The Wall Street Journal on Brazilian Midcentury Modern Furniture: A Sexier Take on Eames

Jun 19, 2016 5:39PM

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal by Julie Lasky  

Seen enough of Eames and Saarinen and Aalto? The furniture out of Brazil in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s has similar sensibilities but with a sensuous twist   

NAMELESS BEAUTY | Designer Damon Liss loves the unattributed Brazilian midcentury chair (facing forward) in this New York apartment as much as the Lina Bo Bardi armchair (foreground), not least because the ‘nameless’ piece cost a fraction of the identified piece. PHOTO: TREVOR TONDRO  

QUESTION: What looks like midcentury modern furniture (organic, informal) and feels like midcentury modern furniture (body-conscious, comfortably unadorned), but isn’t designed by a person named Nelson, Aalto or Knoll?

The answer is 20th-century Brazilian design, which appeals to people who love everything about midcentury modern except its yawning familiarity. Uniting the aesthetics of European émigrés with indigenous Brazilian materials and crafts, the work is notable for its low profiles, strong lines and richly colored and grained tropical woods. The native species have names like incantations: jacaranda (Brazilian rosewood), imbuia (similar to walnut), roxinho (also known as purpleheart) and cabreuva (resembles mahogany). Combined with leather and woven fibers, these woods allude to the country’s rain forests, gauchos and fishermen’s nets.

That some of the woods are endangered and no longer used gives distinction to vintage Brazilian design, as does the relative renown of some of its makers. Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Lina Bo Bardi and José Zanine Caldas lead the pack, yet none is a household name on the order of Charles or Ray Eames.