Thursday, February 2, 2023

The designer who conquered the world

Photo: Pedro Correia da Silva

Interview with Nini Andrade Silva

Sofia Rainho

She is known as the interior designer of Madeira, but Nini Andrade Silva likes everything related to both art and creating. She has already lost count of the number of awards, national and international, she received for the design work she developed for hundreds of hotels in different parts of the world. She says her hobby is work.

Nini Andrade Silva is one of the most prestigious interior designers in the world, with works spread over several continents. Born in Funchal, she graduated from the Institute of Visual Arts, Design and Marketing (IADE) in Lisbon and worked in places such as New York, South Africa, London, Paris and Denmark. She is passionate about Madeira and she is proud to take the Portuguese flag to the four corners of the world. A big supporter of “made in Portugal”, she recently embraced yet another challenge – The brands of Portugal.

Nini Andrade de Silva is 58 years old and she developed her career for more than 35 years now. Laughter is always there in a conversation with this Madeiran designer and her enthusiasm is contagious. “My hobby is working. (She laughs) I love to work ”, she assumes without hesitation.

Six years ago, her dream came true, e.g. opening her Design Centre in the port of Funchal, in the old Fort of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, where 25 employees currently work and where the awards for her work in hotels and others are on display, next to the first items for Garouta do Calhau – a prestigious brand inspired in the stones of Madeira Island (pebbles) and also a social cause aimed at assisting the most vulnerable named after this brand.

Recognized, nationally and internationally, as the interior designer of Madeira, Nini Andrade Silva also paints, makes floral arrangements, designs jewellery, clothes and ceramic objects… But what pleases her most is everything related to the creation and, therefore, when asked about this she says she cannot single out a particular art. “I like creating nearly everything, coming up with an idea and creating”, this designer says and she explains: “if it is a painting or a jewel, something that depends on me alone, I can have far more freedom, but when it’s up for the client to decide sometimes it becomes more difficult as I need to convince my client that I’m right”. Oddly enough the projects she was able to develop on her own and freely brought her most of the awards to date.

Nini Andrade Silva has already lost count of the number of awards she received. “There are Awards every year and we have many already. It’s very good because we are recognized and the awards bring more work”, explains the designer.

She inherited her taste for painting from her father. “My father was a true artist, he painted and sang. I don’t know how to sing, unfortunately, I don’t have a good voice (she laughs) but I know how to paint since I was a child. My father told me before he died: Nini, you are an artist, never stop painting, you are my continuation. And I will never forget that”, she recalls.

She tells us that as a child she always loved sports and ballet, she used to swim a roller skate, but now, says Nini Andrade Silva laughing, “my sport is really creating”.

The black or white line is her signature and is there in the decoration of many hotels and her “design centre”, whether in carpets, cushions … “it is a line of roads, of airports and the line of my life”.

As a child, I dreamed of becoming a designer. “I always knew I would study arts, but I always liked helping people and chasing a cause to help people and I thought at some point of becoming a social worker”, says Nini.

Today she does both things. Nini heads the association “A Garouta do Calhau” – an organization with several social projects supporting people young and old. The name of the association was chosen by this interior designer and is closely linked to her painting work, inspired in the pebble boys – name after the kids walking on the shingle beaches of Madeira island some years ago and who, together with the fishermen, used to ask for coins when the ships sailing to South Africa stopped in the port of Funchal. “There was a competition called The Dive and the winner had to pick 16 coins thrown to the sea by the ships’ passengers. Searching for 16 coins on the bottom of the sea is not easy,” explains Nini.

After her first exhibition, entitled “The four seasons” and inspired to a great extent on the flowers of Madeira, the designer had this idea of painting pebbles and called herself “The Pebble Stone Girl”. Today, when she gives lectures or when she paints the proceeds go to several social causes, including the association “A Garouta do Calhau”. “It’s another side of me,” she says.

The start of everything and access to the world’s best designers

Nini Andrade Silva was born in Madeira and her parents, both teachers, had a school. She went to high school in Madeira and headed to Lisbon afterwards to study at IADE.

