The devil is in the details

From yachts and jet interiors to exquisite furnishings…Homefront joins mother and daughter team, Joana and Marta Aranha in their Lisbon studio to hear more about their dynamic partnership and the work they’ve done globally.


Q) You’re invited to work on an amazing variety of design projects in different countries. Do you enjoy working away from home? 

A) Our established clients and our friendships take us abroad. We have had commissions for several private residences in Africa, vacation homes in Brazil and we’re currently working on a hotel in Guinea Bissau, an office building and a residence in India and a classic townhouse in London. We’d say that 20% of our work is offshore these days. It’s a nice balance.

Q) Joana Aranha was established 40 plus years ago. Can you tell us about your creative journey? 

A) When I was a kid, my dad loved to go to antique stores and collecting things. My mother, on the other hand, had a delicacy of hands that always impressed me… and she was passionate about the beauty of things. I was very influenced by them. Everything awakens my senses and helps me idealize amazing environments. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grocery store, an incredible palace, a private jet or even a hotel. It is the search for beauty that inspires me.

And I’ve always had a strong desire to work. To have my own space. My own studio. And that’s what I did—literally—in my parents’ garage. That was how it all started. Then I started doing projects in friends’ houses, friends’ parents’ houses… the word was spreading and that’s how I started to grow.

And then came Marta. About 12 years ago. And after a short time, things started to take on a new dimension. With Marta’s architectural vision, we started to offer our clients an even more complete service.

Q) Can you tell us about the unique challenges of designing yacht and private jet interiors? 

A) The biggest challenge in a project like a yacht or a private jet is the lack of roots to a location. These are both projects in movement. And, since we get a great deal of inspiration from the context in which the houses are embedded, a place that is unrelated to an environment is somehow more difficult to work with.

Besides this, there are a lot of restrictions regarding weights, proportions, balances and dimensions on boats and planes. We have to create layouts that offer comfort without compromising safety, and focus on functionality and well-being in a very limited space. As well, there are lots of people involved, especially when it’s an aircraft. For instance, when we designed the Falcon 7X you see here, we had to work closely with engineers, so our designs didn’t compromise safety in any way.

Q) You employ wisdom, sensibility and charm to creatively mix different materials, colours textile and objects. What is your trademark? 

A) Absolutely! It is undeniably what defines our language as a studio. The eclecticism that comes from the fusion of contemporary pieces with classic details goes well with our way of blending of noble materials with those of a simpler and more modest nature. 

We design houses that tell stories. Every home becomes a unique blend of the past, the present, the client’s experiences and its location. 

Q) Architecture projects are directed by Marta whose work has been referred to as surprising. Do clients enjoy being surprised? 

A) They sure do in many ways! Whether it’s a detail of a kitchen cabinet door that opens and is painted a different colour inside, or a hidden feature they discover in time, we want to create happiness and make a clients’ lives easier, simpler and more functional. 

Q) Do you consider the importance of adding something new and valuable to the world in every project? Can you share some examples? 

A) Definitely. We work a lot with local artisans, more perhaps than with big brands. It’s a way of customizing and personalizing our work to the fullest. It’s also a way to help small local businesses. Every time we have a sofa made, or a piece of furniture, or a wicker basket, we are feeding those families. We feel that we have this social responsibility, and we take it very seriously. Besides, we have met amazing people with unbelievable hands and talents.

An antique piece, as valuable as it may be in our view, actually gains added value if properly placed. We don’t simply lay objects down, we mix them. And in the end, we finish our projects with flowers, and we leave music playing. We don’t stop until the last detail is in place. 

Q) Can you talk about happiness and the rigour of blending sustainability and comfort? 

A) Creating happiness is exactly about creating comfort. Sensibility is needed to choose and to mix. We are very careful in choosing the materials and we love them in purest state. The woods, the natural stones, the linens, the silks. We choose materials by touch. Pleasant, sustainable, and close to nature. The touch is crucial! 

