The timeless interior designs by White & Kaki come from a lifetime of breaking stereotypes
Although they are a highly successful duo in the Algarve’s interior design world, Vítor Duarte and Carlos Rocha prefer to keep a low profile. Having worked together for 43 years, they have signed countless interior projects in Portugal, Europe and even in the United States. The discreet studio and showroom in Almancil hints at the pair’s philosophy and concept of looking beyond the pieces’ obvious usage and breaking every rule and mould through art and design. Even the air is perfumed with a delicious fragrance developed by the two designers so that visitors can enjoy the space while surrounded by the sweet scent of native rosemary.
Looking at the outside façade of the warehouse, it is impossible to imagine the countless secrets the studio holds inside. Carpets turned upside down, never-ending sofas, chairs that have been turned into night tables, sculptures by Sérgio Rosado, paintings from Manuel Caeiro, Gil Maia or Tim Madeira, old cauldrons and even baskets for tea-picking which have found new life as lamps — these are just some of the pieces that were repurposed and found new uses.
“I really enjoy disproportions,” says Carlos. “For example, I’ll put an overstated lamp on a small table. I hate the rules of colours and proportions.” However, he says that to achieve good results, one must always be aware of what is happening in the world of interior design. That is why they are constantly seeking information through magazines and books, visiting galleries, hotels and restaurants. “We can go to New York and come back the next day just to see a new space. For me, it’s like going to a show,” he explains.
But what makes the work of this experienced pair so special? Vítor and Carlos have the answer on the tip of their tongues: “The distinction and simplicity of the objects and materials we use,” along with “perfect display and lighting” as well as the fact that they always associate “the characteristics of the houses with their location and history”. They also tend to focus on neutral colours, use unique artworks for decoration and traditional, local and natural materials, “which are untreated and possess the typical patine of time”.
“I hate seeing houses that could be found in Miami, South Africa or the Algarve! We need to take advantage of the authenticity of the region and use local materials, such as the Santa Catarina tijoleira [tile work], houses with eaves and flat roofs, platibandas [outside mouldings], among other Algarve staples, and which can be used in contemporary design, but always inserted in the context surrounding them,” says Carlos. Vítor explains that it also takes seasoned sensibility and knowledge to “be able to marry pieces with completely different styles, from rustic to classic, modern or ethnic, within the same space”.
But the experience they both acquired over the last few years, and particularly be- tween 1980-90 and into the new millennium, was fundamental to define the current deco- ration style of White & Kaki. “We worked on indoor decoration and window dressing for many years for large commercial spaces for the world’s biggest perfume and cosmetics brands, such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier,” Carlos reveals. “At one point we changed the interior looks of 300 shops per week. Those were times of high creative production. Considering that there was barely any Internet back then, the fact that we travelled a lot definitely helped and that every month we went to New York or Paris to keep up with new trends, suppliers, studios and galleries,” Vítor recalls.
After a long and busy career, which included hundreds of trips all over the world, the duo fell in love with “the true Algarve” and made southern Portugal their home. The White & Kaki studio was created in 2015 and its name honours the colours of the designers’ African roots, as both are originally from Mozambique. Over the last four years, they have been performing supervising services for interior architecture projects, with a special focus on private villas, hotels and charming guesthouses. According to Vítor, the client profile is “surprising” as it is mainly composed of foreigners.
“They come to us recommended by someone or because they already know our work philosophy and concept. [Most] even know what they like but don’t understand how to get there, so we work as guidelines and work closely with them, which involves a lot of meetings and brainstorming.”
The company motto is to create unique spaces, custom-made for every client. “A home is like our second skin [so] the goal is always to create the perfect house for that person, planned and designed specifically for our clients’ lifestyle. For that to happen, we need to feel the spaces and understand them from the perspective of the people who will live there,” Carlos explains.
Because, of course, even feelings triggered by smell cannot be forgotten, since scents also influence the atmosphere and surrounding areas, Vítor and Carlos have launched a signature White & Kaki fragrance. They experimented for a year before finishing this fragrance, which is already a bestseller. The scent has also led to the creation of several other items produced in France and Italy: a home diffuser, a candle, soap and cologne.
“The perfect final touch to complement any décor,” states Carlos.