From Shanghai to Zurich, to Manila and Singapore, a strong Swiss connection binds two women in both friendship and business
I consider Nathalie Küpfer Henares one of my dearest friends. We actually met a number of years ago in China when we were both working in communications and, despite the distance, have kept in touch.
Nathalie was born in Switzerland and has travelled a great deal throughout the world over the years. This has contributed greatly to her sense of aesthetics and design – something which continues to come into play in the work that she does these days. After getting married, she has happily settled in Manila where she founded her own design consultancy and online retail shop PORTORO Interior.
We caught up with her recently and she shared her different insights on home design and personal style.
How exactly did you and Helvetia and Sons’ Seraina Peter meet?
I had already been living in Shanghai for several years when Seraina moved there in 2008. A mutual friend from Switzerland who was based in Kuala Lumpur at the time arranged for us to meet at a charming café called the Coffee Tree in Shanghai's French Quarter on a sunny Saturday morning in autumn. We connected immediately and even booked ourselves for a facial after having coffee. Over time, Seraina became a great addition to my growing circle of international friends and we went to all the cool places together.
Sometime after, my career took me to Hamburg, but Seraina and I kept in touch. A few years later, we both moved to Zurich for our respective jobs, and it was great that we kept our Asian connection and had so many shared memories about our exciting life in Shanghai.
It's even more incredible that we're now both back in Asia: I moved to Manila when I married and Seraina moved to Singapore. And, yes: we remain constantly in touch. In fact, when we established our respective businesses in our Southeast Asian bases, we created the Swiss Founders Abroad group for other Swiss nationals who have setup businesses outside our homeland.
How has the Swiss Founders Abroad group helped you and other Swiss entrepreneurs?
Our group has monthly exchanges where we discuss the challenges we're all facing when it comes to our currently nascent businesses. Throughout the pandemic, having the membership in and support of the group has been a great help. Not only do we talk about the issues we are facing, but we share our individual successes with everyone. I would even go so far to say that the victory of one is a victory for all.
What is PORTORO Interior all about?
I originally envisioned PORTORO as a design consultancy that would take a personal approach to creating interior spaces. But today, we are best known by our clients as an online retailer that brings a beautifully designed and curated collection of home accents and objets d’art from different parts of the world.
By providing this online space, we are able to help our customers make informed choices about the items they can use to embellish their spaces, giving them the experience of working with master artisans whose work will add an elegant accent to their homes or offices.
What were the challenges you had to deal with when your brand went online?
I was not quite sure how Filipino customers would receive the products I currently offer. But the key thing to remember is that Filipinos do love to travel and many who have gone overseas make it a point to find something that is intrinsic or endemic to the country they’ve visited. There are also a number of Filipinos who appreciate the quality and craftsmanship that go into a number of goods from Europe, especially fine tableware – linens, dinnerware, and even cutlery – as they love to entertain and setting a good table is part of their culture of hospitality.
But ensuring that stocks arrive in a timely fashion from overseas has been an issue – not only for me and PORTORO Interior, but also for a number of entrepreneurs in the region who offer European products for the Southeast Asian market. When they finally arrive, however, the main challenge lies in letting people know about them; this is something we usually do via social media.
Where does your passion for design come from?
It has always been a part of me, and I daresay it was cultivated by my mother whenever she took me to her home country, France, when I was a child. It was always a treat to help her decorate our holiday home in Provence. Later on, my own travels influenced my personal taste as I discovered a number of beautiful places across the globe and learned to find exquisite objects I could take home as a memento of my experience.
Do you remember the moment when you decided to make the most out of your passion by starting PORTORO?
There was no exact moment: I always wanted to create my own interior design brand. I started my first projects in Paris and Manila, and, through these projects, grew my relationship with artisans, curators, and designers. I was passionate about bringing objets d’art and other fascinating items from Europe to my new home in Manila. It gave me the opportunity to share the experience of travel through diverse designs, styles, and products with my clients.
I am proud to say that I was able to establish strong working precious relationships with designers and artists from numerous locations both in Europe and in Asia.
For me, it isn’t only about the beauty of the objects, but also the story behind them and the emotions they convey.
You are half-French and half-Swiss, and have lived in different parts of the world. How has this mix of heritage and homes influenced your personal aesthetic or style?
My style essentially grew with every culture I’ve experienced. I lived in Shanghai for many years and this gave me the opportunity to discover different Asian cultures, to explore craftsmanship, and to learn how different materials are used. When I lived in Hamburg, though, I was closer to Scandinavian design. Every place has different resources and, thus, different skills, artisans, and standards of craftsmanship.
The high quality, elegance, and accurate selection have always been a fil rouge or guiding principle for me. These still drive how I select items and concepts for PORTORO.
Learn more about Nathalie and her work via www.portoro-interior.com