Accra floor lamps, Belfast barstools, Cairo sofas: The ABCs of Frato’s offerings conjure up images of different cities and their distinct styles, making a trip to the brand’s showrooms in London, Dubai and now New York the interior design equivalent of jetting off on a whirlwind world tour. Which is why it may come as a surprise to learn that at its heart, Frato is a family affair.

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
Patrícia Santos, co-founder and creative director of FratoCourtesy of Frato

Founded by the wife-and-husband team of Patrícia and Carlos Santos and named after their twin sons, Frato calls the Portuguese coastal city of Porto home. Perhaps best known to Americans for port wine and 100-foot waves, more recently the sun-soaked country is polishing its reputation for not just historic tile work but hand-crafted contemporary furnishings as well. By keeping all its operations local, including manufacturing, Frato taps into its homeland’s diverse array of artisanal talent to create items that combine top-quality craftsmanship with luxe comfort and a cosmopolitan flair. The reception throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia has been overwhelmingly positive.

An ocean away on Park Avenue, Frato is steadily making its presence known to the trade, showcasing its refined yet glam aesthetic in its new 4,400-square-foot showroom. With details like fluted facades, embossed leather, metallic inlays and gemlike hardware, each piece has a hint of bling that’s counterbalanced by natural fabrics in neutral colorways and a variety of wood finishes. (A sample box containing a selection of its most popular materials can help designers new to the brand customize their choices.) Speaking with Business of Home from Porto following a stop in Manhattan for New York Design Week, Patrícia Santos, co-founder, creative director and “self-confessed perfectionist,” discusses Frato’s beginnings, her personal favorite styles and the brand’s plans for expansion.

Frato has existed for more than a decade, evolving from jewelry to home decor. Tell us about that journey.

Following law school, I founded the company in the mid-1990s with my husband, Carlos. In 2002, we created a jewelry business under the label Frato, which is a portmanteau of Francisco and Tomás, the names of our twin boys. But eventually we realized that the jewelry business was more about finances than artistry. Because I had some experience in home decor at the retail level, my interest evolved organically toward lifestyle and interiors. We started exploring furnishings as a sideline in 2008, making it official in 2011 at Maison&Objet.

Do you remember the first piece you presented at Maison, and if it was informed by a jeweler’s eye?

It was lighting. We launched with table and floor lamps that featured elegant components like beads, mother-of-pearl and trimmings from Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, so the transition was quite influenced by jewelry. Carlos and I traveled often throughout Asia, and it remains a huge reference point for our collections. I’ve always loved the sense of detail. At Maison&Objet, we had a small booth with a sofa, a coffee table and a floor lamp, just to convey our brand’s DNA. And we grew from there.

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
The Laos floor lamp, customized with a single mother-of-pearl disk strung on a beaded silk tassel suspended between brushed brass frameworkCourtesy of Frato

We decided to verticalize—to control our own manufacturing and sell directly to customers around the world—rather than pursue distribution deals. In the United States we focus on trade because that’s the way the home goods market works there. Our showroom in London is trade-only too. But in the rest of the world, the relationship is from the brand to retail consumers.

You mentioned an Asian aesthetic as one influence on your approach to design. Many companies manufacture their furniture in India or China, for example. In Europe, Italy is known for its mills. Have you always produced Frato’s items exclusively in Portugal?

It was part of our strategy from the start, as a way to ensure both quality control and ethical working conditions. And the economic conditions at the time made that possible. We bought a huge factory, and today we have about 180 employees. Producing everything in Porto allows me to be on hand for all our teams, whether it’s design and construction or sales and marketing, to oversee the details and teach our standards. We control every stage in the production process, with no constraints. Every day, I can see the products we’re making, put my hand on them, feel the texture of the wood and see the veining in the marble. But we began small, with decor—lamps and side tables at maximum.

What distinguishes craftsmanship and manufacturing in Portugal from all those other places?

Portugal has a history of quality materials and hand-craftsmanship, along with an attention to detail that, in my opinion, can’t be found elsewhere. We have generational artisans—master carpenters, metalworkers, upholsterers. Also, we’re straightforward and transparent in terms of our business practices, and we prioritize our workers—which may not always be the case in some of these other countries. Everyone is part of the Frato team, from the person who cuts the wood to the person who manages public relations.

With experience in everything from law to jewelry, do you design furniture too?

At first, when our collection was smaller, I approved everything. Now I oversee the creative teams. I select the colors, the finishes, the materials, and I make sure that any new designs complement our existing pieces, so there’s a cohesiveness to everything we make.

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
Etched brass “cuffs” add a jewelry-like touch to the Mykonos sideboard, which also features slim brass borders to emphasize the piece’s architectural lines and notebook-leather doors engraved for a woven effectCourtesy of Frato

There’s Italian rococo, there’s Scandinavian modern: Do you think there’s an immediately recognizable Portuguese style?

What I can say is there’s a Frato style, which is classic, contemporary and enduring. Maybe typical Portuguese design is a bit more “statement,” a bit more baroque, but Frato is not. Our pieces can have vibrant characteristics and contrasts, whether from metallic accents or interesting textiles. But mostly I prefer to work with silk, linen, cotton and sustainable leather in neutral palettes.

It seems as if, just in the past few years, Portugal is having a popular renaissance in everything from tourism to cuisine to surfing.

