|Paola Navone - Artist/Designer/Architect|
Paola Navone is a successful italian architect and designer. She has designed furniture, and accessories for top manufacturers in Europe and Asia, including Alessi, Knoll, Roche Bobois, Swarovski and Habitat. She's a really fascinating person, and a delight to interview. I interviewed her for the Market magazine in 2011.
Her career spans three decades,
which have seen her at the
centre of progressive design.
A modern nomad, Paola has lived and
worked in France, Italy, Cameroon
and the Far East. She has a love of the
materials and craft techniques of Asia,
and uses them in her work. Her designs
combine mass production with hand
She is interested in combining diverse
elements with contrasts of textures,
colours, and a certain dream-like
She works as an architect,
designer, interior designer, stage
designer and essayist.
Born in Turin, she lives and works in
Milan and Paris. We interviewed her
at her Milan studio.
What are you working on
at the moment?
I am designing the interiors of a
jewellery shop in London, and one in
Milan. They are for the Italian jewellery
company Pomellato. They are due to
open in July this year.
Are you working mostly on
furniture design, or interior
design these days?
There are two groups of people working
in my studio. One group works on
furniture and product design, like
kitchen accessories. The other one
works on the architecture and interior
design projects. wI have about 15 people
working with me at my studio, they are
mostly very young and enthusiastic.
How do you motivate your staff?
I don’t need to motivate them, they
motivate themselves. They are working
on projects that they love, and that
How is your business in
I still have lots of work, people still want
me to design for them, but there is less
money around. These days the budgets
are about 50% of what they were 10
years ago. It is harder to get paid these
days, you need to be more aware of your
cash flow than before.
The companies that are doing best in
the recession, are those that have a
clear identity and a unique product;
companies who do what they want, not
what the marketing people tell them to
do. You should follow your own path. I’m
lucky, I only work on the projects I want
to, that are right for me. I find projects
by chance, through friends who need a
designer for a project. I never actively
go out and look for work, it come to
The product design that I do is for
manufacturers, and the interiors are for
businesses and also private clients.
You lived in Asia for a long time.
Tell us about that.
I lived in Asia for 20 years. I commuted
to Hong Kong from Milan for years! I’ve
designed furniture, glass, dishes, and
textiles for firms in India, Indonesia,
Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
They have a whole world of materials
and techniques that are not available in
Europe. I like working with them, with
new techniques and having something
nice come out of it at the end. I try to
link Italian companies with Eastern
European and Asian manufacturers.
Why do you think that Italy
produces such good design?
It started after the war. Italy had to rebuild
the economy, and some manufacturers
realised that good design had an economic
benefit. Some of the companies were run
by visionaries, and then other people
joined in, when they saw it was good for
business. The companies with the best
designs were the most successful, and it
built up from there.
What would you like to design that
you haven’t already?
I would like to design more kitchen
appliances. Men nearly always design
them! Men who don’t spend much time
in the kitchen, so the design doesn’t
work so well. I would like to design for
the kitchen more, kitchen accessories
What new techniques are you
Nowadays with computers and laser
printers you can produce small amounts
of a wallpaper or fabric for a specific
project. It doesn’t need to go into mass
production. I can print specially designed
wallpaper for just one wall.
How important is the environmental
impact of your products?
Of course it is important to me. Some
companies are more environmentally
aware than others, it depends on the
client. Some industrial processes
can be changed more easily than
others. Everyone is more aware of the
environment these days.
I work with a company that makes
plastic laminate for furniture. They
recycle 100% of their plastic waste, it’s
sent next door and used by Fiat to make
car door interiors. The plastic is 100%
recyclable. At the end of the life of the
car, the plastic can be removed and
I work with a leather
company, and came up with a project
with them, that uses their rejected hides.
We developed a technique to re-dye and
soften the leather, so it is not wasted.
Recycling is also a philosophy, a way of
life. You can interpret in different ways.
I collected 1200 rusty metal spoons in
India, had them coated in silver, and
installed them in an art installation at
the Milan Art Triennalle. It’s a form of
recycling too, using existing objects in a
Can you tell us about your creative
influences? What do you like?
At the moment, I really like Indian art.
There are a lot of exciting modern Indian
artists and photographers. I like Subodh
Gupta and Anish Kapoor. I enjoy living
and working in India There’s also a lot
happening in art in China.
In the late 60’s, early 70’s I was
influenced by other young visionary
artists and architects, whose work
was more like art than architecture. I
traveled and met with artists. There was
a lot happening. Every so often there is
a generation of young people that tries
new ideas. I spent time in Florence,
with body artists in Vienna, with the
radical architects Archigram in London.
I went out to the desert in the States,
where Paolo Soleri was experimenting
with ecologically sensitive architecture.
These experiences formed the basis of
my thesis in architecture.
What is your favourite project?
My favourite project is the one I’m
working on at the moment!
A book of Paola’s work has just been