elledecor– When Brazilian designer Juliana Lima Vasconcellos was a child, she dreamed of being a painter. Then, for a time, it was a fashion designer. At age 11, she decided to pursue architecture. No one in her family was an artist, she says, but “I’ve always liked strange pieces of furniture, strange clothes—things that are different and potentially difficult to understand.”

These days, Vasconcellos’s design practice straddles architecture, furniture, and interiors, and that desire to include something almost unknowable in her work often translates to a focus on contemporary art, which she passionately collects. But back in 2009, when she first stumbled upon the Rio de Janeiro apartment that is now one of her homes, Vasconcellos was initially drawn to something that wasn’t mysterious at all. Through a bank of windows stretching the length of the apartment’s eastern facade is a sweeping view of one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Rio: Sugarloaf Mountain, which rises like a thumb at the mouth of Guanabara Bay and colors, quite literally, everything in the apartment depending on the time of day.

Because the view was such a protagonist in the apartment, Vasconcellos didn’t want to overwhelm the interiors with too many objects when she began renovating nearly a decade ago. The result is a spare, serene, contemplative space—punctuated by those scene-stealing and sometimes discomfiting moments of contemporary art—that acts as a pied-à-terre for her family when they’re not at their primary residence in Belo Horizonte, the city in southeastern Brazil where Vasconcellos grew up.

The 1940s-era apartment sits on the 14th floor of a late–Art Deco, travertine-clad building in the Flamengo neighborhood of Rio, which is famous for its Roberto Burle Marx–designed park. When Vasconcellos found the apartment, it had excellent bones—original marble floors in the entrance hall and sunroom, delicate ironwork lining the windows, and a beautifully intact Brazilian wood herringbone floor hidden underneath wall-to-wall carpet. She changed the layout, going from three bedrooms to four, to make room for her son and two stepdaughters, adding two bathrooms, and unifying a piecemeal kitchen into a single space. Decor-wise, she kept the walls white and the colors neutral, with an emphasis on warm woods; textures like bouclé, cane, and Kuba cloth (from the Democratic Republic of the Congo); and accents of natural stone.

Throughout the apartment, Vasconcellos added mirrors and other reflective surfaces as a way to harness all the light and also to appease her husband, a nanotechnologist, who generally prefers cool metals. In the entryway, a mirror-polished stainless steel console by the French designer Hervé Van der Straeten sits perched beneath a Warhol print, while the Campana brothers’ Brasilia coffee table, a mosaic of mirrored shards, acts as a foil to the more nature-inspired flourishes in the living room. In one area of the apartment, Vasconcellos even applied silver leaf to a wall of panels hiding the HVAC system.

The furniture in the apartment skews toward standouts from Brazilian modernism—designs from Joaquim Tenreiro, Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler for the Brazilian company Forma, and Sergio Rodrigues. The exceptions are the pieces Vasconcellos created herself. A gradient rug she designed in collaboration with her former business partner Matheus Barreto echoes the blues of the nearby sea, while a selection of her velvet-upholstered Giraffe chairs, framing a green marble dining table, are meant, with their curved spines, to mimic a woman’s embrace.

Keeping the furniture more classical acts as a counterweight to the couple’s wildly varied contemporary-art collection, which includes a James Turrell–like circle glowing red above the sofa and a wryly macabre Last Supper–inspired scene of X-ray art, by the Italian artist Benedetta Bonichi, in the dining room. The artworks throughout evoke everything from whimsy to unease, which for Vasconcellos was purposeful. “For me, art is the biggest influence on the energy of a room,” she says. “It can stimulate debate and new ideas. Sometimes I fall in love with the idea of the work more than the aesthetic.”

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