FOR Uruguay’s ambassador to China, Rosario Portell, a spacious city apartment proves the ideal setting for an array of clean-lined furniture and a well-curated collection of Uruguayan art that she is proud to showcase to the local guests.
Portell stayed in a house in Shunyi District for a month when she first came to Beijing. There are many reasons an expat in Beijing might want to move from the suburbs to downtown, where residential buildings rise above bustling shopping emporiums.
For an ambassador, the reason is evident: “My living space has to be in a convenient location in the city’s center that has easy access to the embassy as well as my daily life activities. I also host frequent receptions at home for the exchanges with my colleagues and my local friends,” she said.
It took Portell a while to find this ideal space among 30 apartments she had visited. The 400-square-meter high-rise apartment has a series of free-flowing places: an open-plan living and dining room, an open kitchen, a cozy home office and bedrooms for guests. The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in natural light and amazing city views.
The moment she saw the city from the window and how the big windows filled the space with light, she knew it was all she needed.
Minimalism and contemporary and subtle colors are themes the ambassador truly believes in. “The view itself is already brilliant, so having an interior that is clean, soothing and can be portrayed as a canvas for beautiful paintings and decorations is my goal.”
A spectrum of neutral colors such as beige, chestnut and brown dress up the home and complement its clean lines. Far away from her native country, Portell wanted to create “a home away from home.”
“When I invite guests to my home, I want people to feel ‘home’ and enjoy the ambience. Uruguay is your home and my place represents Uruguay.”
It took her a few months to complete the decoration. From the selection of materials and colors, to the stylish yet simple furniture and displays, the apartment boasts a tasteful and warm design with meticulous detail.
The layout and design of the apartment allowed Portell to reflect on her life in the city and consider the things that matter most to her as this chapter of her Beijing life gets under way.
Evidence of the ambassador’s discerning eye for color, pattern and texture can be found in her intelligent and subtle collection of art and design. She proudly pointed out the lovely collection of gourd mate tea cups made of silver and leather displayed near the living room sofa. Uruguay has a tradition of drinking mate, a South American infused drink heavy on caffeine. The ambassador loves to drink mate before the day starts. “In my country sipping mate is a phenomenon as big as drinking tea in China,” Portell said.
As well as collecting well-designed mate cups, Portell shares her passion for art. The painting created by Manuel Pailos hung above the living room sofa is one of the highlights. Pailos studied painting at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Montevideo before joining the Taller Torres-Garcia in 1943. Profoundly influenced by the pedagogy and the theories of the workshop’s founder, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Pailos was an important contributing member of the Taller throughout its existence, working as both a student and eventually a teacher. According to the ambassador, works by Pailos have been exhibited extensively throughout Latin America, and in 1991 the artist was honored by the Spanish regional government of Galicia with a museum exhibition and sculpture commission for the gardens at the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Another striking painting displayed on the wall near the entrance depicts ranches in a landscape of Uruguay done by Jorge Damiani, one of the most significant figures in contemporary Uruguayan art. Since 1949, Damiani has undergone a prolific development that underscores a classic Italian heritage, a concern for the transcendent, evocative qualities, a display of mystery, an oneiric and unreal climate, and a dialogue between reality and fantasy.
“Both artists are the perfect references for the young artists in Uruguay, and I would like to showcase for the guests in Beijing the best from our country,” she said.
The ambassador very often hosts receptions in her house but she emphasized “informal reception” is the key. “I love to create a very laid-back ambience in my place and provide guests our simple but authentic Uruguayan food with the background music from my country.”
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Beijing?
A: To live at the present time in Beijing, where tradition is mixed with modernity is just amazing. To get to discover all the corners of this culture immersed in the everyday life is great.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Peace, simplicity, sunlit
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: I put my music on.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: I love to read and go to the gym.
Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?
A: At the living room and at the library.
Q: What’s the view outside your window?
A: The 3rd Ring Road, China World Trade Center and CCTV Tower, from the other side you can see the Golf Club.
Q: How do you scent your home?
A: I use natural flowers.
Q: What’s your favorite object at home?
A: The mates, because they remind me home.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Beijing?
A: From Li Chen, a local carpenter, and some small local stores.