In the last decade, many creators and entrepreneurs, especially French, have turned to Portugal. This craze raises questions… Quality of life, growing businesses? Portuguese design is gradually forging its identity, and is exhibiting itself, as we saw again at the last Maison & Objet. And it is partly to Toni Grilo that we owe this visibility. Designer and artistic director, he has been working for 10 years to promote the know-how of this country. The story of a committed designer.
Born in Nancy, France in 1979, graduated from the Ecole Boulle in 2001, Toni Grilo chose to return to his roots by settling in Porto, a large city in the northern region where most of the furniture industry is located. Other friends and collaborating designers have done the same, Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, Gabriel Tan, united by the desire to promote local craftsmanship by opening stores and galleries, while taking another look. “But you have to work hard to be accepted as a designer. It’s not yet an integrated process in the Portuguese culture. he explains. In the beginning, he offered his designs to traditional manufacturers, but the flow did not pass. With time and perseverance, the sharp knowledge of the field of techniques and materials, he initiated collaborations as artistic director, with companies in demand of opening in order to propose them another economic perspective, more upscale (Sofalca, Riluc).
An attraction for cork
In 2014, he solicited Sofalca, a family-owned factory, as is often the case in Portugal, which has specialized in the transformation of black cork since 1966. From this natural material a little anchored in the seventies, the company manufactures corks, flooring, shoes, helmets … From what remains of the tree, the branches on one side, the wood on the other, is heated with water to 400 ° and then injected into molds. The result is thicker blocks of expanded cork that are much lighter and darker due to the effect of heat. From this new innovation in black cork, 100% recyclable in infinity, followed the launch of BlackCork, a brand that develops design furniture. “All shapes are rounded because of the fragility of the material. I refuse to add glue or resin. “The other brand promoted by the company, Gencork, designs acoustic and insulating panels with generative shapes and futuristic design, intended for architects.
Building a dialogue
Intermediary between the design and the manufacturer, Toni Grilo underlines that the management and the approach, in the process of creation and manufacture, with the Portuguese industrialists, are very different from those which he lived in France. “You have to go to people, take the time to have lunch with them, put them at ease, put the friendly side first,” he says. In seeking to develop a design that did not exist in Portugal, he recognizes that there is still a way to go. He also follows young designers to whom he gives advice and recommendations. “From the design stage, we must master the techniques (machines, material properties), a bit like a cook who must know the food before developing a recipe. I build a dialogue in order to make the project together. On the other hand, I am not an agent, but a designer and art director who accompanies brands and creators in their approach. “
Passing on the Portuguese identity
His personal work draws inspiration from classic Portuguese design and craftsmanship. He returns to this today, as a great practitioner of materials, since the creation of the Marie lamp (2012), launched with David Hayman, a common form declined in Carrara marble, polished aluminum, cork, or for the same publisher the Dartagnan collection in wood and leather. At Riluc, the Many Wordls sofa has become an iconic sculptural piece produced in limited edition as the Bibendum lounge chair in 2019, while the brand new Elixir bar trolley, highlights the beauty of steel and glass.
As for the small Canoa chair all in raw wood redesigned by Toni Grilo, it is a very common model in Portugal, emblematic of the anonymous popular design. “What interests me is the human relationship I build with the people I meet; once I have made a piece, even a complex one, I move on and it is forgotten. “. A spokesperson for Portuguese design with a prolific body of work, very accomplished in the understanding and appropriation of forms and materials, Toni Grilo transmits with generosity and simplicity his know-how so that the identity of Portuguese design may endure.