How Riluc has transformed metalwork

By: Álvaro Tavares Ramos

Photo: Alma Mollemans

Created by Ricardo Lucas in 2009, Riluc has consistently forged its reputation worldwide as one of the brands that most excels in the art of transforming stainless steel

Despite tourism being one of Portugal’s greatest calling cards, the country’s factories and manufacturers continue to garner more recognition than ever. From clothing to footwear, furniture and sportswear, Portugal has become a destination for international brands to produce their collections cheaply, with high quality standards and close to the big European centres. However, due to the small size of the internal market and other cultural factors, the country continues to be a place that mostly produces but rarely creates, despite this trend reversing with a new generation of entrepreneurs, designers and creatives willing to take a risk and change Portugal’s trademark.

One excellent example of this movement is Riluc, which specialises in producing stainless steel furniture pieces. Located in an industrial area just outside Santo Tirso, near Porto, the brand created in 2009 by Ricardo Lucas (the name Riluc is a conjunction of the initials of his first and last names) came to save the family business that was in decline due to competition from Asia. Founded in 1986 by Ricardo’s father, the metal work company Ferluca possessed extensive know-how in producing high-precision pieces for cars, bakeries and the printing industry, knowledge that would come to be the basis of Riluc’s development.

Despite the team’s initial resistance in regards to the company’s new direction, the vision of the young mechanical engineer, fascinated by design and architecture, proved to be a recipe for success. Hoping to create something that didn’t exist on the market and that was able to arouse curiosity and draw attention to the work they had already been doing for quite some time, Ricardo Lucas found the perfect ally to begin this ambitious project, in the form of Toni Grilo. “After we met Toni Grilo, we told him what we could do and he challenged our limits,” says Ricardo Lucas, adding that the designer “anticipates situations, has immense technical knowledge, of the materials, which is excellent”.

Having just returned from the last edition of Maison & Objet, the fair at which Riluc made its international debut in 2012, Ricardo Lucas believes that the trip was a success: “There was nothing like us in the whole fair.” Blending bold design, technology and the know-how of a team of specialist craftsmen, the Portuguese brand managed to develop a unique and innovative product. Somewhere between design and art, often evoking the famous “inflated” pieces of American artist Jeff Koons, Toni Grilo’s creations for Riluc are markedly sculptural in character, which more often than not set aside function and comfort. “The best-selling product is the Line chair. Of course we can sit on it, but it is more of a decorative piece, which can be placed to adorn a closet or a hallway,” notes the brand’s founder.

However, it was the Bibendum armchair, created in 2009 in an allusion to the Michelin man, that helped pave the way for Riluc’s success. It also caught the attention of the prestigious ToolsGalerie in Paris, which acquired 12 limited editions of this piece that involves more than 150 hours of labour to complete. The seemingly impossible lines and the faultless finish of the polished stainless steel captivate those who see the pieces for the first time. “At the fair, people were touching our pieces to see if it was really metal; visually speaking they are very appealing,” notes Ricardo.

Besides the aesthetic side, the brand’s effort to create bold pieces that are technically complicated to produce is undoubtedly a guarantee to avoid the copies that abound on the market. Riluc’s main mission is to develop a distinct collection with added value, but it demands a lot from this small company, which creates, develops and finishes all the pieces itself. “We invested a lot in creating new products, in the processes, and we try to meet the designers’ challenges. Sometimes it works, other times we have to give up on the projects because they are technically impossible. We embrace the designers’ ideas, but we like that they are also willing to yield a little for us to be able to realise the project.”

After Toni Grilo, the brand hopes to welcome a new designer every year to conceive products for the collection. After meeting the Canadian-American designer Karim Rashid at Maison & Objet last year, who showed interest in developing pieces in metal, the Krak coffee table was born, a result of the collaboration between the brand and the designer and the vehicle to try to introduce the brand in the American market. It was during our visit to the factory that we understood the true essence of Riluc.

Among components of unfinished pieces, CNC automation machines and more traditional tools, the team of artisans multitask to complete the projects at hand. From the polishing, welding and assembly areas, the team of a little over a dozen elements works like a family. “We pay well above the average; everyone wants to work here,” states Ricardo Lucas. Although the Riluc collection was the starting point for the rebirth of this family business, the brand’s bold pieces are in fact a demonstration of its technical capacity, attracting clients that want to develop personalised projects. With this segment as its main business area, Riluc works with companies such as Viriato – a Portuguese company that works with key-turn projects in the hotel segment and is responsible for well-known hotels such as Das Stue, in Berlin, designed by Patricia Urquiola – to develop special projects for the top segment.

While other rivals can’t achieve its level of perfection and finishing, Riluc stands out for its unrivalled knowledge in transforming stainless steel. Proudly revealing that they supply pieces to the Ritz in Lisbon, to a luxury hotel in Canada and an Alpine resort belonging to the LVMH group, among others, Ricardo Lucas concludes by saying that “it is impossible to grow more. We could never scale up our business because we would lose the level of quality that we currently offer. We want to keep developing these special projects for the luxury segment”. This commitment to savoir-faire makes Riluc a success story in a market that, more than ever, appreciates specialisation and the creation of unique pieces.

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