Yes, Portugal is booming. But when we first launched the business, it was not so easy! The perception of Portuguese products was not so positive then. Now the country has a very good reputation overall, and Frato is proud to be at the forefront of this trend.

Prior to New York, you opened showrooms in London and Dubai. What determined those choices?

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
The Copenhagen armchair in custom upholsteryCourtesy of Frato

We established a presence in both the U.K and the Middle East soon after we launched Frato at Maison&Objet. After seeing us there, Harrods invited us to open a small corner in their landmark London department store. And we thought, “Why not?” It was a good experience that continues to this day, so we decided to create another shop, this one for the trade only, at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, in 2019. London is convenient, just a two-hour flight from Portugal, and it’s such an important city in relation to both Europe and the United States. By the time we opened in Dubai in 2018, we were already doing a lot of business in the Middle East, so it was the logical location.

The New York showroom opened in September 2023. What has that experience been like so far?

In the lead-up to the opening, we exhibited at ICFF and hosted a few cocktail hours to introduce ourselves. Because we are still new to the American market, we don’t yet have much brand awareness, so it’s a challenge every day, but I love it. We’re positive about our progress, and we have great tools: not only the floor models but also examples of all our woods, marbles, metals, fabrics and finishes, which we consolidate for designers in a convenient sample box. Plus, of course, Park Avenue is a beautiful part of the city.

For designers who have yet to visit, what would you say to entice them?

First of all, I’d explain that, as a brand that controls all stages of design, production and distribution, Frato can customize any item to their specifications. While our styles, in general, are classic, in neutral colorways, if a designer wants a more pronounced statement for a particular project—bolder upholstery or a heightened contrast between finishes and accents—we’re easily able to work with them, transitioning from the timeless to something more trend-driven. We have lots of possibilities to choose from, and we’re committed to finding the perfect solution for every customer and any room: hallway, living room, bathroom, bedroom, dining area, kitchen, even bespoke closets.

What are some of your own favorite styles?

Beginning with our original category, lighting, I’ll mention the Laos—which we offer as a table lamp and a floor lamp. It reflects some of those ornamental accents I referenced before. I first bought the beads it features a long time ago abroad, and I order them often to this day. They border one or two larger mother-of-pearl disks, and a long fringe of pale silk finishes the pendant, which is framed by slim lines of brushed brass in a rounded rectangular shape that’s anchored to a wood-veneer base. The drum shade is double-silk as well. All our lampshades are made from fabric—silk, linen or cotton, depending on the customer’s choice—but never lined in plastic. At Frato, we want every part of our products to be well-made, even those that, on first impression, you don’t see. The mother-of-pearl detail is naturally beautiful. No two are the same. Customers fall in love with the jewel-like pendant in the middle. It’s opulent but subtle.

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
The impactful Brentwood mirror includes shelving, backed by whatever wallpaper the customer chooses, to display artwork and curiosCourtesy of Frato

As an accessory, the big, round Brentwood mirror is always popular. It incorporates some small shelves with a wallpaper backing that can be customized with any pattern or palette. It’s funny: Whether the customer is retail or trade, we tend to have two types. One comes in with a specific or signature style already in mind, and they’re looking for pieces to express it. They already have a clear idea about materials and finishes. In that case, we accommodate them. The other type of customer asks us for advice and creative direction, saying, “Oh, I’m designing this kind of room; what finish do you think I should choose for the Brentwood mirror?” Or “I like greens; what wallpaper would you suggest as a backdrop for the shelving?” And we are happy to help.

I also love the shape of the Copenhagen chaise longue. It’s organic, and it blends retro and futuristic influences with its tufted, wraparound backrest and plush cushioning. It’s such a comfortable option, and at the same time, it’s very elegant, with a “less is more” essence. Our standard model is upholstered in cream-colored velvet and boucle, but it can be customized in everything from a printed jacquard to leather. The Copenhagen series also includes an armchair and a sofa, though each works well as a stand-alone, mixed with other styles.

For a more contemporary look, the Mykonos sideboard has sharp, architectural edges outlined by a slim brass inlay and decorated with notebook-leather doors that are engraved for a woven effect. At Frato, we use metallics like brass and stainless steel judiciously, as elegant details.

Soon you’re going to run out of cities to name your styles after!

Traveling is my main inspiration. I like to pick up details on my trips and interpret them in our designs. The Verona sideboard, for instance, sets bronze mirror in Renaissance-style arches bordered by brass to evoke the shape of iconic bridges like the Ponte Pietra. I’m inspired by American cities too. We’re starting with New York, but we’d like to have showrooms in Miami and Los Angeles—the sunny cities, where we could also show our outdoor line. It’s something we’re keeping an eye on. We know that establishing a brand in the United States takes work. There are different legal requirements and market demands that we’re still learning. But we’re here with hope and happiness and confidence that we’ll achieve our goals. We’re a family business, so you could say we’re not in a hurry. We never want to move one step forward, two steps back. As we’ve always done, we want only to go forward, slowly but surely, step by step. The sky’s the limit.

Frato brings its timeless furnishings from Porto to Park Avenue
Following locations in London and Dubai, Portugal-based, family-run furniture, decor and lighting company Frato recently opened it first showroom in the United States, at 500 Park Avenue in New YorkCourtesy of Frato

This story is a paid promotion and was created in partnership with Frato.

Homepage image: A peek inside Frato’s new showroom at 500 Park Avenue reveals the brand’s portfolio of classic, comfortable and sophisticated furnishings | Courtesy of Frato

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