Inside a Mecca of Midcentury Brazilian Art and Design

Brazilian design dealer Ulysses De Santi and his husband, Graham Steele, didn’t normally spend long periods of time together. They had different responsibilities, and very different rhythms. “Graham is extremely social, hyperactive, and his schedule was always insane,” says De Santi, who’s been sheltering at home with Steele since the pandemic upended life as we know it. “So just to be able to have him here is such a gift.” As a senior director at Hauser & Wirth, an art gallery with outposts in Asia, Europe and North America, Steele was used to jetting across the globe, sometimes having breakfast in one continent and dinner in another. By contrast, De Santi is an introvert. “He would happily be socially isolating for the next five years,” says Steele, only half-jokingly.

The couple’s personality contrasts extend to their design sensibilities: One is a minimalist and the other a maximalist. And yet in the process of moving into their West Hollywood home, a 1930s hillside residence surrounded by greenery, they were able to find a happy medium, influencing each other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Steele, an avid art collector, has developed a greater appreciation for abstract works (rather than figurative ones), which complement De Santi’s modernist furnishings from Brazil. And De Santi, to a point, has become more tolerant of decorative exuberance. “My husband is a collector at heart—he keeps buying ceramics, ornaments, and artworks, and he loves to display all of these things,” he says. “I love them too, but my greatest passion is design and I prefer to show my pieces as purely as possible.”

<div class="caption"> The gallery-like dining room features a series of striking contemporary artworks, including an untitled multicolored oil on canvas by Svenja Deininger and a golden wall sculpture by Nicola Martini (made of wax and bithumen on plexiglas). A table from the 1960s, designed by Jorge Zalszupin with a jacarandá top and sturdy concrete bases covered in suede, quietly anchors the space. The minimalist metal chairs, called Slim Sissi, were designed by <a href="https://www.zeusnoto.com/portfolio/slimsissi/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto</a>. </div>
The gallery-like dining room features a series of striking contemporary artworks, including an untitled multicolored oil on canvas by Svenja Deininger and a golden wall sculpture by Nicola Martini (made of wax and bithumen on plexiglas). A table from the 1960s, designed by Jorge Zalszupin with a jacarandá top and sturdy concrete bases covered in suede, quietly anchors the space. The minimalist metal chairs, called Slim Sissi, were designed by Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto.

Shortly after relocating from São Paulo to Los Angeles, De Santi found his true calling as a dealer of Brazilian furniture from the ’50s and ’60s. The former actor and television producer already owned a handful of pieces by important postwar designers, yet he’d never thought of turning his affection for modernismo brasileiro into a business—not until friends in L.A. began to show interest. “People would come over to our first house and ask, ‘Where did you get this?’ They were so impressed,” he says. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to go back to Brazil and then do a pop-up here.’”

In 2016, together with a partner, De Santis unveiled “Studio 55,” a monthlong exhibition on Melrose Avenue where he sold dozens of vintage pieces by icons like Sergio Rodrigues, Geraldo de Barros, Jorge Zalszupin, and Joaquim Tenreiro. That event was followed by two more pop-ups in California and one in Hong Kong.

It’s no surprise, then, to see the couple’s home filled with covetable pieces from one of the most fertile periods of Brazilian art and design. During the mid-20th century, Brazil produced a bevy of geometrically shaped furnishings in jacarandá, a richly veined local rosewood that has since become endangered. In the living room, a set of chairs by Jorge Zalszupin, with perfectly cubic wooden frames interrupted by cushioned scoops, command our attention. Next to them is a tea trolley, also by Zalszupin, with slim but oversized brass wheels and a tray with triangular sides that fold up like origami. “He’s the designer whose work I first fell in love with,” says De Santi, “followed by Sergio Rodrigues.” A round side table designed by Rodrigues, which has three interlocked legs, was placed next to the living room’s curvilinear velvet sofa. The space, like the rest of the house, has a clean, almost gallery-like feel, yet it’s neither sober nor restrained. There is plenty of color (scarlet in the sofa, cobalt in the large-scale cyanotype by Christian Marclay) along with an abundance of shapes and textures. Much like De Santi and Steele’s union, it’s a combination that works.

