The Campana Brothers, Furniture Designers

In their most famous works, Fernando and Humberto Campana construct by a process of accumulation, looping yards of sail rope around seat frames or folding velvet tubing in on itself to create amoeba-like sofas. So it’s fitting that visitors to the brothers’ São Paulo studio should find behind its unremarkable metal grate rooms and shelves stacked high with stuff — weird material experiments by the studio’s half-dozen in-house artisans, miniature models and prototypes, artifacts the brothers picked up on their travels, miles of scrap, and dozens and dozens of sketches. In some ways, it all seems an extension of São Paulo itself, a city of 20 million that in the last century has sprawled so far and wide it’s annexed, at last count, five different downtown areas. (The Campanas live and work in Santa Cecília, or as Fernando calls it, “second downtown.”)

The brothers grew up on a small farm in Brotas, 150 miles north of the city, and though much of their inspiration can be found in the streets and small shops that surround the studio, they’ve become increasingly interested in the materials found naturally in Brazil’s rainforests. When we visited the studio this winter, they were busy preparing La Gloriette, a pavilion commissioned by Veuve Clicquot and destined for the garden of the champagne company’s Hotel du Marc guest house in Reims, France, set to re-open next spring after a two-year renovation. When VC approached the pair about creating an architectural addition to the grounds, they began to contemplate a structure built entirely from natural materials. “We’re interested in museums of natural history, strange animals, catalogs of flora, and tropical monsters,” says Humberto. “We thought to give it the form of a flower or plant that doesn’t exist, and the first model we made was just natural fibers. But I think it was a bit too indigenous-looking for Veuve Clicquot.”

The final result mixes the brothers’ original choice of material — the Amazonian vine apuí — with the tangle of wires that has become one of their signatures (in this case, it’s meant to evoke the fizzing of Champagne and the way grapes grow along the vineyard’s fences). “It looks like Art Nouveau a bit, but we call it Nouveau Nouveau,” says Fernando. Construction began in November, and the 1.9-ton structure was shipped in pieces by boat to Milan to debut at the furniture fair there this spring.

La Gloriette began the way most Campanas projects do, in a materials-led exploration on-site in the studio. “We never do a technical drawing,” says Fernando. “We start projects in a raw state, testing the limits of the material. The function and the form of the object come next.” But while some designers probe the limits of rapid prototyping or high-tech plastics, the Campanas’ palette remains resolutely run-of-the-mill: cardboard, rope, carpet scraps, doll parts, bubble wrap, and wood offcuts, with the occasional bamboo or rattan thrown in for good measure. They began working with such readily available items out of necessity early in their career, unable to afford high-tech tooling or factory space. But even as their fame and fortune have grown, the brothers have stuck close to their original ideas, employing seamstresses, weavers, and welders in their workshop and partnering with artisan communities sprinkled throughout the country. “Some of these crafts are dying,” says Humberto. “We want to bring them back in a more contemporary way.”