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Dec / Jan 2010
Hidden Talent

WRITER: Polly Sweet

The 2010 Bespoke Ultimate Living Award goes to Houssein Jarouche, the Lebanese-Brazilian founder of Sao Paulo’s ultra-cool concept store MiCasa - a furniture and design shop come art gallery. 


Researching Houssein Jarouche is no easy task. Taking to the Internet there are numerous references to DJs, celebrities and medics, all of whom go by the name ‘Houssein Jarouche’; the number of potential Facebook friends of the same name is astounding. Type in ‘MiCasa’, the name of Jarouche’s concept store, and arguably one of the world’s most progressive, and then you are taken on a journey from Bangkok’s backpacking industry to Mexico’s margharita scene to a housing project in Baltimore. When even industry insiders appear uncertain over the status of one of his ‘current’ projects, the question marks multiply.

But within his home country of Brazil, Jarouche is something of a design prodigy, a figure who has received no formal training yet somehow is at the forefront of interior design on both a national and global level. Projects such as the ever-evolving MiCasa have placed Jarouche firmly on the design map, and today his name is synonymous with a generation of artists who are shaping the streets of Sao Paolo and beyond. 

Not much is known of Jarouche’s formative years, beyond the fact that his parents left their native Lebanon to found a furniture business in Sao Bernardo do Campo. It was on their shop floor that Jarouche’s interest in furniture design was piqued. Despite never having attended an institution specialising in the field of design, Jarouche is quick to point out that there are lessons to be learnt beyond the classroom – “I may have no formal education in this area, but it doesn’t mean I don’t study a lot.” 

Born in Brazil and returning 22 years later, Jarouche remains elusive as to why he chose South America as a base from which to pursue his career. He does confess however that he is, “A very, very big fan of Lebanese design”, and its mesh of Occidental and Oriental influences are of real interest. Today, having collaborated with industry names Triptyque, Marcio Kogan, Marcelo Rosenbaum, Alexander Herchcovitch and Adriana Barra, Jarouche is widely recognised as a pioneer in Brazilian design. 

Jarouche’s appeal lies, perhaps, in his ability to combine interior design with fashion, art and music, musing that, “They are all about how people live and how they think.” His confidence in slipping so seamlessly from one to another has even reached beyond the workplace and into the DJ booth where he is often to be found spinning decks. Back in the studio, and a recent collaboration with Mulheres Barbadas - The Bearded Ladies - saw the entirety of MiCasa graffitied over the course of five days. By the time Mulheres Barbadas, famed for their spray-paint techniques and who count “monsters, icky stuff and tender love” as their ‘likes’, were done with MiCasa, even Jarouche’s Mini had been transformed. In 2009, MiCasa became the exclusive Brazilian stockist for a limited edition venture between denim brand Diesel and furniture giants Moroso. Moroso, whose clients range from Tina Turner to King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, will have undoubtedly felt that MiCasa’s appreciation for avant-guarde, high quality products exemplified ‘Successful Living’, Diesel’s tagline. 

Jarouche is at once a fanatic for the traditional craft of design and a champion of the new. As he states himself when pushed to identify MiCasa’s identity, “We are always chasing what is new in Brazil and in the world - the classics have a very special importance to us, but we are focused on contemporary design.” So involved is he in eking out “the next big thing” that Jarouche has dedicated an entire building adjacent to MiCasa to emerging talent. Here, artists of any medium can manifest their creativity – it is perhaps most notable for the groundbreaking Da Outro Lado do Muro, a giant light installation by Triptyque and Studio 2087. Posing the question of ‘What to do with a blank wall?’, Da Outro Lado do Muro offered a fresh take on mural decoration with a sort of modern vine decorating the exterior of the building and overwhelming the space. The fact that it required darkness in order to function, as opposed to a real vine, which would require light, only served to reinforce Da Outro Lado do Muro’s ingenuity. 

Volume B, as the building is known, is itself an internationally prized concept. Developed by Jarouche and fellow-Brazilian Marcio Kogan, in 2008 it was nominated for a prestigious D&AD award in the Environmental Retail Space category – Volume B won, alongside Harvey Nichols Istanbul and H&M Los Angeles. It has proven so popular within the design community and of such personal interest to Jarouche that plans for an eco-hotel on Volume B’s site have been scrapped. 

Most recently, Jarouche lent his skills to a project by design and architecture firm StudioMK27, entitled ‘Proteses e Enxertos’. A cynic might be a little underwhelmed by the concept, which in effect sees left over materials from StudioMK27’s projects transformed into furniture by anonymous construction workers. But for those behind the project, including Jarouche, there exists a multi-stranded celebration of Brazilian culture and cunning within each crudely assembled table, in every imperfect chair. Maria Cecilia Loschiavos dos Santos, philosopher and authority on Brazilian design, comments - “The collection is but a small sample of the extraordinary repertoire of objects designed and constructed by some civil construction labourers in our country. On every day and at every site these workers improvised, producing ‘ingenuities’ of every type: to sit, to rest, to heat food, to hang and dry clothing and to re-use the remnants and the rests of material that the very project discarded.”

The eco-friendly qualities of the project have certainly scored brownie points within the design community. And, in an age where ‘bling’ is a dirty word, a chair made from leftover scraps of material holds very real value. ‘Commercial’ however, is not a word you might use to describe Jarouche, nor is it a term you could employ to describe the fascinating world that he has created. Rather it is a different heart that beats within the four walls of MiCasa, one which is motivated by the continuous interpretation and reinvention of the term ‘Design’. Still, with Brazil’s economy on the rise, it might well be the time to start investing in broken chairs.

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