Fashioning a globetrotter’s dream home in Singapore

Gracinha Viterbo

Acclaimed interior designer Gracinha Viterbo pays homage to the beauty of travel

When it comes to creating unique interiors, few names resonate like Gracinha Viterbo. The president, partner and creative director of Viterbo Interior Design – a business her mother, Graça, founded in 1971 that has grown to become a truly international concern – Viterbo has created vivid interiors for countless clients.

“I am a storyteller,” says the Portuguese-born auteur. “Each project is a piece of art that needs to encapsulate creativity, comfort, technology and heritage.”

After learning her trade at the renowned Inchbald School of Design in London, Viterbo returned to Lisbon to enter the family firm. At first she helped to supervise the Viterbo showroom before assuming a more senior role managing large projects for hotel chains and residential developments across Europe, Africa and Asia.

“When my mother retired it was decided that I should take over her role,” explains Viterbo. “Today I have a multi-cultural and multi-skilled team. We have seven different nationalities and a wealth of talent at Viterbo. All of our guys are unique in their own way and they are as vital to our vision as I am.”

While the nerve centre of the Viterbo operation remains in Lisbon, the company’s tentacles extend far and wide through various subsidiaries, including the latest addition to the empire, Viterbo Asia, based in Singapore.

“We have worked all over the world for 45 years and our success is down to a desire to bring added value to all our projects,” adds Viterbo. “It is a collaborative process in which we adapt to everything whether it is the demands of our clients or even the cultural quirks of the countries where we conduct our business.”

And it was this quest for perfection that informed the conceptualisation of a home design for a client at 8 Napier Singapore that is so full of life it almost breathes on its own.

“It is an homage to the beauty of travel,” says Viterbo. “It’s a collector’s nest and a globetrotter’s dream. It is timeless, but at the same time it displays a sense of history with vintage accents and a contemporary understanding through modern details such as the Vander Stratten sculptural mirror on the wall.

“I want to establish a rounded sense of identity through design,” she continues. “People connect identity to fashion and still feel that all exterior signs are the ones to invest in, when a balance is needed. People should live, sleep and breathe their own story – their own identity – through a home. A truly soulful design can illuminate any personality. It is a skin, an identity card, a refuge and an escape.”

Inspired by the Avant-garde and other seminal influences such as German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Irish designer Eileen Grey, Viterbo believes that great design transcends time. In her view it is something that can’t be achieved overnight, but through long stints of hard work, travel and immersion in other cultures. Only then, she adds, can a designer know how to source the right materials and really address the needs and desires of a client.

“I’d like to think I go above and beyond when I’m working on a project,” says Viterbo. “I don’t do ‘by rote’. I’m not the kind of designer who opens a catalogue and uses a whole bunch of templates and is done. For me, that kind of designer blackens the name of the profession and should be banned from the industry.”

Having lived in Singapore for many years now, Viterbo has developed a keen appreciation of the artistry and craftsmanship she observes in Asia. “I see a lot of design talent in Asia,” she enthuses. “This talent is being recognised and appreciated. Therefore I don’t think that Asian designers should feel detached as they are very much part of the international scene.”

Headstrong and opinionated, Viterbo is no shrinking violet. With such a gilded reputation, you would hardly expect her to be. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that she has some strong words of advice for budding designers hoping to follow in her path. “It is necessary to break the mould,” she says.

“Beware of anything that resembles cookie cutter and believe in your vision.”