You may have seen that the Municipal Library of Loulé has recently placed a series of ‘mini-libraries’ on various street corners throughout the municipality. With no return date, resident readers can feel free to borrow any book they like out of these charming wooden boxes and, if they wish, even add a book of their own that they think somebody else might enjoy reading.

A lovely idea and I recently returned to the Palácio Gama Lobo, headquarters of the Loulé Criativo, to meet another of the resident artists and designers from their Loulé Design lab, who, it turned out, not only designed these book boxes - but so much more.

One thing leads to another

Leni Farenzena is an architect and designer. She was born in Mozambique but is half Italian and Portuguese. After studying architecture at university in Florence and in Lisbon, she’s lived and worked in various countries in Europe and even Mexico.

While back in Mozambique to build the ‘Hexagon Villa’, she found ways of using the leftover construction material to also design the furniture - and ForNature Design was born.

Eternally inspired by nature, and determined that all her work stay true to the roots of where they happen to be planted, she enlisted the help of the local Mozambican craftsmen and found a way of incorporating their ancient techniques into her furniture - but with an elegant modern twist.

It was no big surprise, therefore, that when she settled in the Algarve a few years ago, she wanted to do the same thing here and set out to try and find the local Algarvian artisans.

Turning the world on its head

It amuses me to think how at first these artisans might not have known quite what to make of Leni coming around with all these new-fangled ideas and ways to do what they’ve always done, differently.

An example of this would be a basket weaver from Almancil called José Amendoeira. You may remember, I wrote about Sr. Amendoeira in my story ‘A Wonderful Weave’ a few months ago and so it was fun to connect the dots and find out that Leni had tracked him down too.

Working with ‘Cana Algarvio’ (Arundo donax L) and a type of willow tree called ‘Vimeiro’(Salix viminalis L), for 50 years Sr. Amendoeira has been weaving his classic collection of baskets and along came Leni and turned his world upside-down (quite literally) when she got him to turn his talents into weaving the most lovely lampshade instead.

But this is just one example. Leni has got herself a collection of artisans throughout the Algarve. In June, she even went up to Castro Marim to help Sr. Romeirinha to harvest a plant known as ‘Tabua’ (Thypha domingensis). Growing next to lakes, it's traditionally used to weave the seats for wooden chairs and it's become one of Leni’s favourite materials to work with.

Changing things up as usual, Leni wanted to create a steel body to form the base for her chairs and even stools. And for that, as she so often does, she enlisted the help of a blacksmith from Fuseta called Jorge Neves.

By now, Sr. Neves has become used to Leni’s unusual requests and helps her create the wonderful steel lines and shapes that hold up anything from her imaginative tables and chairs to her umbrella stands, ‘floating plant pots’ and ‘spider lamps’.

I want to ‘bee’ an architect

Now, it's about time we talked about hexagons. They are found throughout Leni’s work and when I questioned her about it she explained that they are nature’s perfect shape. Found on anything from snowflakes, turtle shells and even pineapples, perhaps the best example would be in honeycomb.

I’ll take it from Leni that bees are truly terrific architects as this six-sided shape not only looks stylish but is also highly efficient and allows them to avoid any wasted space.

Playing the fish

A few months ago, the artists and designers from the Loulé Design Lab teamed up with Inframoura for a project called #Infinity. They all put their creative minds to the task of transforming rubbish collected from the bins in Vilamoura and finding innovative new uses for it.

Leni found herself drawn to a pile of old traffic signs and, cutting them into different sizes, she discovered that different diameters and lengths created different sounds. Taking inspiration from the Algarve coastline, she then painted the tubes with the highest sounds a warm orange to represent the coastal dunes and, with the bass sounds gradually ‘tailing off’ in a cool ocean blue, created a colourful musical fish that was given to a kindergarten in Quarteira for the children to play.

For & by nature

After chatting to Leni, I was amazed by all her ideas and concluded that she’s not just a designer ‘ForNature’, she’s also a designer by nature. She can’t help it. And I love how she’s been bringing old and new together to make sustainable, stylish designs for the modern day.

To find out more please follow her on Instagram (@ForNatureDesign) and Facebook (@Fornature Design) or visit her website