Regarding sustainability we have had classes to teach our team about smart choices. When the team was ready, we were selected to be part of the Wellness Within Your Walls association that focusses on building and designing healthier interior environments.

In addition, we use many antiques in our projects. Something that besides being a good investment for our clients, is also a highly sustainable approach. These are pieces with history that gain a new purpose in a new home or office and we love that.

Q) What has been your most interesting or most challenging project? Are they one in the same? 

A) Without a doubt the private jet, for the reasons already mentioned—the restrictions and the army of people involved. 

The most interesting project is hard to tell—perhaps a townhouse in one of the noblest and most emblematic areas of the city of Lisbon. The clients were amazing and super fun, and the house was absolutely gorgeous, even though it was not in very good shape. All the interiors of this house had to be redone by our studio. It took months. 

Q) You’re mother and daughter. How closely do you work together? Is that easy? 

A) It definitely took us some time to adapt. It has some very good aspects, but it also has some not so positive challenges. We have built our chemistry over the years. Nowadays we have a very nice dynamic and work closely together, every day. It’s great! We see things in the same way, finish each other sentences and understand each other just with a look. We even give the exact same opinion in separate rooms. Sometimes it’s just weird, but a good weird! Working together most of the time is a blessing. A constant gather of moments and lessons. We are very lucky to have this bond!

Q) Most inspiring travel experience and why?

Joana: I’d say that the most inspiring trips I have made have been to Africa and Asia. Africa inspires by the wisdom of its people, their kindness. The energy you feel, the craftsmanship and the earthy colours. In Asia, on the
other hand, specifically in India, it’s incredibly inspiring to see, the hands of the artisans, the threads, the embroideries, the dyeing, the mix of colours. The possibilities are endless.

Marta: My most inspiring travel experience was to Buenos Aires and Peru, more precisely one of the seven wonders of the world: Machu Picchu. It was wonderful to see how people lived, how they planted different species in different levels and how they got to Machu Picchu. It was an unbelievable lesson in intelligence and wisdom. In addition, the whole culture of the country is mind-blowing. The tango, the antiques on the street, people dancing everywhere, fabrics being made right there in front of us. It was incredible.

Q) Mentor and/or most interesting person you’ve met or would like to meet?

Joana: Two names that immediately pop into my head are Alberto Pinto and David Hicks. Even though I no longer have the possibility of meeting them. 

Marta: I would love to meet Peter Zumthor, the architect. I identify with his creative process. He is not concerned with creating his own language, but rather with responding to a need allied to a very strong concept of place.

Q) Is the devil really in the details? 

A) Even the smallest detail can have a huge impact in a space. We spend time and attention on details, and we believe that differentiates us. Whether it’s the trimming of a curtain, a family phrase embroidered on an armchair, a headboard hand-painted with motifs, switches that match perfectly the house’s colour pallet and atmosphere or a custom-made incense piece. Everything matters and every little thing is necessary in the creation of the right vision. 

Q) You talk about “opening doors” to happiness. Please explain? 

A) This is a job of great responsibility because we go very deep into our clients’ lives and their intimacy. Every day we wake up with the happy feeling of knowing that our work has a huge impact on people’s lives. A house can have the power to change a life completely.

Q) Charming and extraordinary often describes your work. How do you achieve those elements? 

A) Our motto is: “Extraordinary Living for Extraordinary People”. We like to work with people we can identify with, honest, well lived, charming and extraordinary. And we want to give them the kind of living and working spaces that they deserve and that suit them.

Q) What changes have you seen that have positively or negatively affected your day-to-day? 

A) We have improved a lot in terms of our working space/facilities, and this has had a very positive impact on our day-to-day. About 10 years ago we moved to a space completely adapted for us and to the studio’s needs. It is an old warehouse in the old industrial part of the city of Lisbon. We now have space to breathe, to think, to let creativity flow and of course to welcome clients in a much more interesting way. A much larger unbelievable sample room which is a very important part of the whole creative process. Whether it is a piece that we collected from our travels, or natural materials that we discovered, or our custom-made finishes, our creative process is very innate and censorial.

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