Brazil, West Hollywood, California, Interior Design, Residential Design, Home Tour
Ulysses De Santi and Graham Steele‚Äôs Los Angeles home seamlessly blends the couple‚Äôs disparate styles
Brazilian design dealer Ulysses De Santi and his husband, Graham Steele, didn‚Äôt normally spend long periods of time together. They had different responsibilities, and very different rhythms. ‚ÄúGraham is extremely social, hyperactive, and his schedule was always insane,‚ÄĚ says De Santi, who‚Äôs been sheltering at home with Steele since the pandemic upended life as we know it. ‚ÄúSo just to be able to have him here is such a gift.‚ÄĚ As a senior director at Hauser & Wirth, an art gallery with outposts in Asia, Europe and North America, Steele was used to jetting across the globe, sometimes having breakfast in one continent and dinner in another. By contrast, De Santi is an introvert. ‚ÄúHe would happily be socially isolating for the next five years,‚ÄĚ says Steele, only half-jokingly.
The couple‚Äôs personality contrasts extend to their design sensibilities: One is a minimalist and the other a maximalist. And yet in the process of moving into their West Hollywood home, a 1930s hillside residence surrounded by greenery, they were able to find a happy medium, influencing each other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Steele, an avid art collector, has developed a greater appreciation for abstract works (rather than figurative ones), which complement De Santi‚Äôs modernist furnishings from Brazil. And De Santi, to a point, has become more tolerant of decorative exuberance. ‚ÄúMy husband is a collector at heart‚ÄĒhe keeps buying ceramics, ornaments, and artworks, and he loves to display all of these things,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI love them too, but my greatest passion is design and I prefer to show my pieces as purely as possible.‚ÄĚ
Shortly after relocating from S√£o Paulo to Los Angeles, De Santi found his true calling as a dealer of Brazilian furniture from the ‚Äô50s and ‚Äô60s. The former actor and television producer already owned a handful of pieces by important postwar designers, yet he‚Äôd never thought of turning his affection for modernismo brasileiro into a business‚ÄĒnot until friends in L.A. began to show interest. ‚ÄúPeople would come over to our first house and ask, ‚ÄėWhere did you get this?‚Äô They were so impressed,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúI thought, ‚ÄėYou know what, I‚Äôm going to go back to Brazil and then do a pop-up here.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
In 2016, together with a partner, De Santis unveiled ‚ÄúStudio 55,‚ÄĚ a monthlong exhibition on Melrose Avenue where he sold dozens of vintage pieces by icons like Sergio Rodrigues, Geraldo de Barros, Jorge Zalszupin, and Joaquim Tenreiro. That event was followed by two more pop-ups in California and one in Hong Kong.
It‚Äôs no surprise, then, to see the couple‚Äôs home filled with covetable pieces from one of the most fertile periods of Brazilian art and design. During the mid-20th century, Brazil produced a bevy of geometrically shaped furnishings in jacarand√°, a richly veined local rosewood that has since become endangered. In the living room, a set of chairs by Jorge Zalszupin, with perfectly cubic wooden frames interrupted by cushioned scoops, command our attention. Next to them is a tea trolley, also by Zalszupin, with slim but oversized brass wheels and a tray with triangular sides that fold up like origami. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs the designer whose work I first fell in love with,‚ÄĚ says De Santi, ‚Äúfollowed by Sergio Rodrigues.‚ÄĚ A round side table designed by Rodrigues, which has three interlocked legs, was placed next to the living room‚Äôs curvilinear velvet sofa. The space, like the rest of the house, has a clean, almost gallery-like feel, yet it‚Äôs neither sober nor restrained. There is plenty of color (scarlet in the sofa, cobalt in the large-scale cyanotype by Christian Marclay) along with an abundance of shapes and textures. Much like De Santi and Steele‚Äôs union, it‚Äôs a combination that works.
‚ÄúWe bring out the best in each other‚ÄĒI‚Äôve become a more interesting person since I met him,‚ÄĚ says De Santi. To which his husband replies: ‚ÄúHe was always interesting, but he‚Äôs certainly a bit more social than he was before.‚ÄĚ Though the couple are enjoying each other‚Äôs company, they are also eager to resume their lively dinner parties, which would often spill out into the house‚Äôs lush garden, with bossa nova beats playing in the background.