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Brazilian designer Sergio Rodrigues dies at 86

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Celebrated Brazilian designer Sergio Rodrigues, whose "Mole" armchair is among the most iconic pieces of Brazilian mid-century design, has died. He was 86 years old.

Rodrigues' secretary, Carla Claro, says Rodrigues died of liver failure Monday at his home in Rio de Janeiro.

A Rio native, Rodrigues studied architecture before turning to furniture design. According to his official biography, he designed more than 1,200 different pieces of furniture, though none would prove as enduring a hit as his "Mole" armchair, the name of which means "soft" in Portuguese. Created in 1957, the award-winning chair has a squat wooden frame topped by interlocking leather pillows fitted with thick straps.

The design garnered the top prize in the Cantu international furniture competition in Italy in 1961. In 1974, New York's Museum of Modern Art acquired a "Mole" armchair for its collection, the biography said.

Maria Cecilia Loschiavo dos Santos, a historian specializing in Brazilian design, said the "Mole" represented a "great revolution."

"The imperious desire to conceive of a piece of furniture that would express national identity led Sergio Rodrigues to a design that defied the existing styles," the biography cites Santos as saying.

Like many of his other designs, the chair initially was made from jacaranda, a prized Brazilian hardwood that was harvested into near-oblivion. The factory licensed to produce his designs then switched to woods like eucalyptus, "pau marfim," or ivorywood.

Furniture designed by Rodrigues will continue to be produced, Claro said. Vintage "Mole" armchairs retail in Rio antique stores for around $7500.

Other top designs include the so-called "Kilin" armchair, from 1973, and the "Diz," from 2003. The striking "Chifruda," or "horned" chair, from 1962, is known for the sweeping wooden slat at the top of the backrest that resembles a pair of antlers.

Rodrigues, who also famously decorated the Brazilian embassy in Rome in 1959, was to be honored at the upcoming IDA design fair, which opens next week as part of Rio's celebrated ArtRio international art fair, organizers have said.

Rodrigues is survived by his wife, Vera Beatriz, and three children. The funeral will take place in Rio on Wednesday, Claro said.

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