Stay in Ipanema’s Most Retro Penthouse

Rio is a city full of character, charm, and energy. Just take a quick stroll up any street in infamous Ipanema and you will feel the city’s vibrancy and dynamism. If you are lucky and have a chance to stay at Alastair Cumming’s penthouse, you will experience all that without having to leave the house. While Rio is full of hotels, there’s nothing like staying at a local home to get a real feel for the city. Cumming’s Ipanema Penthouse is a golden key that gives you entrance to not only the best street in Rio but to a relaxing, upscale experience in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.


Meticulously designed by the owner himself, the penthouse features original Oscar Niemeyer pieces, custom wallpaper, and vintage furnishing from rio’s very streets. This is the place to stay in Rio de Janeiro. Cumming’s London Loft is not much different, with interiors restored with a light touch that bridges the gap between retro and modern living.


Did you have any connection to Rio before purchasing a home there?

“I had no previous connection prior to visiting Rio for the first time in 2000 on a NYE holiday with a couple of friends. I looked at various places like Sicily,Turkey and Morocco. It was then that I looked at Rio and at that time property was very affordable compared to virtually any other world city.I looked at Ipanema and realized that it is a very small area defined on both sides by the ocean and a lake, so no one could really build anything new. That was it.”

Why did you choose Ipanema?

“Ipanema is almost like a village with a very timeless,unique energy. It has a mythic status within Brazil for its beach lifestyle and for setting trends. I bought a plane ticket and saw about 15 places over 4 days but I knew I specifically wanted to be in Ipanema. I briefly flirted with a property in Leblon but thank God I didn’t buy there. Remember Ipanema is mostly residential and the hotels aren’t great (apart maybe for the Fasano and Marina). More than anywhere in the world it makes sense to rent while here.”

How does this particular apartment compare to others in the area?

“A lot of apartments in Ipanema are in tall buildings facing each other so can it be dark. That is why being in a penthouse is an advantage, you are bathed in light. This penthouse also was mid sized at 1500 sq ft (penthouses in Rio tend to be either vast or tiny.) I should add that since then up till the recent economic downturn in Brazil, Rio experienced massive price rises in housing. I don’t believe it had much to do with the World Cup/Olympics. It was simply an overdue historical correction. Premium real estate,wherever it is located, is not immune to increasingly global market pressures.”


One can immediately feel an uplifting energy upon entering the apartment. Was that intentional?

“I definitely wanted to create a beachy, tropical,”good times” feel to the apartment. That’s why furniture from the 50s, 60s and 70s helps in this regard. They were created at a time when many people were still so optimistic about the future. But I have mixed in some modern elements to give the overall look a timelessness that doesn’t date. I’m also not afraid of using color. Rio has fantastic rich,golden light. I don’t know how they measure it but scientists have claimed Rio has the bluest sky in the world! It means that you can use color in a way that might look gaudy in a grey city like London, where I am mostly based.”


As an out-of-towner, was the buying process difficult in Brazil?

“It was a bit intimidating not speaking Portuguese but I happened to walk into a real estate agency in Rua Vinicius, and met an agent who really helped me. When I saw this apartment it was higher than my budget but unlike the other places I saw it was a penthouse, had outdoor space and had great views. Also it was to the left of Rua Vinicius, exactly parallel to Post 9, which locals regard as absolute prime Ipanema. I knew I wanted to rent this place out and I thought these elements would appeal to visitors.”


From a design standpoint, what inspires you?

“I like a bit of retro, the 70s for example had some great elements but it does need to be edited! Back in 2006 locals tended not to appreciate older Brazilian designers, unlike Europe and America where prices for mid-century furniture has gone ballistic. I’ve been told dealers from NY would regularly scour Rio for Sergio Rodrigues leather sofas, import them back to the States at 400% mark up. I also noticed that most apartments are not that well designed. Maybe the natural physical beauty of the city is enough.”

Any comments?