This in-demand Parisian designer is rewriting the rules of French decorative arts

French interior designer and architect Pierre Gonalons draws inspiration from the rich history of decorative arts, with a particular fondness for the end of the 19e century, and is based on the rich know-how of French and Italian craftsmen. I tell him about his practice which gives a new perspective to traditional shapes and materials.

Tell me about your background, your parents and your childhood. 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 of Italian and Spanish origin. My childhood was very happy in the Lyon countryside and, when I think about it now, it was very much linked to the beautiful country house in which we lived. None of my relatives have worked in design or in any creative field. As far as I can remember, I have always been interested in beautiful objects, furniture and places. I remember that every weekend since the age of 12, I always wanted to go see antique shops and auction houses!

You founded your own design studio at the age of 23. What was your path to success?

I can’t really explain what my path to success was. 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 that my collaboration with the Italian brand Paradisoterrestre was a turning point.

Why was this 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 in the center of Bologna and its contemporary furniture collections in 2018 and 2019. I became its artistic director in 2018. Paradisoterrestre has an important historical background in design thanks to its founder Dino Gavina, who was a model designer for me when I was a student, and I’m very proud to work for them now.

How would you describe yourself as a designer, your language and your approach to design?

I like to describe myself as a designer, product and interior designer and also a creative director. The 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 cannot mention them all, but I can say that I am very passionate about the era of the end of the 19e century, this moment when the world fell into “modernity”. Besides that, many artists inspire me like René Lalique, René Gruau, Piero Fornasetti… all dreamers and exceptional storytellers.

What criteria do you use to decide which projects to accept?

I like when brands or individuals come with a deep desire to create beauty, a project that makes sense in terms of quality, know-how or history. I like to enchant everyday life.

What do you love about 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 a reinvention in my own way of the history of decorative art. French and Italian creations through 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 contributions.

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, because I want to use a specific one in each case. For example, I like to use specific marbles because they are naturally colored and tell the story of our land. As for my favorite colors, light pink and shades of green are part of my favorite palette.

Tell me about some of the interior design or furniture projects you are currently working on or have recently completed.

I created a bookstore in Paris for which I had the pleasure of absolute freedom. I also finished a beautiful apartment in Venice last year. A beautiful hotel in Italy and a historic French restaurant are also in the process of being delivered in 2023. On the product design side, many new collaborations were unveiled in 2022: a collection of carpets for a prestigious French brand, a collection of industrial lighting carpets and a capsule collection of shades for Lanors Paint.

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