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After Dark: In Conversation With Luis De Oliviera of De La Espada

In the autumn of 2021, we joined forces with De La Espada founder Luis De Oliveira for our annual Dark Is the Night event, inviting him to lead a panel hosted at our Chelsea store. Following a successful season of intimate lighting, we follow up with De Oliveira to discuss all things lighting, sustainable duties, and the brand’s latest collaboration with design legend Ilse Crawford.

1. Welcome, Luis. Thank you for leading last year’s Dark Is the Night event, and congratulations on 25 great years of De La Espada. What does this milestone mean to you?

Thank you very much. Celebrating with The Conran Shop Chelsea was an honour and a full-circle moment. We were neighbours for over ten years —  our first London store, opened in 1996, was across the street from you — and we have always had a lot of respect and admiration for what you do.

25 years feels like a great achievement when I look back on the many challenges our company has faced and the ways our business responded to ride those waves. These years have made us into the company we are today, where we have the independence, strength and confidence to lead from within. No one sets our agenda but us — no client or project, no fashion or trend imposes any pressure on us so we are free to engage in the conversations we want to be having, to push our work in a direction that feels most valuable and meaningful.

2. To mark the occasion, De La Espada launched its first in-house collection in 15 years and some striking pieces by Ilse Crawford; please tell us a bit more about this momentous edit.

When we opened our London store 25 years ago, we designed and made all our own products; so design is in our roots. Our new in-house collection carries our original core influences — mid-century Scandinavian design, the Arts & Crafts movement and architects such as Álvaro Siza — combined with a new exploration into the arts and crafts of Portugal, and historical periods and designers we are fascinated by. We are also dedicating continuous research into materials that make our furniture more beautiful and sustainable, even though we are starting from a good place environmentally with wood. So the release feels significant because it embraces our past while representing how far we have come and where we are headed next.

It is a pleasure, at the same time, to release new options for the Sidekicks series by Ilse Crawford. The series originally launched ten years ago, so this is another anniversary. The Sidekicks are small occasional tables that live throughout the home to suit just about any need. Ten years ago they launched with polished aluminium tops and now they are additionally available in four colours of terrazzo.

3. Who are your greatest design influences?

We have always been influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, architects such as Tadao Ando, Luis Barragán, John Pawson, and Álvaro Siza, and Scandinavian design from the 1950s. We are also inspired by artisans from Portugal and the pressing issues contributing to climate change.

4. And what is your favourite design icon at The Conran Shop?

I would have to say Achille Castiglioni’s Arco Floor Lamp, which has been in my family home for decades. It is a perfect example of a timeless design that performs well.

5. Now, back to the brand’s roots: You and your wife Fatima founded De La Espada in 1993, opening your first store in our beloved London in 1996; what made you choose London?

My wife and I met in London at university, so the city has been home for us for a long time. It felt like a natural choice, and we were drawn to the rich culture of the city. In 1996, there was relatively little quality contemporary furniture in London, so it was exciting to be part of a design emergence.

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6. And how did your respective Portuguese and Spanish heritages influence your creations, if at all?

The immense skill of our craftspeople is an important part of what we do and is always visible in our work. In the very beginning, we had a small workshop in Spain and later moved our production to Portugal. We have an open dialogue with our craftspeople, and their knowledge influences our designs. And our in-house design is now actively embracing arts and crafts influences from these countries.

7. You proudly champion sustainability at De La Espada; why is this so important to you?

It is clear that the earth is in crisis and it is essential that we all do our part to protect the environment, both for ourselves and for future generations. Maybe it is seeing my daughters grow up that has made me more keenly aware of this, but you also cannot pick up a newspaper without seeing numerous examples of the devastating destruction to our planet. As makers of products, we have a particular responsibility to ensure we do not add to the problem.

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8. How do the needs of our home environment adapt in the darker, more intimate months?

In the darker months, we spend more time at home and want to take pleasure in our interior spaces. We want to be sure that the items we have chosen to live with give us pleasure and add to the quality of our environment. We also want to feel warm and protected — something that thoughtful lighting and softer textures can bring to the home. Of course, scent is always important;  when we spend more time outdoors, we can enjoy the fresh scents of plant life, so when nesting indoors, we can introduce scents through candles or baking. We want to ignite all the senses to make the most of our time indoors.

9. What most excites you about the next 25 years of De La Espada?

I look forward to exploring arts and crafts in Portugal and beyond, to finding new ways to innovate towards greater sustainability, and to additional creative collaborations.

Explore the De La Espada collection, including the latest Ilse Crawford pieces, and learn more about our 2021 Dark Is the Night event, today.