“Good light is crucial for me,” Joana Astolfi says. “The building’s location, at the corner of a major intersection, brings an abundance of natural light through its many windows into all sides and rooms.” This is what convinced the Portuguese artist, architect, and designer to move into her 1,400-square-foot apartment nestled on the fifth floor of a classic Estado Novo building in Lisbon, which she shares with her daughter Duna and dog Lola.
Even though Joana is renting the flat, she made it her own through very personal decoration. “I painted all the walls, central corridor, and kitchen cupboards, choosing different colors for the different spaces,” she says. Joana transformed two of the four bedrooms into a home office and a room that works as a library and music and guest room, combining comfort and playfulness in every nook. The sense of history is what characterizes her interior design and architectural work, and she applied the same vision to her home, which is filled with mix-and-match furniture and accessories, accented by lush plants.
“Distinctive surfaces, fixtures, details, textures, and patinas bring depth and complexity to clean, simple lines and illuminated open spaces,” Joana says. The dusty green and weathered blue color palette courtesy of Farrow & Ball is complemented by the carpets, curtains, upholstery, and vintage Scandinavian furniture. “It looks like a lot of stuff—and it is a lot of stuff—but nothing is thoughtless or random: I’m very selective, and I’ve been gathering these pieces one by one for my whole life,” she says. “If a piece has that special je ne sais quoi, I know when I see it. I am drawn to weathered wood and textiles, patina on metal, evidence of the handling of edges, even fissures and cracks—proof that something is unique and that it has really lived.”
Everywhere she has traveled, Joana has brought something back with her, whether it is a blanket with a beautiful texture, an old book, or antique photographs, “anything that speaks to the history of the place and the soul of its people,” she says. “I have no interest in dropping the names of brands and designers.” So when Joana wants to shop, her favorites are flea markets, vintage shops, street fairs, and artisan workshops that she discovers by chance. “The exceptions to this no-names rule are the many pieces that have come into my collection from friends in the field, such as Spanish designer Jaime Hayón, French designer Sam Baron, and Portuguese artists Pedro Batista, Diogo Barros Pires, Inês Norton, and Vasco Águas,” she says. “These people are part of my life, and their pieces lend truly personal texture, color, and personality to my home.”
Joana considers her refuge an embodiment of her personality, where her passions, memories, and narratives are captured through the objects on display. “Just imagine if this sideboard had eyes to see and a mouth to gossip,” she says about a midcentury Scandinavian piece in the living room. “And that armoire with odd bibelots, porcelain, and vintage toys? It comes from a hospital pharmacy before the Revolution.”
Even if Joana loves her current home, she has a bigger dream. “I would like to completely refurbish, define the layout, and choose all the materials and finishes of a three- or four-level building in the center of Lisbon, in the Principe Real neighborhood,” she says. “I would create my studio, workshop, and furniture showroom at street level, a few flats in the middle floors, and my home on the top level. One day, I’ll do it. Home is an extension of me—and so is my work.”