Sergio Rodrigues, whose tables, chairs and other living accessories set the standard for modern furniture design in his native Brazil and who forged a path to the international market for his countrymen, died on Monday at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He was 86.
The death, from liver failure, was confirmed by his company, Sergio Rodrigues Design and Furniture.
Mr. Rodrigues began his career in the 1950s, when Brazilian interior design had not kept pace with the modernism of the nation’s leading architects, like Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa. Mr. Rodrigues was known for designs that made use of distinctive woods indigenous to Brazil, including jacaranda, peroba and imbuia, and were said to reflect the sociable, witty nature of the Brazilian national character.
“He was a person who knew how to translate the Brazilian soul in furniture, with its humorous and relaxed way,” Baba Vacaro, the owner of Design Mix Studio in São Paulo, said in an interview. “When people think of Brazilian design, the first thing that comes in our head is the work of Sergio.”
Among Mr. Rodrigues’s more vivid creations arethe Taja line, a variety of wooden outdoor chairs and tables, and indoor armchairs like the Voltaire, with a solid wood frame and a voluptuous, cup-shaped upholstered seat with enclosing panels at head level.
He is best known for the Mole (the word means “soft” in Portuguese), a low-slung, wood-frame chair perfect for lounging, with strap-supported upholstery that drapes luxuriously over the arms. Created in the late 1950s, it won an international furniture competition in Cantu, Italy, in 1961. Mr. Rodrigues’s designs are featured in the Brazilian Embassy in Rome and in the Brazilian national theater in Brasília.
Sergio Roberto Santos Rodrigues was born into an intellectual and artistic Rio de Janeiro family on Sept. 22, 1927. His grandfather, Mário, was a well-known journalist; his uncle, Nelson, was a playwright and novelist; his father, Roberto, was a graphic artist. He graduated from architecture school in Rio de Janeiro in 1951 and founded Oca, an influential company that helped spur the pursuit of craft and furniture design in Brazil.
Mr. Rodrigues’s first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Vera Beatriz Rodrigues; two daughters, Adriana and Angela; a son, Roberto; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“You know he is called the father of Brazilian design,” said Carlos Junqueira, a native of São Paulo and the owner of Espasso, a dealer dedicated to Brazilian furniture with showrooms in New York and Los Angeles. “Before him there was no importance given to furniture design in Brazil. He was the first to whom people looked for inspiration.”