Three Latin American Design Studios Creating Colorful Spaces Inspired by Culture, Craftsmanship and the Coast

In his essay “Latin American Architecture Today” for the thirty-fourth issue of Harvard Design Magazine, Spanish architect Iñaki Ábalos identified “four principal vectors” of Modernist Latin American architecture and design. These are “Latin America’s territorial specificities and its pre-Columbian heritage,” its ties to Europe and the Americas, its “vernacular techniques and specific natural and climatic environment” and its desire for recognition beyond the continent.

Diverse in concept, execution and intention, Latin American design cannot be defined as a whole. However, Latin American interior, product and architectural designers often reference the four vectors outlined above by Iñaki Ábalos. The three design studios featured below each reference one — if not more — of Ábalos’ vectors. Gustavo Quintana and Estefanía de Ros of Agnes Studio in Guatemala City draw from pre-Columbian rituals, Mayan legends and Guatemala’s unique landscape. On the other hand, Hugo Grisanti and Kana Cussen of Grisanti & Cussen in Santiago travel abroad for products that suit their designs. Though all have different approaches and inspirations, each designer works with local artisans to produce vibrant, inviting spaces. Follow below to learn about three Latin American design studios creating colorful spaces inspired by culture, craftsmanship and the coast.

#1 Gustavo Quintana and Estefanía de Ros of Agnes Studio in Guatemala City, Guatemala and Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Interior and furniture designer Estefanía de Ros and architect Gustavo

Quintana-Kennedy founded Guatemalan product design studio Agnes Studio five years ago in 2017. The pair split their time between Guatemala City — the capital of Guatemala located just fifty miles from Monterrico Beach — and Providence, Rhode Island in the United States. Monterrico Beach is famous for its black volcanic sands while the nickname of Rhode Island is “the Ocean State.” Pieces designed by de Ros and Quintana-Kennedy are inspired by the natural landscape of Guatemala and the ways in which the country may have evolved had it not been molded by colonialism. In her article “6 Rising Design Studios From Central and South America to Know” for The New York Times, Alice Newll-Hanson writes that furniture designed by Agnes Studio “offers a kind of aesthetic revisionist history, one in which Mayan civilization evolved with less European interference.”

Agnes Studio’s Design Inspirations

Quintana-Kennedy and de Ros have referenced Joseph Hoffman, Marcel Breuer, Lina Bo Bardi and Efrain Recinos — among others — as their modern design icons. De Ros and Quintana-Kennedy often draw inspiration from the landscape of the Guatemalan highlands, the lakes surrounding dormant volcanoes, tales from Mayan mythology and elements of pre-Columbian rituals. As Alice Newell-Hanson notes in her article “6 Rising Design Studios From Central and South America to Know” for The New York Times, both the symbolism and the materials are ancient.

Pictured above is a textile from Agnes Studio’s Apolonio collection. Each is hand-woven by an all-women collective in Momostenango.

One of the brand’s most notable product series is their Piedra Viva / Living Stone capsule collection. According to Julia Ardila in a 2019 article about Agnes Studio for Kriteria, “‘Living-Stone’ offers an alternative outcome to their region’s history, envisioning design in a post-human utopia.” Ardila writes that de Ros and Quintana-Kennedy “spent two years researching pre- Columbian craftsmanship before launching their capsule collection.” Agnes Studio’s Living Stone collection seeks to tie “ancient, ceremonial rituals to the rituals of daily life.”

Materials and Working Process

De Ros and Quintana-Kennedy work hand in hand with local artisans to create their pieces — honoring ancient techniques, indigenous materials and centuries of craftsmanship. Quintana-Kennedy and de Ros also prioritize sustainability, considering how each material is sourced and processed. In an interview with NESS Magazine, Estefanía de Ros noted that they tend to work with natural materials like “wool, stone, wood, wicker, aluminum, cotton, and bronze.” They also work with black marble, volcanic rock, Concaste wood and pine. In an interview with Dwell Magazine, the pair identified volcanic rock as their favorite material to work with.

