José Zanine Caldas

Pioneer of Sustainable Design and Cultural Synthesis

Jackson Design is pleased to introduce the first piece of Brazilian Design to our collection. This unique table is designed by José Zannine Caldas and produced by his workshop in 1977. We highlighted the table in our latest winter 2024 look book, which can be viewed here

In this feature we would like to give a further introduction into the Brazilian designer and the table itself.

José Zanine Caldas, born in 1919 in Belmonte, Bahia, Brazil, and passing in 2001, stands as a pivotal figure in 20th-century design, artfully blending traditional Brazilian craftsmanship with modernist design principles. His work, which spans across furniture design, architecture, and environmental activism, is celebrated for its innovative use of materials, particularly wood, and for its profound respect for the environment. Caldas' approach to design was deeply rooted in the cultural and natural landscapes of Brazil, making his creations a testament to the rich heritage and ecological diversity of his homeland.


Beatriz Palma de Carvalho, Amanda, 'José Zanine Caldas', Olhares Editora (Brasil) 2019, p. 116-117.

Detail of 'Casa Vlasek', Rio de Janeiro, 1974. 

Detail of 'Casa Difini', Armação des Búzios, 1970.

Caldas’ career spanned over five decades. His clients included Oscar Niemeyer, one of the greats of modern architecture. Early in his career, Caldas ran a workshop specialising in architectural scale models. Caldas developed over 500 models for Niemeyer among others. Together, they explored the possibilities of integrating Brazilian cultural elements and materials into modernist designs, creating spaces and pieces that were both avant-garde and deeply rooted in the local context. This partnership not only highlighted Caldas’ versatility and skill as a designer and architect but also emphasized his ability to bridge the gap between traditional techniques and contemporary aesthetics. Through his work with Niemeyer, Caldas contributed significantly to the global recognition of Brazilian modernism, showcasing the richness of Brazil’s natural resources and cultural heritage. 

This extraordinary table was executed in 1977 by the workshop which Zannine ran in Nova Viçosa, Bahia, Brazil. It can be considered emblematic of his "protest furniture" series, which he introduced around the early 1970s. Crafted during a period when Brazil was under a military dictatorship, this series was Caldas' response to the social and political turmoil of his country, as well as an indictment of the rampant deforestation and environmental disregard he witnessed. It’s characterized by its raw, expressive use of wood, and showcases Caldas' mastery in transforming reclaimed materials into objects of functional beauty. 

Furniture production at the workshop, Nova Viçosa. In the foreground a similar table. 
Beatriz Palma de Carvalho, Amanda, 'José Zanine Caldas', Olhares Editora (Brasil) 2019, p. 146-147. 

This piece was specially commissioned for art dealer Bruno Musatti and his wife Jeanette Musatti. The couple visited Caldas’ workshop in Nova Vicosa in 1977, where they picked the perfect fallen tree to be made into the present table. Zanine would analyze the shape of the wood and discuss together with the local craftsmen and canoe makers, who were employed in his workshop, how the fallen tree could be utilized in its best way. Defects in the wood were carefully considered and highlighted to make the piece unique. All wood was used, from root to stem, and then sanded by hand into the right shape.

Bruno Musatti, José Zanine Caldas, and his assistant searching through Elecunha SA waste field, Nova Viçosa, Bahia, 1977. Courtesy: Brunos Musatti archive.

Furniture production at the workshop, Nova Viçosa.

Beatriz Palma de Carvalho, Amanda, 'José Zanine Caldas', Olhares Editora (Brasil) 2019, p. 146. 

Discarded tree trunks from the logging process, Nova Viçosa.

Beatriz Palma de Carvalho, Amanda, 'José Zanine Caldas', Olhares Editora (Brasil) 2019, p. 148-149. 

This piece not only serves as a stark reminder of the designer's activism but also embodies his commitment to sustainability. Through its rugged elegance, the table invites reflection on the broader implications of furniture design, urging both appreciation and awareness of the socio-environmental contexts from which it emerged.