Photo: Nick Bayntun

CR7 Chaise-lounge: Chair designed with Cristiano Ronaldo
Photo: Inês D’Orey

Savoy Palace
Photo: Nick Bayntun

At the age of 15 she started travelling to New York with the Kiekeben family she was friends with, and who used to work with great designers at the time, such as David Easton and Stark & Company, and she was sure she wanted to succeed in the world of interior design. “It was great to have contact with these people and their work. These architects and designers were a major influence for me”, she says.

After finishing her degree at IADE, Nini was a teacher for three months. But she felt this was not her destiny and travelled to New York for an internship and to learn with some of the best designers of that time. “I had access to the big ones, I was in the centre of the world, it was a big step”, she says. South Africa followed, where she studied painting and later Denmark, where she studied everything related to floral arrangements, plants and flowers. “That is why when I engage in a project for a hotel it’s me who takes care of the flower arrangements and choose everything with immense dedication and pleasure”, Nini explains.

She then returned to Funchal and decided to submit the interior design project of her house to a contest held by Andrew Martin – a book where Andrew Martin selects and publishes the works of the best designers from around the world. Nini was planning to start her own company and this was a big test for her. “If it didn’t go as planned, it meant I was not on the right track and I had to change”, she explains. Nini Andrade Silva’s house was included in the book and after that, she was commissioned to develop several international projects, followed by the international awards.

The first store Nini Andrade da Silva opened was called Espaços Interiores and was located outside Funchal. She then opened other stores in Funchal and 35 years ago Atelier Nini Andrade Silva in Lisbon. After that, she travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to open another store. “I used to participate in trade fairs in Europe and later in Asia too and I realized I could do things no matter where…” she recalls. In Kuala Lumpur, she met Loui Voon, with whom she is still friends today, and they became partners in Malaysia. They opened a studio in that country and several architects travelled from Portugal to Kuala Lumpur.

The interior designer spent the years working in ateliers around the world. But after two and a half years ago she returned to Rua do Barão and made a decision. “I thought that instead of having various ateliers spread around the world it made more sense for interior design to have the base-atelier in Portugal and be invited to other countries”, she recalls.

Design Centre Nini Andrade Silva
Photo: Nick Bayntun

She was right. Today, Nini Andrade da Silva is based in Madeira, but invitations to engage in international works keep arriving all the time. Among the projects currently ongoing it is worth highlighting the interior design of W São Paulo Hotel, in Brazil, for the Marriott chain. “And the story of this W is very funny because it is located on Rua do Funchal, hence no matter where I go I always end up in Madeira,” says the designer in an amusing tone.

She is also in charge of the decoration of two Hilton hotels, one in the Algarve and another in Gaia. And recently she designed a store in Singapore and was in charge of designing a house in Japan and another in London. “We design many big houses but we are better known for our hotel projects because houses are private and we can’t show them,” she explains.

In Portugal, she is in charge of decorating Hotel Reis, on Avenida Almirante Reis, in Lisbon. “It’s a project for a more irreverent chain and will represent the kings of the street, the many races and the different people who live in that avenue of the city. It’s very interesting because it is a classic, but it is very bold and irreverent. There will be tattoos… ”, anticipates the designer, along with this hotel there will be also a hotel in São Pedro do Sul, another in Terceira Island, in the Azores, and yet another in Madeira.

She is passionate about her island, where she continues to live but she says she has other passions overseas. “I love New York, I feel at home in Bangkok, and I really, really, really like Bogota and Cartagena de Indias. I wouldn’t mind moving to this place in Colombia tomorrow. But I like so many places I’ve been to, I like South Africa, I like Brazil… ”, she confesses with enthusiasm.

Nini, moreover, has a very special connection to Colombia. After developing the interior design of the first hotel in that country – the BOG, in Bogotá, and for which she won several awards – she has worked in further nine hotels in Colombia. And today she is the Honorary Consul of Colombia in Madeira. “I have a great passion for that country, it’s a place that I love”, she assumes.

Photo: Pedro Correia da Silva

As one of the most prestigious and award-winning interior designers at the international level, Nini Andrade Silva is considered a true ambassador of what Portugal has to offer in terms of creativity. And she does not hide her pride in taking the name of Portugal to the four corners of the world. “We are very big and we cannot forget that. I often say that we are descendants of the baker of Aljubarrota, the female baker who defeated alone Spanish soldiers hiding in her bread oven during that big battle, and with was we who discovered the world. We should never forget our grandeur, our heritage and our responsibility”, claims the designer, who was already distinguished by the portuguese government with the Order of D. Henrique. “I always took the name of Madeira and Portugal with me,” she says.

Currently, Nini Andrade Silva is part of a group called Portugal Brands whose aim is to show the best being done in Portugal and bringing together businessmen and professionals from several areas to support and promote national brands.

And where do you get your inspiration from? “I can get inspiration even from a trash can,” she replies with amusement. “People throw things away and without realizing it and colours and shapes mix and that is completely different from everything”, explains the designer.

Whenever a client contacts her with a proposal, Inês Duque Dias, who has a degree in cultural management and is one of her right hands will research everything about the territorial context and country where the work is to be implemented and, afterwards, she briefs the designer with the essentials. And that’s when Nini Andrade Silva starts her creative process. “I start thinking about it and engage in it everywhere I go, 24 hours a day. If I am watching a film, I stop to take a snapshot, I get inspiration from the sea, the sun, sea life, plants, a trash can … everything ”, she tells us with amusement.

After that, Nini heads to the atelier and explains the concept. Then they start drawing, they use several images for the client to understand the concept and when they receive carte blanche from the client they start drawing everything. “We design floors and washbasins, door handles, lamps, we like to design everything”, says the designer.

Bordallo Pinheiro’s bunch of bananas and Ronaldo’s chair

A few years ago Nini Andrade Silva was invited to design a collection for Bordallo Pinheiro inspired in Madeira. “The collection is very beautiful and is a major success. We even won an award at a trade fair in Germany for the best ceramic project”, she says, explaining that the collection, inspired by a bunch of silver bananas, has a “funny story behind it”.

The initial idea was for Nini to design items for a Vista Alegre dinnerware. When she was in Lisbon, she asked one of her workers in Madeira to send her a piece of banana tree bark, a banana and a banana flower, called pinguelo, to take with her to the meeting at Visabeira. “When I was preparing to enter the meeting, I received a huge box. It was a bunch of bananas and I had to go to the meeting with the whole bunch, there was no turning back. I put the bunch of bananas on the table thinking that they were going to think I was completely crazy. The silver banana bunch is smaller and very perfect, for me it was normal, but for a person who has never seen it, looking at it was incredible”, she says.

The plans changed immediately. Vista Alegre was developing a collector’s edition, which featured already Paula Rego, and they asked the designer to make a work of art for them with that bunch of bananas. “Hence, I now have a work of art in the Bordallo Pinheiro collection just because there was a mistake and a bunch of bananas was sent to Lisbon”, she says, amused. This work of art features also her signature, the aforementioned black line and an inlaid pebble from the beaches of Madeira.

Another project bearing her signature was a chair designed with Cristiano Ronaldo, as part of an initiative by the City Council of Paredes. “Incredible as it may seem I was paired with Cristiano Ronaldo, also a Madeiran and someone I admire a lot. The chair was made using his body measurements, name and history. The chair was made as if it were a stone and a golden wave came and took Cristiano off the island and turned him into the golden boy. The structure was all made with the football pitch goal nets and the chair was golden because Cristiano is our golden boy”, she explains.

In total, only five copies of this chair were made – one was sold by Christie´s at an auction to Singapore, and the money went to UNHCR (support for refugees), another was for Cristiano Ronaldo, one is on display at the Nini Andrade Silva Design Centre in Funchal, the fourth went to the Paredes Town Hall and the last travels the world in exhibitions. “In China, we had to have police around the chair because people were crazy and wanted to touch the CR7 chair”, she laughs.

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