Ana Andjelic is svp, global strategy director at Havas Lux Hub.
The changes in the high-end interior design space aren’t unlike those happening in fashion: There are shifts from the cult of the designer with a capital D to the creative collectives of makers, from fast fashion to slow making, and from chasing trends to purposeful anti-trendiness. On the interior design side, Portugal is a driving force.
Due to the global financial crisis, 2008 was tough for Portugal. However, descendants of the Lusitanos, the ancient warrior tribe, the Portuguese — who pride themselves on their self-reliance, craftiness and entrepreneurship — are survivors. Those who lost their white-collar jobs fell back on their own hands and imagination, and today, they make up the Portuguese design scene.
Inadvertently, these craftsmen created a new moment in interior design — one that’s dominated by unknown locals (rather than by Philippe Stark or Jonathan Adler) who work with sustainable materials and make everything limited-edition and one-of-a-kind. It seems the cult of the interior designer, rife with conceptual ideas, is giving way to a collective of creative experimenters obsessed with working with their hands.
In the age where any Eames is replicated ad nauseam and interior design is accelerating to the fast-fashion speed (this summer is all about minimalism), it is refreshing to recognize a movement focused on “slow making.” Anti-trendiness is in, and the most coveted pieces are those connected with the personality and the story of the maker, not a curator or a critic.
We are back in the era of social objects, where handmade things speak to their own history and reflect a deeply personal, human narrative back to us. For instance, the imperfection of wood makes each glass decanter that’s made in it unique; the way one’s grandmother made pillows from virgin wool scraps is different from how someone else’s grandmother went about it. No two things are the same, and no two ways of making them are alike.
For the field of interior design, the implications of these shifts are massive. To unpack them, I spoke with Carlos Joao Parreira, founder of Lusitano1143, a three-months-old direct-to-consumer site focused on bringing Lisbon designers to the global scene.
You spent years working in the beauty industry (managing online marketing and e-commerce efforts for high-end brands), and now you run a website that lets the global audience discover Portuguese interior designers. Where’s the link?
I think the thread has always been design. I believe that beauty, fashion and home decor are all expressions of someone’s personality. Whenever I travel to a different country — like most people, I think — I’m always on the lookout for pieces to bring home. And whenever I was in Portugal and met some incredible artisans, my reaction was always to come back and try to spread the word. I think Lusitano1143 is really an extension of that. It just felt natural to me.
If you had to describe your business in three keywords, what would you say?
Warm, contemporary, human.
How do you select the makers you feature on Lusitano1143?
To be totally honest, I select those that I connect with on a really personal level. If their pieces could find a home in mine, they are right for Lusitano1143. Everything you see on my site is actually in my house.
In your opinion, what makes a design covetable?
I think even humble objects can be beautiful. And I don’t like design for design’s sake or as an accessory — designs should solve a problem beautifully.
What are you offering to your audience that it can’t get anywhere else?
Most, if not all, of the pieces have never been in the U.S. Also, the artisans I work with do not feel a commercial pressure to create something other people like — they create what they love. One artisan is creating beautifully organic glass decanters handblown from the absent core of a tree, another is creating pieces from a marble I’ve never seen before just north of Lisbon. It’s everything from aesthetics and our point of view to the long lineage and emotional charge of craftsmanship that makes us stand apart.
Who is your ideal global customer?
I’d like to think that they’re someone who sees a piece and wonders where it came from — how it was done and what journey it has had by the time it reaches them. Also, someone who appreciates the creative process and loves being part of that process by bringing these pieces into their homes.
What are design connoisseurs willing to pay for today?
I’d like to think craftsmanship, the appreciation of someone’s talent creating something with their hands that is beautiful. I also think that — as home decor has become a bit more trend-driven and on a quicker calendar, even seasonal at times — design lovers really want to connect with unique pieces: Something they haven’t seen all over social media, but something they had an emotional connection with through the discovery of it.
What do you think is the most inspiring thing happening in interior design globally?
The respect for the maker is back. As we again care about who the people are that grow our food and tend to the animals that feed us, we care about the hands that create the pieces that come into our homes. I hope it only gets better from here.
What would you say makes Lisbon a place to be right now, in terms of interior design?
This may be a bit counterintuitive, but how new the concept of “interior design” is in Portugal. In Lisbon, it’s always been about collected spaces and how personal the design of someone’s home is — it’s never been staged or artificial. Homes shouldn’t look like everybody else’s space — they’re a bit more timeless and much less trend-driven than in other countries. Interior designers in Portugal are much more like the really stylish friend that is helping you find pieces for your house — and just how incredible some of these spaces are! From apartment buildings built in the 1700s to brutalist modern buildings, it’s all there.
Is there anything you’d call a uniquely Portuguese design style?
I would say that, sometimes, the Portuguese don’t realize the good that is there. Growing up, I always had the feeling that we were trying to compete with the rest of Europe, on their terms — but thankfully, we are now focusing on what makes us unique. To me, it’s the harmony between the ancient and the contemporary; we are looking to the processes that evolved since before Roman times, but we are informed with a global and contemporary point of view.
How do you see your business evolving?
That’s a question I have been spending a lot of time with. It is really important to me not to betray the ethos of the appreciation of small craft. My goal is to embrace even more artisans. There so many that I’ve met with but just haven’t had the chance to work with. I’ll never have a massive quantity of any one item on the site, but I hope to bring even more artisans into the fold — they are out there. There are so many people doing incredible things, and I hope to continue to give them the platform to encounter new audiences.