Inside a Mecca of Midcentury Brazilian Art and Design

<div class="caption"> Brazilian design dealer Ulysses de Santi and his husband, art gallery director Graham Steele, live in a West Hollywood home built in 1939. The 5,000-square-foot, two story property, which has clean lines with hints of Cape Cod architecture, provided an ideal setting for the couple’s collection of contemporary art and modernist furniture. “It had great volume and also character,” says De Santi. “By painting the walls white and ebonizing the floors, we were able to create a neutral background and let our art and design speak for itself.” De Santi and Steele may have to explain the telephone chair in the foyer to some of their younger friends. “It’s one of our favorite pieces,” says De Santi. “There’s even a space to put a phone book underneath the seat.” The piece was conceived by Jorge Zalszupin in the 1960s. Next to the stairwell is a jacarandá-and-cane bench by Joaquim Tenreiro, another Brazilian designer from the midcentury. </div>

Brazilian design dealer Ulysses de Santi and his husband, art gallery director Graham Steele, live in a West Hollywood home built in 1939. The 5,000-square-foot, two story property, which has clean lines with hints of Cape Cod architecture, provided an ideal setting for the couple’s collection of contemporary art and modernist furniture. “It had great volume and also character,” says De Santi. “By painting the walls white and ebonizing the floors, we were able to create a neutral background and let our art and design speak for itself.” De Santi and Steele may have to explain the telephone chair in the foyer to some of their younger friends. “It’s one of our favorite pieces,” says De Santi. “There’s even a space to put a phone book underneath the seat.” The piece was conceived by Jorge Zalszupin in the 1960s. Next to the stairwell is a jacarandá-and-cane bench by Joaquim Tenreiro, another Brazilian designer from the midcentury.

<div class="caption"> In the living room, a curvaceous sofa by Brazilian studio Neobox pairs nicely with Jorge Zalszupin’s Cube chairs from the 1960s, made in richly veined jacarandá wood. The large blue artwork is a cyanotype by Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay. To the right, we see a 1950s easel by Angelo Lelli holding a Fred Tomaselli photogram, and a Zalszupin tea trolley. </div>

In the living room, a curvaceous sofa by Brazilian studio Neobox pairs nicely with Jorge Zalszupin’s Cube chairs from the 1960s, made in richly veined jacarandá wood. The large blue artwork is a cyanotype by Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay. To the right, we see a 1950s easel by Angelo Lelli holding a Fred Tomaselli photogram, and a Zalszupin tea trolley.

<div class="caption"> This corner of the dining room showcases two of Brazil’s midcentury design icons: Sergio Rodrigues and Jorge Zalszupin, who produced a series of geometrically shaped furnishings in jacarandá, a richly veined local rosewood that has since become endangered. The sideboard with thin metal legs is by Zalszupin, and the wall-mounted “George Nelson” shelves are by Rodrigues. Both were designed and built in the 1960s. The wall sculpture on the right, a wax–and–epoxy resin piece called <em>Romeo, My Deer</em>, is by Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere. </div>

This corner of the dining room showcases two of Brazil’s midcentury design icons: Sergio Rodrigues and Jorge Zalszupin, who produced a series of geometrically shaped furnishings in jacarandá, a richly veined local rosewood that has since become endangered. The sideboard with thin metal legs is by Zalszupin, and the wall-mounted “George Nelson” shelves are by Rodrigues. Both were designed and built in the 1960s. The wall sculpture on the right, a wax–and–epoxy resin piece called Romeo, My Deer, is by Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.

<div class="caption"> The gallery-like dining room features a series of striking contemporary artworks, including an untitled multicolored oil on canvas by Svenja Deininger, and a golden wall sculpture by Nicola Martini (made of wax and bithumen on plexiglas). A table from the 1960s, designed by Jorge Zalszupin with a jacarandá top and sturdy concrete bases covered in suede, quietly anchors the space. The minimalist metal chairs, called Slim Sissi, were designed by <a href="https://www.zeusnoto.com/portfolio/slimsissi/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto</a>. </div>
The gallery-like dining room features a series of striking contemporary artworks, including an untitled multicolored oil on canvas by Svenja Deininger, and a golden wall sculpture by Nicola Martini (made of wax and bithumen on plexiglas). A table from the 1960s, designed by Jorge Zalszupin with a jacarandá top and sturdy concrete bases covered in suede, quietly anchors the space. The minimalist metal chairs, called Slim Sissi, were designed by Maurizio Peregalli for Zeus Noto.
<div class="caption"> The breakfast nook near the kitchen is furnished with Sergio Rodrigues’s Picnic table from the 1970s, made of hardwood, metal, and glass. Jorge Zalszupin’s Veranda chairs from the 1960s, with jacarandá frames and adjustable leather straps, complete the vintage look. The artwork on the back wall is by American artist Carroll Dunham (actress Lena Dunham’s father). </div>

The breakfast nook near the kitchen is furnished with Sergio Rodrigues’s Picnic table from the 1970s, made of hardwood, metal, and glass. Jorge Zalszupin’s Veranda chairs from the 1960s, with jacarandá frames and adjustable leather straps, complete the vintage look. The artwork on the back wall is by American artist Carroll Dunham (actress Lena Dunham’s father).

