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See Inside a Star Jewelry Designer’s Lisbon Apartment

Sep 17, 2023

Matthew Harris fashions a pearl of a pied-à-terre in Lisbon.

When he was growing up in Jamaica, Matthew Harris can recall his excitement at visiting New York City on a trip. Passing through John F. Kennedy International Airport, he was dazzled by an artwork hanging overhead: Alexander Calder's mobile sculpture Flight, with its 45-foot span. He remembers being fascinated by the work, which looked to him like a giant earring.

Years later, Harris moved to New York and became a jewelry designer. Soon after he founded his brand, Mateo, in 2009, Rihanna was spotted wearing one of his silver zipper necklaces. A line of chandelier earrings inspired by Calder followed, and Mateo quickly gained a cult following with clients including Zendaya and Oprah.

Given his longtime fascination with Calder, it makes sense that when Harris was designing his new pied-à-terre in Lisbon, he was determined to include a piece by the artist. "It was always a dream to own a Calder, but most of the prices are in the stratosphere," he says. With the help of art adviser Christopher Wolf, he set his sights on a more attainable purchase: a 1975 jute tapestry made by Guatemalan artisans from a design Calder donated to raise money for earthquake victims. Now its organic red and blue pattern hangs over the dining area in his Lisbon apartment.

Harris lived in New York for 12 years before making Houston his home base in 2020. His house there has a gallery feel, with a black and white palette. "It's a wow, but it's hard," he says. "People don't know where to sit—is it art or a chair?" Feeling restless during the pandemic, he thought about buying a second home in Europe, where he spends a good chunk of the year working. He remembered how much he enjoyed Lisbon when he visited a decade earlier for business. "It had the best of everything: amazing food, it's so multicultural, and the people are actually nice," he says.

From a distance, he researched the local real estate scene and purchased an apartment sight unseen on the top floor of a 19th-century building at the heart of the city near the bustling Avenida da Liberdade. "It's like Lisbon's Fifth Avenue," Harris says. "Just less manic."

The move also allowed him to flex yet another artistic muscle. "It's always been a dream of mine to work in interior design," says Harris, who is currently designing a line of decorative objects. He enlisted the Portuguese architect Rui de Abreu and spent a year renovating the residence with the goal of retaining its historic character.

In contrast to his house in Houston, Harris wanted his 1,000-square-foot Lisbon flat to feel immediately approachable—"like it almost hugs you." The living area captures that ethos with its vintage Togo lounge seating, which he unexpectedly combined with a stout Brutalist side chair and a mobilelike chandelier by Andrew Neyer. The dining area is furnished minimally with a glass table and filament-slim sconces—supporting players chosen so as not to compete with the star attraction: the Calder tapestry. Harris meticulously designed the grooved-oak wall and floating night tables in his tailored bedroom.

The primary bath nods to its setting: The walls are tiled in traditional Portuguese blue-and-white azulejos, some depicting a nearly life-size 18th-century gentleman. In many Portuguese homes, Harris explains, "there would have been a tile figure at the entry with an outstretched hand to signify hospitality."

Thoughts of his primary occupation are never far from his mind, and the serene office reflects that. "In every home I own, I want a room dedicated to jewelry, and it was time for an emerald room," says Harris, who achieved the rich hue with 11 coats of paint.

Now that his Lisbon apartment is complete, Harris's urge to devise new spaces has only intensified. He is already designing a villa for himself in Jamaica. After that, he has a more ambitious target. "I’d love to design a hotel from scratch," Harris says. And wouldn't a Calder mobile be just the thing for the lobby?

This story originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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This story originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE