became the building’s downfall; it was unable to adapt and expand.

The terminal is about to undergo a complete refurbishment as a hotel and museum. The photographer Max Touhey was given access to document the building alongside a team of surveyors using 3-D laser scanners. Touhey made 700 photographs, a few hundred of which were bracketed (several exposures of each shot are used to ensure the light is correct), or used in a time lapse video.

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TWA terminal, Eero Saarinen. Photographs by Max Touhey. Via wired.com; lattimes.com; somewhereiwouldliketolive.com

mid century east.

Yesterday’s Mid Century East show at Erno Goldfinger’s marvellous Haggerston school was the usual trove of fabulous modernist finds. Apart from the pieces, what I love about the show is how everyone who attends is passionate about design. Dealers love what they do and love to talk about their wares. And, of course, the pieces themselves always come with a fascinating provenance.

A brief walk-through below, featuring just a few favourite pieces and their dealers; some known, others new.

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Mar-Den had the wonderful, on-end, angled brick wall as a backdrop in which to display, in the beautifully proportioned double-height space of the hall.

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Pink Flamingoes specialise in American design, and showed Eames classics in fabulous colours.

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Beton Brut specialise in architect-led design from post-War France, Italy, Netherlands and Scandinavia. I’m yet to visit their new showroom in East London but they have a very seductive  website in the meantime.

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Saunders Fine Art always tempt with their modern British and European art and also collectables.

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My favourite of the show was a pair of lounge chairs from the ‘50s, with a wonderful back-story, having been languishing with their original owners in the south of France until now. From The Kula.

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Lovely accessories at Fragile Design

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1934, named for Gerrit Rietveld’s ‘crate furniture’ series in 1934, has a tightly curated collection of simple, functional pieces.

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Gorgeous Vittorio Nobili Medea Chairs (and a few knock-out light fittings) at
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Dd you go? Any favourites? More mid-century show round-ups, here and here.

All images owl’s house london taken on my iPhone 5.

more ampersand.

I first wrote about Ampersand House, a home and gallery featuring classic design pieces and objet d’art, here

The House has just reopened in a new premises within central Brussels, in another classical, light filled interior. Again the eclectic mix of 20th century furniture create a fascinating, constantly evolving, living museum. The mix is vintage, contemporary, prototype and commissioned work, and almost everything is available for sale.

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Ampersand House, 33 rue de Suisse, Brussels 1060, Belgium

Back in London, and we are looking forward to Modern Shows pop up in Fulham this weekend, and hoping to find that illusive armchair and console for the new abode… Modern Shows Fulham pop-up, details here

a modernist in miniature.

What I like about this tiny, 40m2 Parisian apartment is that it is clean and contemporary and full of mid-century pieces but lacks any of the austerity that often comes with mid-century interiors. Bits of the original interior are evident – the timber floors, of course, and a deep door reveal that has been stripped of years of paint. In the kitchen the remnants of a doorway remain, given new life as a mirror frame, and corners of brickwork have been left exposed here and there. The changes of level and undulant cupboard depths all add to a feeling of space that belies the diminutive floor area. Materials and finishes are kept simple, with pattern and texture ensuring the overall feeling is relaxed and unpretentious.

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40m2 apartment renovation by Charlotte Vauvillier via Plastolux

In the midst of my own home renovation, and thoroughly enjoying being able to choose my own finishes after years of doing it for other people… the only problem is, too much choice! I’m hoping to take photographs before and after and post them, if you would like to see..  Happy weekend.

at the fair – the mid century show.

Once you have your Richard Neutra-designed home (see my previous post, here), you will need to furnish it. Here’s my take on last Sunday’s Mid Century show at Lord’s in North London; a wonderful trove of Scandinavian classic furniture, simple, functional lighting, local salvage, industrial pieces, jewellery, art and ephemera. Forty seven businesses were represented, here are just a few of my favourites:

E&T photo by owl's house london

1. These gorgeous ducks also have the most wonderful provenance:

One particular spring day in 1959 in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, a policeman found the time to stop the traffic in order to let a young duck family pass. It was a meaningful enough event to the passers-by that all the newspapers published a now famous photograph of the ducks. This captured moment ‘encapsulates the Danish attention to nature and detail and the ability to appreciate small everyday miracles’. Inspired by the duck family, Hans Bølling designed this pair of small wooden duck figures.

Duck and Duckling in teak by Hans Bølling 1959 at Elliot and Tate, specialists in finding and rsstoring the vintage Danish Furniture of Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, amongst others.

LandCo photo2 by owl's house london l&c photo by owl's house london

2. Lovely and Company are an on-line vintage furniture store based in Brighton, UK.

One gets the same thrill scratching around here as any flea-market – they carry a clever mix of 20th Century design classics alongside soda crates and multi-drawer haberdashery chests. Ferm Living is represented, along with House Doctor and Tas-ka. They carry reams of Eames original fibreglass shells (the new version of the chair is in polypropylene), which can be mounted on new walnut bases.

Saunders Fine Art on owl's house london.

3. Beautiful mid-century art at Saunders Fine Art, specialists in Modern British and European painting (all images, Saunders Fine Art). Clockwise from top left:

Esbjörn (Bo) Lassen, Still Life, Daily News, Watercolour, 1946

Douglas Swan, Composition, Mixed media on paper, 1962

Jürgen Von Konow, Lowering the Nets, Oil on canvas1949

TMW photo by owl's house london

4. Based in Victoria Park, East London, The Modern Warehouse specialise in buying and selling mid century modern furniture and accessories from Scandinavia, U.S.A. and the UK. The collection is made up entirely of original vintage pieces, not reproductions.

The Modernist photo by owl's house london

5. The Modernist based in a wonderful little antique emporium in North London, is one of my favourite haunts: stunning vintage Georg Jensen silver jewellery along with other precious pieces, all from early to mid-century and all fabulous. I wrote about The Modernist in an earlier blog post on the Hampstead Emporium, here.

VU photo by owl's house london

6. Vintage Unit source and refurbish industrial furniture, lighting & accessories, with examples from Britain and the continent from the post war period. Their pieces are beautifully refurbished things of beauty as well as utility. Practical but decorative and collectable in their own right.

Retrouvius photo by owl's house london

7. Retrouvius is a stalwart in the architectural salvage business, full of wonderful reclamation pieces. They have released a book, Reclaiming Style, outlining the Retrouvius ‘re-use’ philosophy,  from sourcing material at demolition sites and filtering this into the warehouse to adapting materials for re-use in homes via their in-house design practice. I loved the stacks of worn, colourful aluminium pendants.

TCA photo by owl's house london

8. Twentieth Century Antiques are Edinburgh based, and specialise in modern design from 1920-1970. I rather liked the idea of the Jacobsen Egg chair, Danish rosewood sideboard and original Picasso exhibition poster on display in my own home…

AG photo by owl's house london

9. A fabulous array of classic lights including the sweet Pinnochio desk lamp from Augustus Greaves, who specialise in architect designed, post war modernist pieces (and have a beautiful web-site, as well).

Which pieces would you like to see in your home?

All images owl’s house london, unless noted otherwise.

More happenings, here.

found objects.

Browsing through some favorite blogs this morning, I came across these beautiful interior images  posted by French By Design. Resting on a simple backdrop of white walls and a pitch black painted floor, these beautiful pieces sit as if in a gallery, but are also part of somebody’s home, and are used and sat upon. I would like to sit and stay awhile…

All images via