Inside a Mecca of Midcentury Brazilian Art and Design, Ulysses De Santi a Brazilian design dealer and her husband, Graham Steele, normally don’t spend long time together as a couple. Both had different responsibilities, with very different rhythms.
De Santi in a statement said “Her husband is extremely social, hyperactive and his schedule were always tight”. he says having his husband around and spending time with him during this pandemic is such a gifts. Steele, as a senior director at Hauser & Worth, an art gallery with outposts in Europe, North America and Asia, was used to flying around the globe, sometimes having breakfast in one continent and dinner in another.
De Santi is an introvert by contrast. Steele says half-jokingly that he would happily be social isolating for the next five years.
The couple’s personality contrast extends to the sensibility of their designs. One is a maximalist and the other is a minimalist. And yet in the art of moving into one of their West Hollywood Home, a hilside residence from 1930s surrounded by green atmosphere.
They find a happy medium in this home influencing each other in subtle and not so subtle ways. Graham Steele, who is an avid art collector, developed a greater appreciation for abstract works rather than figurative ones, which complement one of his modernist furnishings from Brazil. And to a point, De Santi has become a more tolerable decorative exuberant. “My husband is a collector at heart-he keeps buying ornaments, artworks and ceramics, and he loves to display all the things,” she says. “I love them too, but I have a great passion for design and I prefer to show my pieces as purely as possible.”
Not long after relocating from from Sao Paulo to Los Angeles, De Santi found that his true calling to be a dealer of Brazilian furniture from the ’50s and ’60s.
The former television producer and actor already owned a handful of pieces by crucial postwar designers, yet he’d never thought of turning his affection for modernismo brasileiro into a business—not until friends in L.A. began to show interest in his work. “People would come over to our first house and ask, ‘Where did you get this?’ They were so impressed and fascinated,” he says. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to go back to Brazil and then do a pop-up here.’”
In 2016, De Santis, together with a partner unveiled “Studio 55,” a monthlong exhibition on Melrose Avenue where he sold dozens of vintage pieces by icons like Joaquim Tenreiro, Sergio Rodrigues, Geraldo de Barros, and Jorge Zalszupin. This event was followed by two more pop-ups in California and one in Hong Kong.
It’s no surprise, then, to see the couple’s home filled with pieces covetable from one of the most productive periods of Brazilian art and design. During the mid-20th century, Brazil produced a bevy of geometrically shaped furnishings in jacarandá, a richly veined local rosewood that has since become endangered. A set of chairs by Jorge Zalszupin, with perfectly cubic wooden frames interrupted by cushioned scoops in the living room, command our attention.
Near to them is a tea trolley, also by Zalszupin, with thin but oversized brass wheels and a tray with triangular sides that fold up like origami. “He’s the designer whose work captivates me,” says De Santi, “followed by Sergio Rodrigues.” The round side table designed by Rodrigues, which has three interlocked legs, was placed next to the living room’s curvilinear velvet sofa. The room, like the rest of the house, has a clean, almost gallery-like feel, yet it’s neither sober nor restrained. There is plenty of color (scarlet in the sofa, cobalt in the large-scale cyanotype by Christian Marclay) along with a great shapes and textures. Much like De Santi and Steele’s union, it’s a combination that works.
“We bring out the best in each other —I’ve become a more interesting since I met him,” says De Santi. To which his husband replies: “He was always interesting, but he’s certainly a bit more social than he was before” Though the couple are really enjoying each other’s company, they are also eager to resume their lively dinner parties, which would often spill out into the house’s lush garden, with bossa nova beats playing in the background.