Wise investment for an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, architect Kiko Salomao is bullish on travertine and pau ferro

An Investment Firm Office

TRAVERTINE MARBLE TRADITIONALLY communicates prosperity, gravitas, and a somewhat alienating formality. In the expansive lobby of a Brazilian investment firm, however, architect Kiko Salomao left the travertine walls, floor, and reception desk in a creamy, unpolished state, lending a surprising warmth and earthiness to the material’s starched-and-pressed mien. This treatment mirrors the architect’s overarching strategy: loosening up the cool orthogonality of the International Style to strike a professional–but not stuffy–note. Modernism need not be cold and austere, says Salomao: “It can actually be cozy and chic.”

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The minimal-rich look dovetailed with the sensibility of his thirty-something client, who had launched a boutique firm after selling an Internet company located in the very same Sao Paulo building.

 

“He comes from a traditional family and tends to favor a classic look,” explains Salomao. But the architect, who’d masterminded the young entrepreneur’s previous office, argued for a slightly swankier vibe.

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Floors and Rooms in the Office

After gutting the new, 7,500-square-foot full-floor space–ripping out floors, subfloors, and ceiling and upgrading plumbing and wiring–the architect sketched out a flexible layout that would ease growing pains and accommodate fluctuations in population as client companies utilized short-term space. (Employee numbers rose from six to 20 over the course of the five-month renovation.) Salomao thus delivered three offices in one. Each of two self-contained wings comprises workstations, a private office, and a conference room. The third zone, the president’s suite, houses a corner office, a lounge, and an 18-seat boardroom, all connected by pivot doors. “He needs a huge space for pitching business plans,” says Salomao.

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Although the three areas can function separately, a unifying aesthetic allows them to read as one. Neutral tones and a restrained materials palette of marble and mocha-hued Brazilian pau ferro predominate. So does an emphasis on symmetry.

“The lines throughout are very straight. I tend not to use curves in my work,” says Salomao. Save for the lobby, softened by Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chairs and illuminated circular cutouts in the ceiling, the office is a subtle paean to the grid. In the boardroom, an enormous, 13-by-15-foot unpolished marble tabletop appears to float on its aluminum pedestal base. “The office is unheated, and marble can become very cold,” says Salomao. “I used a matte finish to make it warm to the touch.” Above hangs a custom Alucobond fixture that incorporates both direct downward lighting and indirect up-lights, all adjustable for a range of effects. The unit protrudes from a 2-foot-deep niche, one of several instances where Salomao took advantage of low ceilings to create variations on the grid theme. The lounge’s track lighting, to cite another example, is arranged in concentric rectilinear troughs.

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Work by Brazilian artists–including Vik Muniz and Victor Brecheret pieces from the client’s own collection–adorns spaces furnished with a mix of vintage finds and clean-lined Salomao designs. Of particular note is the president’s desk, inspired by one that the architect saw in an Italian magazine many years ago and recreated from memory. “It’s very `50s, very squared-off, with a metal base and an angled wood top,” he says. He also designed the long, low credenzas in the president’s office, internal conference rooms, and lounge. A true sign of the office’s informal character, the lounge credenza’s top flips up to reveal a minibar, at the ready to celebrate a successful pitch.

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