Kairos Discovers - Diego Portuondo

Kairos Discovers - Diego Portuondo

In each edition of Kairos Discovers, we interview the movers and shakers of the design world to find out about their work, insider tips, and the essence to living a tasteful life.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon that we sat down with Diego Portuondo. Alongside his brother Hugo, he runs Portuondo, a charming establishment in Pimlico which specialises in vintage furniture and home accessories. From family to living experiences in multiple cities to a spontaneous lifestyle, the venture bears the mark of everything that defines him as a tastemaker.

Where did you get your passion for interiors?
My mother is a designer, a very creative soul and my father an antiques dealer. This meant we were always travelling far and wide to find design fairs and exhibitions, it was a great part of growing up. We lived above my father’s gallery in Bilbao when I was little so antique furniture was everywhere. My father taught us the ways of the auction houses, the fairs and dealing; we learnt the tricks of the trade from an early age. My brother and I learnt how to trust our intuition, one of the most important parts of the business and an invaluable gift
“My father always taught me not to focus on one period. Every genre has something different to offer, it’s about the individual pieces and choosing what you like. "
How did you come about setting up shop in London?
I’ve been living in England on and off ever since I was eight, so I know London really well. I went to boarding school and art college in England too. Although when I started out as a photographer, I went to live in Paris for six years. I started to present my art photography juxtaposed against my father’s antiques, something that had never really been done before and found it really successful for a business entering the digital era. Despite my love for photography, my heart was always in antiques.

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Shortly after the 2008 crash my brother Hugo and I decided to give the family business a twist and polish. We came to London for a design fair and that’s where it started. A shop popped up in Pimlico, which doesn’t happen very often and we saw it as an ideal opportunity, something that just had to be done. The way we have structured it works well for us. I am based here and my brother goes between our shop in Madrid and London. But we often travel all over to source. I speak English, French and obviously Spanish. Quite an advantage when it comes to dealing with clients and buying.

Why Pimlico?
This is definitely the go-to destination for quality, classic interior design, it’s just like travelling back to London’s good ol’ days. There are so many independent eateries to check out as well. You’ve got the Orange, then you’ve got the Daylesford just up the road, a few little Italian delis and a really good Chinese restaurant, Hunan - I love the diversity.

If your shop was an artist who would it be?
I think, without sounding presumptuous, Picasso. Right from the start to the end of his career his style was always evolving. Where Picasso changed from cubism to surrealism to everything in between, our style ranges from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through to contemporary design and arts.

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Still Life with Picasso by Roy Lichtenstein from Portuondo - Shop this item

Are you invested in a particular style?
My father always taught me not to focus on one period. Every genre has something different to offer, it’s about the individual pieces and choosing what you like. So what if a piece doesn’t sell, you can always put it in your house! I think my style reflects the many places I have lived. Moving from Bilbao to Ibiza and then to an English boarding school run by monks, I experienced a great eclectic mix of cultures and this is reflected in the pieces I pick.

What would you say is your most vivid childhood memory?
Summers in Ibiza. My parents bought a house there in the seventies and it’s where my mum lives now. It is a very special place for me, the “beach” feel to the island is something that will always stay with you no matter where you go in the world.

What was the last song you listened to?
It’s completely random, from a chill-out album that I plugged in on the way to work, like my taste for antiques, my music collection is a bit of everything. My Ipod is always on shuffle.

Any drink you’d order at a bar most of the time?
Cafe Patron, it livens up any night.

Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon?
That’s depending on my Saturday night...either on the sofa, at a museum, meeting my friends for lunch or working. This job is really not a 9-5, it’s more an extension of my life, if you don’t love doing it, you’re never going to get anywhere.

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Is there an object you have collected that you hold dear to your heart?
I would say just an accumulation of memories and pieces i picked up along the way or that were in our family home as a child. I have a phrenological bust that has been at home always that I would never part with.

How do you know what to look for?
I have designers that I like, more or less, with certain pieces that I am always hunting. At the same time, you see a piece and just have a gut feeling that you’ve got to go for it. My brother and I run the business together so it’s good to be able to get his opinion.

What’s your stance on restoration?
There is a fine line between wear, patina and damage. But you have to be sympathetic to the piece and make sure that you don’t over restore and destroy its essence. It’s good to have a bit of character with certain pieces, their history is what makes them so special.

What advice would you give to the aspiring collector?
Whatever piece you buy has to say something to you. You’ve got to enjoy it. It’s quite a personal thing. Some people think furniture is for functional use but it’s so much more than that. You may be crazy about a certain colour, style or era and you’ve got to go with it. Everyone is different and you don’t have to fall into set boxes. I think that the interior of your home is so important, it’s what you wake up and go to bed to everyday; it’s what displays your personality and what you associate your memories with. So pick what feels right to you.

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Citta di Carte Tray by Piero Fornasetti from Portuondo - Shop this item

Kairos has teamed up with London’s most discerning interiors specialists, so you can make the most of the design districts at your fingertips.