Where I Work: Architect Henrique Steyer

We head to southern Brazil to the ALBUS Design offices in Porto Alegre, where architect Henrique Steyer, who works alongside designer Felipe Rijo doing architecture, furniture design, and advertising. The team covers the gamut when it comes to design so the office space is broken up into zones, the reception, work area, conference room, and Steyer’s office. The quirky space is full of intriguing and provocative things to look at (hello, three gold-plated urinals hanging on the wall!) helping to keep the creative vibe flowing. For now, we get a look inside the visionary world of architect Henrique Steyer in this month’s Where I Work.

What is your typical work style?

Our work focuses on the creation of concepts, and in the enduring effort to always propose something new and unusual, be it on architecture, design, advertising, or creative directing. My job is essentially to conceptualize the projects and understand the needs of the clients. My co-workers have the capacity to materialize the things I propose in a way that the clients can visualize. On top of that, I still write a column for a magazine, where I speak about design and trends; I teach as a guest lecturer in the best design university in southern Brazil; and I collaborate with important Brazilian magazines, creating editorials and producing content. Alongside all that, I have a furniture line designed by me, that is sold with exclusively by one store in each state capital in Brazil. We’re proudly present in powerful storefronts across the country.

My routine is ever-changing. Each day is different from the other. Most of the time I’m outside the office, visiting clients and suppliers. Our work areas are architecture, design, and advertising, so we have clients across Brazil and some overseas as well, which require constant trips to the U.S. and Europe.


What’s your studio environment like?

When it’s time to create, I need silence, low lighting, and peace. I like to be in an “organized mess”. I must have my mementos nearby to remember my history, but I also gotta be connected to the Internet to access references and contact suppliers.


How is your office organized/arranged?

My desk is in the far end of the studio, separated from the creative team. In my spot, there is a fake velvet curtain dressing the wall behind my desk, which in turn is made of OSB (oriented strand board), and has pink lacquer feet. On the table, beside the computer, I have a cucumber arrangement on a European table centerpiece, which my mom got as a wedding gift. In Brazil, we have an expression “to peel cucumbers”, which means “to solve problems”. So that is why I have that setup on my desk. The chair I use is more than sixty years old, and it belonged to my grandfather’s office. The chair seat is upholstered with a patchwork of rugs I bought in Istanbul, Turkey.


How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

I’ve been in this studio since I graduated in Architecture, 8 years ago. After that, I did a post-grad in Advertising and another one in Strategic Design, always working in the same place.


If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

I would like to have an open space, like a terrace or a balcony, to better appreciate the view and breathe more fresh air.


Is there an office pet?

We don’t have a pet, but we do have this old doll (above) that is our mascot.


How do you record ideas?

I usually take notes in my calendar, or my moleskine, or in a sketchpad. I’m not very fond of electronics, so I prefer my notes on paper, the old-fashioned way.


Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

By my table I have a painting of a swan with blue eyes, that I got in an art auction here in southern Brazil. I like the aesthetic, and I love the frame. There is focused lighting on it, and the fixture has a visible red cord. I like these unusual solutions, that may seem precarious. They have a “traveling circus” spirit that amuses me.


What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?

In the meeting room we have Dr. No chairs by Philippe Starck, that live alongside 3 antique urinals, that once belonged to a public bathroom. I bought these urinals in a junkyard and had them gold-plated. They surely serve as an eyecatcher to the clients that visit. In the reception, Wassily chairs signed by Marcel Breuer share space with an old lawn gnome that lives on a golden pedestal (below).


Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

No tools, no machinery!


Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

We only use computers as tools. We have a great work bench where the entire creative team gathers. Everyone works with multiple monitors, which give us great flexibility in working with large images and projects.


What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

Here in the office we use all kinds of software. My co-worker Felipe Rijo is the tech expert, and he works mainly with Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketchup, After Effects, and AutoCAD.

Do you have a favorite collection or design that your company has made? 

Recently we launched three furniture lines which represented Brazil in the Milan Design Week, in April 2014. They are:


New Classic bar cabinet
In classical architecture, edifications were created by the formula ‘base+body+crowning’. In antique furniture, it was no different. Steyer’s suggestion revisits this composition aesthetic with new clothing. The New Classic bar cabinet has a hollow shaped square base that supports the angled body. The stylized crowning finishes the piece, that can be made in two different sizes, with many color and finishing options.


Animals collection
Part of Brazil’s richness lies in its fauna, brimming with typical species. This is a vast source for creating furniture with an unusual design, that stands out in a market filled with cartesian options. By working with typical animals of the Brazilian fauna in a playful and spirited way, creating a renewed curiosity about local culture, Steyer heightens the senses with tables shaped as monkeys, anteaters, capybaras, alligators and jaguars. The pieces come in diverse sizes and can double as stools. Varied wood types and finishing options, such as high gloss or matte lacquer, allow countless combinations.


Niño bookshelf
In ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ versions, this shelf won’t go unnoticed. With several wood finishes, gloss and matte lacquer, the Niño bookshelf has a simple design with an ingenious solution, inspired by paper doll chains and the gingerbread man.

Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become sucessful? At what moment/circumstances?

Nothing in my career was very much planned. Things just happened by chance. Ever since we founded the studio, big companies from other states and countries were already recruiting us to develop projects. By word of mouth, we ended up gaining a certain notoriety in international media, which leveraged our company to new contracts. It’s very gratifying to fly across the country to work for a client in the northeast, when this same client could hire any other professional that lived closer to him. When we take notice of this kind of respect and acknowledgement of our work by the clients, it becomes clear that we’re on the right path to build a world a bit more creative and unconventional.


Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

I’m proud to speak about the projects we developed for the furniture company Florense, one of the world’s largest, with 70 stores across Brazil, New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Santiago of Chile, and so on. Since 2010 I’ve been designing the pieces to their new collection launches. In 2014, Florense also launched the first product line with my signature: the ZigZag Bookshelf, something very new and different for this furniture market. We’re happy and euphoric with this news.


What’s on your desk right now?

Right now, we have a computer, books, and cucumbers…

Do you use any of your pieces in your own home/life?

Not right now. My furniture line is fairly recent, and I need to adapt my apartment to receive these new pieces. There’s a task for 2014.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.