Zanini de Zanine

Scandinavia, of course, gets most of the attention when it comes to mid-century furniture. But in Brazil in the mid-1940s and '50s, even more wondrous things were happening. Led by architect Oscar Niemeyer and his countrymen Sérgio Rodrigues and José Zanine Caldas, the design revolution here was characterized by sculptural forms and the use of indigenous materials such as pequi (a South American wood traditionally used to make canoes) and jacaranda (Brazilian rosewood).

Today, modern Brazilian furniture design builds upon these tenets, and Zanini de Zanine (the son of José Zanine Caldas) is leading the charge. Since finishing his degree in industrial design in Rio in 2002, the 36-year-old has built an enviable portfolio, working on both carefully crafted limited-edition pieces in reclaimed wood as well as industrially made products for high-end manufacturers such as Cappellini. We caught up with him during a brief visit to the U.K., where he was showing four of his extraordinary designs at the Espasso during the London Design Festival, and he explained the background of some of his favorite pieces.

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1 Peroba bench

"This bench was made from the stairs of an old house in Rio, I'm not sure exactly which architect designed it. It's created from peroba timber and is a limited edition of six. The idea was that it should be very simple. The construction is straightforward: we just used some standard bolts. This is a tropical wood, so it moves a little when it travels to countries with different climates and the bolts have the effect of clamping it together. This is the kind of detailing my father would use in his work in the joints between columns and beams."

2 Balanco recliner

"This sculptural recliner was made in ipe [a dense, durable wood indigenous to Latin America]. It's important that we leave the old marks on the timber to show the material's other life. I deliberately left a hole in the back. My pieces are made in my atelier in a small favela in Rio. I have six carpenters there: two of them used to work for my father, and I have learned from those masters."

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3 Anil armchair

"This is a very conceptual chair, part of a series of three. The idea is to show the ipe as a comfortable material. It almost looks as though it's padded. It was constructed from 21 pieces of timber and takes a week and a half to make. Depending on what is going on in the studio, we could be two guys working on one piece at a time; on other occasions it could be four; on other occasions it could be one."

4 Ipe coffee table

"This came from a staircase made of ipe. Sometimes I see a piece of wood and I see a coffee table; sometimes I draw and I look for the correct size of timber. Once, for example, I found a long beam—it was very heavy, almost 900 pounds. It was almost a bench, so we did very little in the way of detail. The piece of timber told me its function."

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