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Arresting pieces that reach out to the future

Portuguese designer Amândio Pereira’s story started the way many talented craftsmen’s tales do: “As a curious child, construction and deconstruction of objects was a pastime, which later transformed into an obsession of all things design.” When these stories later on evolve, they materialize into concrete objects with a distinct design. And, in Pereira’s case, theatrical.

After graduating from Portugal’s Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Matosinhos, Pereira and friend Ricardo Magalhães set up Menina Design Group and, in 2005, started Boca do Lobo with designer Pedro Sousa. The brand name comes from the Italian expression, in bocca al lupo, which they would say to each other prior to exams to offer ‘good luck’. Translated literally to Portuguese it becomes ‘na boca do lobo’ and in English, ‘in the mouth of the wolf’, as seen in the company’s logo.

Boca do Lobo has become known for inimitable, daring pieces like its Diamond cabinet and Soho sideboard. Each handmade piece of furniture is a medley of various materials, such as translucent car paint on silver leaf. The workshop now spawns an expanding range of custom-made and limited-edition furniture that blends futuristic vision with almost-forgotten creative techniques.

“Our clients want an experience. We design for surprise and to move them. It is like a culture,” explains Pereira. It is a culture spawned in a workshop in Rio Tinto, near Porto, an area of northern Portugal known for its many skilled artisans. Without a showroom or sales reps, the designers turned to the Internet for promotion. Their big break came when influential French trend forecaster Nelly Rodi noticed their work. The publicity quickly led to exhibits in various prestigious international furniture fairs. Now Boca do Lobo’s work can be seen in 52 countries. Clients have expanded from architects and interior designers to include a Saudi princess, a BBC journalist, and a range of luxury hotels and restaurants — in fact, anyone seeking unique, elaborate and eye-catching pieces of usable art.

The Hotel Infante de Sagres in Porto features so many of its designs that it named its restaurant ‘Boca do Lobo’ in deference to the company’s work. One of these remarkable pieces is a tangle of drawers named Frank, a tribute to architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is wrapped in glass and displayed in the hotel’s foyer.
As the market for Boca do Lobo’s products grew, it became instrumental in shaping both the company’s exclusive identity and the creativity of its wares. The concepts spring from a study of its market’s lifestyles and surroundings, such as the food its clients like and the bars they frequent. Architecture, music and even scent play a role.

But putting Portugal on the world design map hasn’t been easy, the designers admit. And some pieces have had their own difficulties. One, the Pixel cabinet, was so unconventional that they kept it hidden in their showroom, uncertain about how the public would react to it. Intended for storing jewellery and makeup, it is made from 1,088 lacquered triangles created from gold, silver, and 10 different types of wood leaf. Finally they presented it at last year’s Milan Design Week. It quickly became one of their best-selling limited-edition pieces, opening the doors to an even greater diversity of design, materials and finishings.

The Millionaire safe box, made of solid mahogany, coated in polished brass and dipped in yellow gold, was another huge challenge, requiring work day and night to complete before the Millionaire Fair in Amsterdam last year. Another, the Royal Table, was chosen in January this year by Nelly Rodi, but the first prototype wasn’t finished and the team had only a day before it had to be shipped to Paris. “In our company there’s nothing impossible; so that night everybody stayed — the artisans, designers, marketers, interns and owners — to work on and finish the table,” remembers Márcia Monteiro, the company’s press relations officer.

Today, 60 per cent of Boca do Lobo’s work is limited to 20 pieces each, while the rest of the projects are custom-designed commissions. The most expensive piece so far has been a commissioned two-metre Soho sideboard for a Qatar Hotel. Others have been the Pixel cabinet in different colours, and a version of the Diamond sideboard as a music cabinet.
Through its latest initiative, Portugal Brands, Boca do Lobo works with the Palace of Arts in Oporto to assist new creative graduates. The company’s 20 staff and associated artisans are young themselves, with an average age of 25. Perhaps it is this youthfulness that spurs the team to experiment and take risks.

Although Pereira and Magalhães’ dream is to open showrooms in every capital in the world, the first potentially in New York, they remain faithful to their homeland and its history. Boca do Lobo’s gold leaf-lined Heritage sideboard, which opens up as a set of foldable tiles, is proof of this. Each tile shows a painting by a different artist representing some of Portugal’s iconic scenes — churches, convents and ancient buildings. In many ways, it adequately tells the story the founders want to express. It is a design story that reaches out to the future while respecting the past, and one that, according to director Janet Morais, awakens emotions “rarely evoked by furniture: fascination, inspiration, desire and euphoria”. Theatrical, indeed.

From Marie Antoinette’s story springs a dramatic mirror design.
Amândio Pereira formed Boca do Lobo with friend Ricardo Magalhães and designer Pedro Sousa. Cascading drawers of various materials pay tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

The pixel cabinet was so unconventional that they kept it hidden in their showroom.

In Symphony, 95 polished brass tubes surround an exotic wood frame.
Pixel is covered with 1,088 triangles and uses aged mirror and capitoné style fabric inside.
The highly sculpted Diamond cabinet plays on Boca do Lobo’s reputation as a ‘furniture jeweller’.

Today, 60 per cent of Boca do Lobo’s work is limited to 20 pieces each, while the rest of the projects are custom-designed commissions.

Oporto brings to life the charm of the city of Porto in Portugal.
Soho is a clever piece of chaotic organization and functional art.
Boca do Lobo dramatizes the Venetian mirror.