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Best of the Best 2005: Furnishings

William Kissel

Near the center of the Uberlandia, Brazil, factory where the Atmosphere company produces its furniture—not far from the 250-year-old mango tree around which the factory floor and roof were built—sits a massive piece of machinery constructed from the parts of an old tractor, scraps of weathered aluminum siding, and the handlebars from a child’s bicycle. “If you saw it, you would wonder, ‘What on earth is it?’ ” muses Atmosphere cofounder Shelley Badauy, explaining how her two Brazilian partners—architects Graca Kazan and Luiz Mario Moura—lacking the $800,000 to purchase a proper wood veneering machine when they launched their company eight years ago, instead constructed this makeshift version. They used materials that were at hand and relied on Moura’s engineering prowess, which he had honed during an earlier career as a bridge builder.

The machine remains as a symbol of the partners’ ingenuity, a virtue that they continue to employ when creating Atmosphere’s jaw-dropping, often seemingly gravity-defying furniture designs. The elegant leather Babbi chair, for example, appears to teeter on spindly louro negro wood legs cut less than a quarter of an inch thick, when it actually rests on carbon steel. In a proprietary veneering method, solid hardwood is heat-pressed twice to the metal, horizontally and vertically, lending durability to material that appears delicate.

Atmosphere’s Tao dining table also seems to defy the laws of physics. It comprises a thick plank of lead crystal placed on a twisted wood base that leaves two corners suspended with no ostensible means of support. The company built the frame using a patented method that involves filling carbon steel tubing with wood particles and airplane glue and then laminating the tubing with such native Brazilian woods as imbuia and acai. Packing the hollow carbon steel “prevents any kind of movement,” Badauy says, “so that you can put 1,000 pounds on one of the suspended corners and have zero movement, but without the excess weight of solid steel.”

The Amazon jungle and Brazilian rain forest provide a wealth of tactile materials upon which Atmosphere bases its exotic designs. A new collection of cocktail tables called Jewels from Brazil, for instance, features woods culled from petrified tree roots naturally embedded with stones and gems. Atmosphere craftsmen then cut the material as precisely as diamond cutters would. “We take the best of Brazil’s natural materials and improve on them through technology,” Moura says. “It’s a way of preserving and even cherishing the amazing natural beauty of the country’s landscape through innovation. These elements work together and become one in the furniture.”

 

Atmosphere, 310.854.9100, 212.219.1110, www.atmospherefurniture.com

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