French designer and interior architect Pierre Gonalons is nourished by the rich history of the decorative arts, with a particular penchant for the late 19th century, and relies on the rich savoir-faire of French and Italian artisans. I speak to him about his practice that gives new perspective to traditional shapes and materials.
Tell me about your background, your parents and what your childhood was like. How, when and why did you realize you wanted to build things and get into design?
I was born in 1977 in Lyon to parents with Italian and Spanish origins. My childhood was very happy in the countryside of Lyon and, when I think of it now, it was very linked to the beautiful country house we lived in. None of my relatives worked in design nor in any creative field. As long as I can remember, I have always been interested in beautiful objects, furniture and places. I remember that each weekend since the age of 12, I have always wanted to go and see the antique dealers and auction houses!
You founded your own design studio at the age of 23. What was your path to success like?
I can’t really explain what was my path to success. It doesn’t mean anything concrete to me. I have always tried to express my thoughts and ideas, first for myself, then whether for one or 10,000 people. No strategic plan, only passion and perseverance. Different projects bring me different audiences at different levels, but maybe I can say my collaboration with the Italian brand Paradisoterrestre was a turning point.
Why was it a turning point?
Paradisoterrestre is a historic Italian design brand, which was relaunched in 2016 by Gherardo Tonelli. I was appointed in 2017 to design its new showroom at the center of Bologna and its contemporary furniture collections in 2018 and 2019. I became artistic director in 2018. Paradisoterrestre has an important historic design background thanks to its founder Dino Gavina, who was a creative model for me when I was a student, and I am very proud to work for them now.
How would you describe yourself as a designer, your design language and approach?
I like to describe myself as a designer, product and interior designer and also creative director. Words to describe my works are: playful, poetic, surprising, colorful and spectacular. I use them to write my ideas with materials and shapes. My sources of inspiration are so numerous that I can’t mention them all, but I can say I’m very passionate about the era at the end of the 19th century, this moment when the world fell into “modernity”. Besides that, a lot of artists inspire me such as René Lalique, René Gruau, Piero Fornasetti… all exceptional dreamers and storytellers.
What criteria do you use to decide which projects to accept?
I love when brands or private clients come with a deep desire to create beauty, a project that makes sense in terms of quality, know-how or history. I like enchanting everyday life.
What do you like about the French decorative arts, Italian history and minimalism, and how are they reflected in your work?
I can say that my creative process is largely based on reinventing the history of decorative art in my own way. French and Italian creations throughout the ages are so rich and eclectic that the inspiration is endless. For me, each project is a new exercise, a new adventure to find a point of balance among many historical inputs.
What are your favorite materials and colors to work with, and why?
I am really passionate about materials and colors. Usually the material comes in the first step of my creative process, as I want to use a specific one in each case. For instance, I love using specific marbles because they are naturally colored and they tell the story of our earth. As for my favorite colors, light pink and shades of green are part of my favorite palette.
Tell me about some of the interior or furniture design projects you’re currently working on or have recently completed.
I completed a bookstore in Paris for which I had the pleasure of absolute freedom. I also completed a beautiful apartment in Venice last year. A beautiful hotel in Italy and a French historical restaurant are also in progress to be delivered in 2023. As for product design, a lot of new collaborations have been unveiled in 2022: a collection of rugs for a prestigious French brand, a collection of industrial lighting and a capsule collection of shades for Lanors Paint.