Q&A: Campana Brothers

The Brazilian furniture designers and Clerkenwell headliners discuss letting the material make decisions and designing furniture with soul.
Campana Brothers
Fernando and Humberto Campana

During Clerkenwell Design Week, the Brazilian siblings and design duo will showcase their new Bastardo sofa and give a talk about how art influences design.

Photo by Fernando Laszlo

A menagerie of vibrant, often technicolor creations, the furniture of Fernando and Humberto Campana constantly riffs on ideas of shape and material, a tropicalia of industrial design. Their choice of raw materials—wood planks, rope, the skin of a massive fish—not only reference Brazilian street culture, nature, and a “zest for life,” but seemingly tap into some creative mythology of their own creation. As the brothers prepare to speak at Clerkenwell Design Week 2014 in London about how art influences design, Dwell spoke with the duo via email about their new work for Edra and their creative influences.

Did design and art play a big role for both of you when you were growing up? Why do you think you both became designers?

Humberto and Fernando: We lived a happy childhood surrounded by nature and that’s what brought us to design. Our father was an agricultural engineer and our mother was a primary school teacher. We lived in a house with an unpaved basement and a vast backyard, surrounded by fruit trees and streams leading to waterfalls and lakes. We would go to the cinema in the evening and during the day we would have fun in the nature around the farm. We remember that we used to play by recreating the settings of films and making tree houses using bamboo and other plants. There were many plantations of bamboos in the area. We built ourselves a personal universe, and that’s what made us creative.

Bastardo Sofa for Edra
Bastardo Sofa for Edra

This new piece was created to "have an animal soul" and be able to move by itself.

Photo by Edra

The subject of your talk is how art influences design; what art influenced the design of your new line of chairs for Edra?

Humberto: We have designed the Bastardo sofa for Edra. Our aim was to create an object with a soul; a piece with an animal soul that could ‘move’ by itself.

Fernando: So this sofa is inspired by Humberto’s dog ‘Chica’ that we found in the streets of Sao Paulo.

Humberto: We wanted to design a comfortable object, an object of these times, an object with a big role but for a small house or an apartment.

Fernando: The sofa can however transform with these independent cushions that help you create many different shapes. You can also take everything off and make it a large bed. There is a part to lay the head and also rest the arms.

Tell me about your relationship with the late Massimo Morozzi at Edra—how did he help influence and inspire your work? What is some of the best feedback he gave you regarding a design?

Fernando: When I asked myself how important Massimo was in our lives, I can only say that our encounter resulted into one of the strongest relationships of my life. It started as a professional experience, and along those 17 years he became family to me, so important that it is difficult to describe in a few words. One important thing I learned from him was to create design without the usual techniques, but with comfort. He created a [world] of comfort and joy that helped us see what he really wanted to be achieved—a sofa, a chair, a table—and that was great.

Humberto: Massimo was always faithful to his design philosophy. He made no concessions to accommodate trends or aesthetic tendencies. I learned this from him. He was always consistent in his work, and that is part of his legacy. We used to have a great time in our meetings; the briefs that were suggested for each of our projects were actual trips that we used to go on together. To be with Massimo was always like playing in a theme park. He had a very good sense of humor. We communicated a lot just by looking at each other. Our connection went beyond our professional relationship. It was a family link, a very visceral one. We used to laugh a lot with him. It was always a pleasure to be in his company. He was also our master and we learned a lot from him about the universe of design, the production processes, and how to keep the strong sides without following trends.

You've called São Paulo your laboratory. What are some of the sights and places that influence your work?

Humberto and Fernando: We moved to São Paulo to begin our graduate studies and we settled down here because it is an inventive and stimulating region, where the skills of many traditions are interwoven. The city is a synthesis of Brazilian multiculturalism, an incarnation of this mix which is not only racial, social, and religious, but also cultural.

Humberto: São Paulo’s urban environment help opened our minds and senses, and along with nature, it became one of the main themes of our work.

Fernando: You learn that smart, poetic solutions can be developed without technology, money, or skills. If someone leaves something in the street, someone else picks it up and uses it.

You've worked with discarded wood from a favela, fabric cut-offs, and myriad other material. Are there material you still want to work with, concepts you still want to experiment with? Is it important to your work that you aren't using expensive material, but instead juxtaposing low-cost materials with high design?

Humberto: I would say we’re kind of alchemists. We have a great passion for the materials and especially for the unusual ones, the banal ones. We try to transform them into something very elegant. We try to give them nobility. Our process starts with the material. The material will indicate what it “wants to be” and will determine the form and the function of the object.

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