Sol Muniain is a Spanish/English artist fascinated by natural colours and dyes; Amori Borman is a South African creative passionate about wool and art. Both have adopted the Algarve as their home, and have used Portugal as inspiration for their beautiful hand-made lamps.
Sol was born in Madrid of a Spanish father and English mother) but spent her formative years and early career in with UK. While her background is in publishing and e-commerce, she is a hugely talented artist with a special interest in semi-abstract landscapes. Sol and husband Michael and their three children moved to Portugal three years ago, and live in the heart of the Silves countryside “ The landscapes around Silves are a huge inspiration to me – the russets of the soil, the myriad of wild flowers, the delicate almond blossom, the heady scent of jasmine… it is heaven,” she says.
Amori joined her husband in his fine art gallery business. Two children later, and then a full-time mother, she started an educational fund to help boys living on the streets of Cape Town to resettle back in their communities or be moved to a residential care facility. A few years ago the family decide to adventure and came to live in the Algarve. “We all fell in love with the country and its people. This is truly a magical place to raise children and we feel very blessed to be able to call Portugal home now,” she says.
Sol and Amori share a fascination for the traditional crafts of Portugal, so soon after they met, they signed up to a Palma Algarvia (palm weaving) class at the Lagoa School of Art. “Palma is one of the oldest crafts in this part of Portugal, and it is incredibly sad that the art form is slowly disappearing,” says Sol. “But, thankfully, some really forward-thinking designers are bringing it back to life. I love following the beautiful work of Palmas Douradas, a Portuguese designer based in São Bras de Alportel who makes the most beautiful items from palma. Her work is just stunning.”
It was in that class, the two of them embracing a wonderfully meditative activity, that the seed for their future business, Looma, was sown.
One weekend, the duo took the train up to Lisbon, and popped into two shops that had a tremendous impact on them: the first was the Retrosaria Rosa Pomar wool shop in the Chiado neighbourhood, which celebrates the native sheep breeds of Portugal, and creates its own beautiful ranges of wool from Portuguese fleeces. The second was the Burel shop; the Burel Factory, based in the Serra da Estrela, creates an exquisite range of fabrics and items made from Portuguese wool.
Sol and Amori dug deeper into the wonders of wool and have never looked back. They took part in some “life-changing” wool workshops in Porto, at the Saber Fazer headquarters, run by Alice Bernardo, another passionate ambassador of all things wool-related. “We learnt about felt-manipulation from felt artist Ana Rita de Albuquerque where you can achieve all kinds of sculptural effects using felt made from wool,” says Sol. “We also learnt about wool as a fibre – and how to process a fleece from the point of shearing, to the spinning.”
At around the same time, Sol became interested in natural dyeing processes, and began experimenting; the Looma concept evolved from there. “It has been a wonderful journey of discovery, with many disappointments along the way, but a huge number of fabulous surprises. One of the high points was the discovery of the beautiful golden hues that you can achieve from the twigs (not the leaves!) of a laurel tree. It was such an unexpected joy!
“I am passionate about the synergy between man and the natural world – and I feel an almost spiritual connection with the land around us, and the need to protect it. I feel that for too long we have exploited the earth and lost that wonderful connection, and it is time we return to a simpler, more mindful way of living. The land provides everything we need.
“We want Looma to communicate this. The Looma brand stands for a different, more sustainable way of working – and we think that the unique lamps speak for themselves.”
Integrity is a word that features large in their description of Looma, and their working principles. “We believe strongly in creating a product with its heart firmly rooted in Portugal, and we are very proud of what we have done so far, starting with the frames – which are made for us in a small workshop in the outskirts of Lisbon. The wool is Portuguese, an homage to the centuries-old wool industry here which sadly has been dwindling in recent years. At one of the Saber Fazer workshops in Porto I was shocked to discover that farmers practically give away the fleeces from their sheep – some even burn it as they have no use for it. This is shocking to me – it is such a beautiful, precious material.”
The girls are now looking to spin their own wool from Churra Algarvia sheep and have been promised the first fleeces when the flock is sheared at Cebolas do Campinho, in the Alentejo. This means they will be able to control the exact thickness they want want, and can add interesting texturesl.
“The Portuguese landscape around us creates many of the colours in our lamps: laurel, carob, onion skin, pomegranate… plus indigo, chamomile and woad from the Looma garden. I am constantly boiling up random items to see if I can extract any colour – from avocados to rosemary, from hibiscus to basil. My children think I’m secretly a witch!” laughs Sol. “Each lamp has soul and tells a story of the land it emerged from.”
“Every piece we make is created and influenced by our surroundings,” agrees Amori. “The old tiles are amazing, the history, the stories they tell are all part of the soul of Portugal. The proud manufacturer of our frames, the Portuguese wool company that has been around for generations are all part of the story: our friendship is also part of the soul of every lampshade.
“The first time we experimented with wool and light, we were bowled over by the effect. I have the first lamp we made in my lounge. The frame was made by hand by Manuel, the metalworker that made the traditional wrought-iron bannister in my home. I drew a metre-high cylindrical shape design for him and he made it for me. When I started to weave around it, the tension of the wool created a beautiful natural curve, and the resulting subtly-curved shape was amazing.
The natural colours glow when the lamp is on – it looks like stained glass. I am very proud of it, and I love the way the natural colours have evolved over time – they have faded very slightly – to create even more beautiful tones. I love the fact that it feels like it is alive, constantly evolving. We make pieces that we absolutely love, not pieces that we think will sell. It’s a very fulfilling and expressive process.
Working in harmony – Sol brings abstract creativity to the equation and develops colours “I am constantly amazed to see how similar the lamps are to some of my paintings – it’s bizarre!” while Amori’s speciality is texture; she uses different weaving techniques that created beautiful patterns and add dimension to every shade.
The duo’s dream commission would be to create the lighting for a high-end, beautiful Algarve restaurant or hotel with a similar ethic to theirs, and that celebrates the wonderful ingredients the Algarve has to offer. “We would love to be involved in creating a beautiful atmosphere, with added soul. We love the idea of working with like-minded individuals who share our values. It would be wonderful to create oversize lamps for big spaces that a client absolutely loves.”
Prices for Looma lamps range from €575 to €795. The girls are currently in the process of creating some smaller pieces, including kitchen island downlights, bedside lamps and wall lamps.
Words: Susi Rogol Goodkind