In her 40-plus years of work, Paola Navone has created a vast body of work that seeks to upgrade everyday objects, often with a side of whimsy. She is an architect, a product designer, an interior decorator, art director and an exhibitions and events curator. In the 1980s, Navone was active in the avant-garde design movements Alchimia and Memphis, alongside the likes of Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, and Andrea Branzi. Due to her time split between Italy and Asia for nearly two decades, Navone has a particular talent for rediscovering design from the past—especially traditional crafts from around the globe—and bringing it to life in new, contemporary forms.
DESIGN ETHOS: Tham ma da—Thai for “everyday”—which exemplifies a proclivity of hers: finding new, extraordinary uses for seemingly cheap, standard, or utilitarian things.
DESIGN STYLE: Creating hybrids of design and handicraft, placing greater value on design that comes about ‘by mistake’ than that which is created for mass production.
NOTABLE PROJECTS & PRODUCTS: Big Bed for Poliform for which she won the 2010–2011 Elle Decor International Design Award; she was included in Interior Design Magazine’s prestigious Hall of Fame in 2014; oversaw Armani/Casa’s debut collection; Dinner with Friends series for Crate & Barrel.
QUOTE: “My life has always been an unplanned trip. Everything has happened by accident. If I have nothing to do, I go to the beach, I go to the movie theater—I don’t design a chair. I need to have a reason to work. Work is not a need of my mine. And thank God it’s a job that always has a little percent of fun.”
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW: She created an imperfect aesthetic for several McDonald’s stores in France and an edible Christmas advent calendar for Häagen-Dazs.
DESIGN HOTELS MEMBER: Erosantorini and Fresh Hotel.
Q: Who or what are your biggest influences?
I started my career alongside great masters. Alessandro Mendini read my thesis and called me in Milan. The team Alchimia was taking shape and Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, and Andrea Branzi were in the group. They were the anti-academic side of architecture in Italy in the late Seventies. I owe a lot to them and much of my free and unconventional way of thinking about things comes from my involvement in Alchimia and Memphis.
Q: Have you ever changed your mind about anything aesthetics-wise?
I am instinctive by nature and rarely change my mind about what attracts me. My idea of beauty has always had to do with the simplicity, the imperfection of natural materials, and my passion for the craft traditions of the world.
Q: Describe your dream project, real or fantasy.
Maybe a new interior project in a magical place by the sea. Water is my natural element and the sea has a relaxing, almost hypnotic effect on me. Any interior projects near the sea are always very special to me.
Q: What’s the last thing you read that made you feel something?
There is a book I love. It’s Wabi-Sabi, For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren. A short essay dedicated to the beauty of imperfection and the poetry of simple and everyday things. A way of feeling the world that comes from Japan, but it is a universal concept, precious and seductive to me.
Q: Without thinking too hard, what do you choose: Wood or concrete? Beach or mountain? Modern or classic? Morning or evening? City or country? Jazz or classical? Drama or comedy? Dancing or hiking?
Difficult to me to choose one thing. I am nomadic and curious. And I like to experiment. I could only answer “both of them” for some things. Let’s try.
Wood or concrete? Both of them.
Beach or mountain? Beach
Modern or classic? Classic modern
Morning or evening? Evening
City or country? City
Jazz or classical? Both
Drama or comedy? Both
Dancing or hiking? Swimming
Q: What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the new collections for Salone del Mobile. And I’m working on different challenging interior projects in Tuscany.
Q: Is there a building or product that strikes you as particularly well-designed or innovative?
Surely the first crazy and funny collection of objects by Alchimia. Crafted objects, recovered, unexpected, provocative and kitsch. I discovered then that design was a career, so I started to work in it, and I’m still here!