Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 7/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
firm:studio arthur casas
site: são paulo, brazil
Before they paved paradise on the outskirts of São Paulo, the Vila Olímpia neighborhood used to be remarkable for a free-flowing stream and proximity to one of the Brazilian city's largest parks. The suburban jungle has taken over since then. Things being what they are, a group of investors bought what has come to pass for open space—an awkwardly proportioned sliver between low-rise industrial buildings—and replaced it with an oasis in the form of a restaurant and lounge named Kaá, the indigenous word for rain forest.
The 9,700-square-foot building that Studio Arthur Casas constructed on the site has a rustic ethos, evoking paradise lost. The front door is a simple hinged slab of rusted steel. It's recessed in an otherwise blank facade, clad in tooled cement plaster, to block traffic noise from a crowded avenue and protect an unexpectedly lush interior. One long sidewall is essentially a vertical rain forest, thanks to a system of vessels for potted plants. Arriving guests skirt a large reflecting pool above which a waterproof canopy folds away as often as weather permits. Temperature is not the deciding factor, Interior Design Hall of Fame member Arthur Casas explains: "The main problem in São Paulo is that it rains a lot." Despite the subtropical heat, guests stay cool with the help of an eco-friendly evaporative-misting cooling system.
Next in the sequence after reception, a lounge is furnished with the Casas take on Barcelona chairs. The straps are saddle leather, and upholstery is nubby handwoven fabric. For the frames, he chose a Brazilian hardwood—which strikes him as an amusingly low-tech alternative to Miesian polished chrome. He used planks of cumaru, know as Brazilian teak, for the flooring on this side of the long, narrow space.
Opposite, halfway along the plant wall, the greenery is interrupted by a U-shape bar. It's built from rough blocks of a local stone similar to granite, stacked only to dining height and surrounded by Eero Saarinen side chairs rather than taller stools. Bartenders don't tower over their customers, though, since Casas carved out a 19-inch-deep well inside the bar. The counter and the shelving behind are also cumaru. Shelves brim with ceramic and wooden artifacts, vintage straw baskets, vintage books, rows of wine bottles, actually empty, and up-lit liquor bottles, full. Artisanal gives way to architectural with nearby artwork, its kaleidoscopic black-and-white curves derived from a photograph of the city's undulating Edificio Copan apartments by Oscar Niemeyer.
In the rear dining area, the side hugging the plant wall has a retractable canvas canopy like the entry's. "You're eating your meal in a garden. I love the green," Casas says. Overhead hang banners of the rustic open-weave matting often seen shading cabins in the countryside. Here, the matting waves gently in the breeze of ceiling fans. Chairs on the open-air side of the dining area are inexpensive weatherproof models, while Saarinen's linen-upholstered chairs reappear on the side sheltered under a mezzanine supported by a row of I beams. Their velvety rust was achieved completely naturally, during a two-year pause in construction while backers for the project came and went.
Locals seem to agree that Kaá was worth the wait. And then some. The enclosed, air-conditioned mezzanine, intended for special events, more typically serves as a refrigerated way station for those on the list for a table downstairs on sultry São Paulo nights.
Photography by Leonardo Finotti.
FROM FRONT RAY DIMENEZES: PENDANT FIXTURE (BAR). CASAS EDIÇÕES: LAMPS (LOUNGE). NANI CHINELLATO: CUSTOM PILLOWS, RUG. CASAMATRIZ: CUSTOM CHAIRS (LOUNGE), BENCH (GARDEN). ITAARTE: STOOLS (LOUNGE), COCKTAIL TABLES (GARDEN). THROUGH EMPÓRIO BERALDIN: BENCH FABRIC (GARDEN). KNOLL THROUGH HERANÇA CULTURAL: CHAIRS (BAR). JRJ TECIDOS: CHAIR FABRIC. TOLDOS DIAS: CUSTOM CANOPY (ENTRY). THROUGHOUT RECOMA: FLOOR, CEILING PLANKS. TINTAS CORAL: PAINT. PASINATO IMP. E EXP.: STONE SUPPLIER. QUADRO VIVO: LANDSCAPING CONSULTANT. FRANCO & FORTES LIGHTING DESIGN: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. IBRATIN: CONCRETE WORK. MARCENARIA TANIGUCHI: WOODWORK. INIS ENGENHARIA E CONSULTORIA: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.