<div class="caption"> In the master suite, above the gray linen platform bed from <a href="https://www.restorationhardware.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:RH" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">RH</a>, we see a diptych by Indian artist Raqib Shaw, known for creating intricate images inlaid with gems. The nightstands are anonymous vintage pieces from Brazil. Behind the double doors is a green lounge chair by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler, the lead designers behind <a href="https://www.r-and-company.com/exhibition/forma/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Forma" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Forma</a>, an influential São Paulo–based furniture company of the midcentury. </div>
In the master suite, above the gray linen platform bed from RH, we see a diptych by Indian artist Raqib Shaw, known for creating intricate images inlaid with gems. The nightstands are anonymous vintage pieces from Brazil. Behind the double doors is a green lounge chair by Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler, the lead designers behind Forma, an influential São Paulo–based furniture company of the midcentury.
<div class="caption"> A corner of the master suite, furnished with a jacarandá loveseat produced in the 1950s by the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios in São Paulo. The coffee table, with wooden legs that fold down like origami, is one of Jorge Zalszupin’s most recognizable pieces. The triptych by Geta Bratescu was shown at the 2017 Venice Biennale, in a pavilion dedicated to her 70-year career. </div>

A corner of the master suite, furnished with a jacarandá loveseat produced in the 1950s by the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios in São Paulo. The coffee table, with wooden legs that fold down like origami, is one of Jorge Zalszupin’s most recognizable pieces. The triptych by Geta Bratescu was shown at the 2017 Venice Biennale, in a pavilion dedicated to her 70-year career.

<div class="caption"> Steele’s marble bathroom (yes, the spouses have separate bathrooms, which they say is “key to the success of our marriage”) has vintage letters from a former gas station in Beirut and a painting by British writer and artist Harland Miller. </div>

Steele’s marble bathroom (yes, the spouses have separate bathrooms, which they say is “key to the success of our marriage”) has vintage letters from a former gas station in Beirut and a painting by British writer and artist Harland Miller.

<div class="caption"> For a change, there are no Brazilian furnishings in this corner of the guest bedroom. The desk is a 1950s piece thought to be an original Gio Ponti (although the couple has not been able to confirm this) paired with a 1940s Singer sewing chair. On the easel is a Louise Bourgeois sketching titled <em>We Love You</em>. </div>

For a change, there are no Brazilian furnishings in this corner of the guest bedroom. The desk is a 1950s piece thought to be an original Gio Ponti (although the couple has not been able to confirm this) paired with a 1940s Singer sewing chair. On the easel is a Louise Bourgeois sketching titled We Love You.

<div class="caption"> In the media room, the two men display what they call their “homoerotic collection.” Aside from nudes and depictions of sex acts, the wall shows an image of influential American artist Cindy Sherman in male drag. “All of these works have to do with different concepts of masculinity through an erotic lens,” explains Steele. The pillowed sofa is by contemporary Brazilian designer <a href="https://www.jaderalmeida.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jader Almeida" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jader Almeida</a>, and the custom glass coffee table is by <a href="https://www.fredriksonstallard.com/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fredrikson Stallard" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Fredrikson Stallard</a>. </div>
In the media room, the two men display what they call their “homoerotic collection.” Aside from nudes and depictions of sex acts, the wall shows an image of influential American artist Cindy Sherman in male drag. “All of these works have to do with different concepts of masculinity through an erotic lens,” explains Steele. The pillowed sofa is by contemporary Brazilian designer Jader Almeida, and the custom glass coffee table is by Fredrikson Stallard.
<div class="caption"> In this hallway, a Geraldo de Barros jacarandá sideboard is a perfect match for Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s bronze-and-glass wall sculpture. The side walls are hung with works by Paloma Bosquê, also from Brazil, Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian multimedia artist, the American multidisciplinary artist Michelle Stuart, and Sergej Jensen, a Danish painter. </div>

In this hallway, a Geraldo de Barros jacarandá sideboard is a perfect match for Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s bronze-and-glass wall sculpture. The side walls are hung with works by Paloma Bosquê, also from Brazil, Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian multimedia artist, the American multidisciplinary artist Michelle Stuart, and Sergej Jensen, a Danish painter.

“We bring out the best in each other—I’ve become a more interesting person since I met him,” says De Santi. To which his husband replies: “He was always interesting, but he’s certainly a bit more social than he was before.” Though the couple are enjoying each other’s company, they are also eager to resume their lively dinner parties, which would often spill out into the house’s lush garden, with bossa nova beats playing in the background.

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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