Sergio Rodrigues is one of the foremost exponents of modern furniture in the world, and one of the last to leave us. Born in 1927 in Rio de Janeiro, he died in the same city in 2014, the year he celebrated six decades of continuous activity in furniture design having developed more than 1,200 projects. He played a most significant role in architecture – the discipline in which he graduated in 1952 – and was also a remarkable draftsman.
Sergio Rodrigues, from the very beginning, followed his own path, which turned the expression of Brazilian identity into a deliberate quest. He drew from the colonial tradition and Iberian heritage to forge pieces that met the demands of modernist architecture, however with a strong Brazilian accent. In this sense he was a forerunner, because at that time the functionalist and international languages prevailed.
In 1955, he founded the Oca, a name that highlights an intention: to revive the spirit of simplicity of the indigenous abode, integrating past and present in Brazilian material culture. Through this company, he supplied a significant part of the furniture for the interiors of the buildings of the then forthcoming federal capital, Brasília. In Rio de Janeiro, he began to meet the middle class yearning for objects that conveyed the effervescent spirit of a time when everything was “new”, from Bossa Nova music to New Cinema. In addition to a factory, Oca also had an interior architecture studio, ambience, set design and decoration components together with an art gallery and an exhibition of his own furniture.
From the outset the chairs of Sergio Rodrigues broke away from the elegant and well behaved ways of sitting, foreseeing the demand for informality that would come to dominate the interiors of the homes of the young intellectualized middle class in the sixties. His most famous creation, the Mole armchair, of 1957 mirrors this radicalism. Robust, it has a framework of turned solid wood, leather straps and upholstered cushions. The armchair invites relaxation and coziness, offering comfort reminiscent of a hammock, the most traditional item of the Brazilian home.
“In the Mole armchair one does not sit, one lounges” wrote journalist Sergio Augusto. For Odilon Ribeiro Coutinho sociologist, it “has the pampering and wanton coziness of the slave quarters.” In a book from 1975, the critic and designer Clement Meadmore considered it “one of the 30 most important seats of the 20th century.” This armchair was awarded first prize at the International Furniture Competition in Cantu, Italy in 1961, where it was called Sheriff by the company Isa, Bergamo, Italy, that from then on produced and exported it to many countries.
Other key works of his career are the Mocho stool, 1954, based on the stool for milking cows; the armchair Kilin, 1973, which also recalls the hammock; and the armchair Diz, 2001, a project of his full maturity, only in wood, which grants the utmost comfort to the user.
Sergio Rodrigues left Oca in 1968 and after that started to work in his office developing furniture lines, architecture design and ambience of hotels, homes and offices, and prefabricated housing systems. The production of his furniture was taken over in 2001 by the company LinBrasil. Thereafter, his furniture achieved great penetration in the Brazilian and international markets.
Sergio has won numerous awards, including the Lapiz de Plata, Bienal de Arquitetura de Buenos Aires, in 1982 for his body of work; and the First Place at the 20th Award “Museu da Casa Brasileira”, Sao Paulo, in 2006, for his armchair Diz. The Encyclopedia Delta Larousse presents him in an entry as “the creator of the modern Brazilian furniture”. His work has been featured in several exhibitions, not only in Brazil but also in Italy, Spain and the United States.