Sergio Rodrigues: Designer best known for the 'Mole' armchair who sought to express the spirit of his native Brazil

 

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The Independent Online

Sergio Rodrigues, who has died of liver failure at the age of 86, was a celebrated designer, whose "Mole" armchair is among the best-known pieces of Brazilian mid-20th century design. A native of Rio de Janeiro, Rodrigues studied architecture before turning to furniture design – always attempting in his work to express the spirit of Brazil. He designed more than 1,200 different pieces of furniture, though none would prove as enduring a hit as his "Mole" armchair, the name of which means "soft" in Portuguese.

Created in 1957, the award-winning chair has a squat wooden frame topped by interlocking leather pillows fitted with thick straps. The design won top prize in the Cantu international furniture competition in Italy in 1961. In 1974 New York's Museum of Modern Art acquired a "Mole" for its collection. "The piece of furniture is not just the shape, not just the material, but also something inside it. It's the piece's spirit," he said. "It's the Brazilian spirit."

Maria Cecilia Loschiavo dos Santos, a historian specialising in Brazilian design, said the "Mole" represented a "great revolution ... The imperious desire to conceive of a piece of furniture that would express national identity led Sergio Rodrigues to a design that defied the existing styles."

Like many of his other designs, the chair was initially made from jacaranda, a prized Brazilian hardwood that was harvested into near-oblivion. The factory licensed to produce his designs switched to woods like eucalyptus, pau marfim and ivorywood.

Furniture designed by Rodrigues will continue to be produced: vintage "Mole" armchairs retail in Rio antique shops for the equaivalent of around £5,000. Other well-known Rodriques designs include the so-called "Kilin" armchair, from 1973, and the "Diz" from 2003. The striking "Chifruda", or "horned" chair, from 1962, is known for the sweeping wooden slat at the top of the backrest that resembles a pair of antlers.

Rodrigues, who also famously decorated the Brazilian embassy in Rome in 1959, was to be honoured at the forthcoming IDA design fair, which opens next week as part of Rio's celebrated ArtRio international art fair.

Rodrigues is survived by his wife, Vera Beatriz, and three children.

JENNY BARCHFIELD

Sérgio Rodrigues, designer and architect: born Rio de Janeiro 1927; married Vera Beatriz (three children); died 1 September 2014.

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