Rodrigo Almeida, Furniture Designer

To any reader who went to design school and is, years later, still making student loan payments month after month, you might want to close your eyes for this one: Rodrigo Almeida — the 34-year-old Brazilian furniture designer who’s pals with the Campana brothers, has been featured in Wallpaper, and has made pieces for top galleries like Contrasts and FAT — didn’t go to university, not even as an undergrad. What you’re looking at here is raw talent, and a career that began when Almeida simply picked up the Brazilian magazine Arc Design six years ago and thought, “I want to do that.”

Of course, what he wanted to do isn’t exactly what most designers are trained to do — i.e. making CAD drawings and/or manipulating shapes until they’re suitable for industrial production — which is why he chose not to go to school in the first place, as Brazil’s design institutes are all quite technical. Almeida instead handcrafts freeform chairs and tables that are hyper-saturated with color and texture, often incorporating African-influenced patterns and workaday materials like paper, recycled linoleum, and even local foods. When Sight Unseen called, he had just gotten back from a trip to one of São Paulo’s Carnaval supply stores, where he studied all manner of feathers, sequins, and plastics for inspiration. “Blending materials and cultures comes naturally to me, because I’m a mix of indigenous Brazilian, Portuguese, and African,” he says. “Brazil is a real melting pot, and it can be complicated to put all this information together and discover a style, a way of thinking.”

São Paulo’s sights and sounds — including the city’s profusion of Niemeyer buildings — tend to influence his work. But his larger artistic habits were formed before he even arrived there: Having grown up on a farm in the countryside of northern Brazil, “it was a different kind of life,” he says. “We didn’t have a mall, and so craft was very normal. Because we needed these kinds of products, and making them by hand was cheaper, and sometimes they worked better.” Almeida doesn’t characterize himself as a craftsman, though, more as an artisan — something in between design, art, and craft.