A quick visit to Portugal and you’ll be instantly captivated by the reality of life around you: the sweltering heat, the 19th century architecture, the history contained in the ancient hand-painted azulejos…
Located in the extreme southwest of Europe, Portugal gets a lot of attention as a traveler’s destination but, it turns out, it’s not a bad place to shop for design either. Let’s dive in.
History is deeply ingrained in Portuguese design.
Portugal may be a small country, but its excellent geographic location between the Americas, Africa and Europe gave birth to generations of adventurous seamen and world-class explorers.
A great seafaring empire, Portugal benefited substantially from its rich cultural legacy: Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Visigothic and Moorish.
As history goes, the Portuguese paved the way for cultural globalization and cross-pollination. They were the first Europeans to reach Japan in 1543, introduced tea to the British court in 1662 and brought the ukulele to Hawaii in 1879.
Naturally, the country’s 500-year history of colonial and commercial empire-building in Africa, Asia and the Americas brought a unique mix of styles and design elements we can still see today.
“A distinct aesthetic and cultural heritage contribute to Portugal’s unique character.“
There are a number of unique characteristics that have contributed to Portuguese design:
1. A blend of heritage and modernity
Portuguese design is characterized by a blending of traditional elements with modern design. A mix of European, Brazilian, African and Oriental influences produces a unique aesthetic that is both timeless and contemporary.
Examples of this include ornate patterns and baroque architecture, such as intricate Moorish tilework and Portuguese azulejos. We can also uncover late-Gothic, Manueline elements like pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, and elaborate stone carvings.
2. The use of natural materials
Portugal’s landscape, climate, and cultural heritage inspire the use of natural materials such as cork, wood, clay and stone. These materials give Portuguese design a distinct visual language that exudes the authentic beauty of the country’s natural environment and its strong connection to numerous well-preserved historical sites.
3. Bold use of color
Portugal’s colonial history in Brazil has also had a significant impact in design. Elements such as colorful patterns and tropical motifs reflect Brazilian influences.
In the early 20th century, the Art Deco movement that emerged in Portugal was characterized by its use of bold colors, geometric shapes, and intricate patterns.
Portuguese artists of the first and second avant-garde modernism used traditional elements combined with modern design to produce an eclectic and decorative fusion in graphic design, advertising, scenography, cinema, and decorative arts.
4. Attention to detail
The use of intricate patterns and designs by Portuguese designers are reflective of the country’s past.
Traces of Art Nouveau in Aveiro, Lisbon and Oporto are predominantly seen in the fields of architecture and decorative arts. The movement that spanned between 1904 and 1920 articulates a high sensibility in front facades, woodwork and traditional decorative tiles.
5. Emphasis on craftsmanship
The work of Portuguese designers is often characterized by an emphasis on quality craftsmanship. Craftsmen cleverly combine their ancestral know-how with delightful contemporary creations.
The country’s long tradition of crafts include unique forms of embroidery, lace, tapestry, weaving, jewelry, basketry and hand painted ceramics.
From the perfect carving of the wood to the exact cut of the design, Portuguese woodworking is an example of continuity evolution. The region’s ancient art is anchored in history and a constant appreciation of hallmark artisanal techniques.
Traditional Portuguese elements create a unique brand identity.
Portugal is home to a globally recognized design-led talent pool, whose work contains echoes of cultural and cross-cultural traditions.