Cafés, places of democracies and revolutions

21 Feb · 11h00

© European Union, 2021

Coming across typical Portuguese café furniture in one of the rooms on the 50th floor of the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels is a first, but the idea is to call attention to the role of cafés in the construction of democratic societies in Europe.

Portuguese Roots tables and chairs, burel wool mats and Tower Eye lamps recreate an intimate atmosphere of meeting, sharing, reflection and writing.

Portuguese Roots: recreating an icon

The Portuguese Roots chairs designed by Alexandre Caldas, with the help of master Serafim, are a reinvention of the metal chair created by master metalworker Gonçalo Rodrigues dos Santos in the late 1940s. Originally made from sheet metal and tubular iron, for the coffee shops and street cafés of Lisbon, particularly Café Nicola and A Brasileira, the chair by master metalworker Gonçalo spread throughout Portugal and the world, becoming an icon of Portuguese industrial production. Portuguese Roots chairs have revived this legacy and added to the comfort and ergonomics through the use of wood and cork. These chairs, as well as the Portuguese Roots tables, also inspired by the original design of the metal street café table of the 1950s, recreate the café atmosphere in this room in the building.

Founded by designer Alexandre Caldas and marketing director Soraia Rangel, Around the Tree allies technological innovation, the preservation of the Portuguese furniture tradition and respect for natural resources. Inspired by nature and using solid wood as its main raw material, it makes pieces that stand out for the selection and quality of the materials used and for their skilful manufacture, offering high quality, functionality and durability.



Portuguese Roots chairs by designer Alexandre Caldas and two burel rugs by Burel Factory © Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2021 / Tony da Silva/Lusa

Burel: from the pastures to daily life

Two burel mats, in cross-draped 3D stitch, both by Burel Factory, show the versatility of this 100% natural wool, resulting from the trend towards reviving old models and techniques that has been underway in Portugal in recent years. Traditionally used for capes and coats worn by shepherds in the highest, coldest parts of Portugal, this age-old fabric, which is highly resistant and very robust, has been rediscovered and is now being used for different purposes, offering a wide range of models, textures, patterns, applications and colours. The advantages of burel include the fact that:

  • it is an excellent sound insulator (reducing sound reverberation, limiting its spread and increasing the quality of the environment)
  • it is easy to maintain
  • is an excellent heat insulator
  • is aesthetically pleasing

It is therefore very suitable for use indoors.


Burel Factory was founded in 2006 by entrepreneurs Isabel Costa and João Tomás, with the aim of rediscovering the tangible and intangible heritage linked to the manufacturing industry in Serra da Estrela. Restoring 19th-century machinery, these entrepreneurs have been fostering cooperation between former master weavers, designers and creators, recycling old patterns, renovating models, introducing new colours to the burel and inventing new applications, thus expanding its use.


Tower Eye: putting traditional tiles to a different use

The Tower Eye floor lamp is a focal point in this room, due to the use of handcrafted and hand-painted tiles, associating technology with tradition. Designed by architect and designer Miguel Arruda, this lamp is part of the Exporlux Tile Lighting® project and is aimed at giving tiles a new lease of life, recalling 19th-century buildings with their façades clad in tiles with circular patterns.


Tower Eye vertical lamp by architect and designer Miguel Arruda © Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2021 / Tony da Silva/Lusa

Normally used as a finish for indoor and outdoor surfaces, tiles are now being put to different uses, serving as inspiration for the arts and for design. The technology used in this lamp makes it possible to dim the light, while the decorative motif gives an individual touch to the places it lights up.


Exporlux, founded in 1987, is one of the benchmarks in the indoor, outdoor and public technical lighting sector. With a research centre devoted to the areas of optics, electronics and lighting sources, this company has been working on developing new lighting methods that reduce energy consumption and use resources rationally.


Most people no longer see cafés as places of meeting and creative sharing. But with this intervention, curator Bárbara Coutinho, Director of MUDE, brings to mind the café as a place of interaction, discussion, sharing and listening to others, in a group or individual experience, appreciating what she describes as “the anthropological dimension of the place, with people talking to each other about culture, education, politics, the arts, science and thought”, but without neglecting the perspective of the ecological sustainability of the materials used to recreate the atmosphere of these places.