Tenreiro is considered the pioneer of modernist Brazilian furniture design. During the 1940’s the local furniture industry produced essentially copies of classic European styles. Tenreiro broke away from these trends and gave form to a new language in furniture making. He supported the idea that Brazilian furniture should have a ‘lightness of form’ a lightness that, according to his beliefs, had nothing to do with the weight itself but rather with elegance and functionality. Tenreiro adjusted the proportion of some of his works scaling their dimensions to a more suitable form and started to use out of fashion materials like woven cane to adapt his design to a tropical climate. Tenreiro had an exceptional ability of providing craftsmanship quality to large-scale manufacturing.
Born in Portugal to a family of cabinetmakers, he moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1928 bringing with him the family trade. In 1931 he engaged work as an assistant designer to the furniture makers Laubisch & Hirth, which produced European styled furniture with superfluous embellishments and bulky proportions.
In 1942 he was commissioned to design the furniture for a residential project from Oscar Niemeyer. Tenreiro had the opportunity to apply his own ideas of modernist furniture design, which made him known and recognized as a designer. He left Laubisch & Hirth the following year and opened his own furniture studio called Langenbach & Tenreiro. In the following years he opened his first retail store in Rio de Janeiro and subsequently another one in São Paulo. In 1968, he closed the stores and the studio and dedicated his time only to fine arts and sculptures, artistic activities he had alongside his work.
Tenreiro developed an exquisite method for casting Brazilian wood. He used its rich hues and tones as a core concept to create his works. The Three Feet chair is a refined example of his techniques, as five types of Brazilian wood are harmonically blended – imbuia, purpleheart, rosewood, ivory and cabreuva.
His works as furniture maker and as a fine artist have been displayed in several exhibitions in Brazil and abroad. They are highly disputed in auction houses in America and Europe, with some of his works reaching significantly high prices.