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala and Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Notable Projects: Apolonio Series, Lana Series, Altar Series, Codex Series

How to Follow: @agnesstudio.co on Instagram, pre-order Woman Made: Great Women Designers by Jane Hall, which features de Ros

#2 Hugo Grisanti and Kana Cussen of Grisanti & Cussen in Santiago, Chile

Interior designer Kana Cussen and professor and architect Hugo Grisanti founded the Santiago-based Grisanti & Cussen design studio in 2007. Cussen and Grisanti met several years earlier while Cussen was studying design under Grisanti. On their studio’s website, Kana Cussen and Hugo Grisanti identify their “most emblematic” projects as Hotel Bidasoa and Hotel Castillo Rojo. Notable coastal design projects include a colorful beach house in Maitencillo, Valparaíso, Chile.

Though Grisanti and Cussen often draw inspiration from previous periods of design, art and architecture, the pair has not adopted a signature style. This is because — according to Grisanti and Cussen — they “design with people in mind…[and approach] each new commission as a universe of its own.”

Grisanti & Cussen Blend Antique with Contemporary and Local with International

The design studio might not have a signature style, but their interiors are certainly recognizable. In her article “Summer Reading List: Phaidon’s New Book Is A

Must-Read For Interior Design Lovers” for Forbes, Julia Brenner refers to Grisanti & Cussen’s designs as “sublimely saturated.” Santiago-based writer Eileen Smith recently quoted Grisanti and Cussen in her article “Southern Exposure: 4 South American Designers Taking on the World” for Christie’s Luxury Defined publication. According to Smith, Cussen and Grisanti often travel far and wide to source products for their clients because “the Chilean market is flooded with cheap imports.” To capture the culture and craftsmanship of Chile, however, Cussen and Grisant then “blend what they find with work from local artisans.” By combining the antique and contemporary with the local and international, Cussena nd Grisanti “create timeless experiences” that come alive in vibrant, evocative interiors.

Location: Santiago, Chile

Notable Projects: Apartment Departamento Maitencillo in Costamai and Hotel Bidasoa in Santiago

How to Follow: @grisanticussen_cl on Instagram

#3 Sofia Alvarado of FI Studio in Panama City, Panama

Panamanian architect and product designer Sofia Alvarado founded Fi Studio in 2013. Closer to art than design, Alvarado’s furniture has been exhibited Sao Paulo Design Week, MADE Latina and in the Ibero-American Design Biennial three times. Though Alvarado continues to create pieces for sale — such as Aurea Plant Stand and her Magazine Rack — her most recent collection was produced in 2019. Her retro-inspired Welcome Back collection was widely celebrated — written up in a variety of international publications such as Design Milk, Kriteria and Plain Magazine.

In an interview with Plain Magazine’s Kala Barba-Court, Sofia Alvarado described the collection as “‘a tribute to the freedom we have in childhood that we leave behind when entering adulthood.’” Like many of her earlier and subsequent works, furniture from the Welcome Back collection are rendered in “lovely tones of pale pinks, deep greens and shocks of yellow,” with each piece expressing “happiness, meticulousness and individuality.” Other collections include Fi Studio’s Prisma Collection, Beautiful City Collection and Áurea Collection.

Sofia Alvarado’s Materials, Process and Design Icons

Her work often references the shapes, lines and materials of furniture from the 1920s, the mid 20th century and antiquity. They are most often constructed from various metals and woods, which Alvarado considers strong and easy to manipulate. Each piece of furniture designed by Alvarado is either hand-crafted by her or members of her team.

Sofia Alvarado recently identified her design icons as Ettore Sottsass, Jean Prouvé, Eileen Gray and Muller Van Severen. Pieces are listed either as unique or limited edition items — often in a series of ten or fewer. When asked about this approach by Ignacio Urbina Polo in an interview for Di-Conexiones, Alvardo said “‘I’m not interested in making a thousand equal chairs, I’m interested in making one incredible one.’”

Location: Panama City, Panama

Notable Projects: Welcome Back Collection, Prisma Collection, Beautiful City Collection and Áurea Collection

How to Follow: @fi_sss on Instagram

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