november 2009 | Intuition
Designer Paola Navone always maintains that intuition is her main source of inspiration. This is the reason that I wanted to ask her how she kept the intuition in trim without it becoming a routine. For several decades Paola Navone has created furnishings and interior design, ornaments and textiles springing from her instinct and her first impression, and by not doing the same thing twice. She is behind the much noted Otto furniture series and, among many others, has worked with Armani, Alessi and Knoll International.
Paola Navone is often described as a living legend. But we don’t quite understand each other, Paola Navone and I. Perhaps it’s a language thing. Perhaps the constant murmuring in the lounge that diverts the focus. Perhaps the legend status. My question fastens somewhere between my brain cells and my mouth. Or somewhere between me and Paola Navone.
The Italian with the close-cropped hairstyle gives me a stern glare and says “I don’t understand the question.” I swallow and gaze at my notes, trying to find a way of expressing myself. It goes very quiet. It’s not until I say ‘never mind’ and manage to pop the next question, which was about something else entirely, that Paola Navone drops the frown and begins talking about what I‘d tried to ask her about in the first place.
“Intuition is a mechanism that’s part of my work. One could say that it undergoes two phases. In the first I take in information. For 24 hours a day I look at things, feel things, dream about things. Everything collects in my brain. It’s like a large trashcan. Phase two takes over when I have something to work on. This’s when some of the impressions I’ve gathered come to the surface very quickly.
“There’s seldom any planning behind what I do. That doesn’t come until the creative part is concluded and the item has to be produced. But that’s other people’s jobs, not only mine. But the solution to a problem is an intuitive process, something that takes place very quickly. As we breath we gather impressions.”
Do you create the whole time?
“No, only when I have something to do. Otherwise I swim, cook, go to the cinema. I’m very happy without design. Therein probably lies the difference between a designer and an artist. I’ve no inclination whatsoever towards becoming an artist. I have an exciting job that is sometimes like an adventure.”
What inspires you?
“Everything. My real job is to look around and gather impressions. And I look around all the time. I don’t create non-stop, but I absorb things; colours, aromas, shapes, words. But that’s not the creative bit but the first part of the job. Creating is when you wrap the impressions into something you can deliver to the customer.”
What is an inspiring milieu?
“There’s no such classification. I absorb everything. Nothing is more inspiring than anything else because I like nearly everything. A rather bulimic attitude, if you like. I like to visit expos, shops, markets and the most exclusive boutiques. I’ve no filter for that process. My areas of interest cover a broad span. I look at everything.”
Today Paola Navone mainly works with interior design. As such she has a divided opinion about meeting rooms. She thinks they are quite often very impersonal.
“They are no doubt effective, pleasant and perfect from a technical perspective, but it’s never an environment to feel at home in.”
Designing a meeting room should be like designing a house, she says, and she has experience of both. But she sees no difference between the specific function of a meeting room and its milieu:
“Naturally, a meeting room would probably need more than one chair, considering that a room like that would be like designing an office for me. I like the idea of removing all that normally characterises an office and making it look like a normal home in a normal house. In the same way I’d try to make a meeting room feel like a large room in my own house and shift the focus from the technical requirements to the personal feeling.”
Is it possible to bring people closer to each other through design?
“No, I believe that the actual meeting between people is a conscious thing. Design can help to create an environment that is more or less comfortable and pleasant, but it is through the consciousness that we meet.”
The offices that Paola Navone has designed, including one for a fashion company, do not look like real offices, something that she herself maintains:
“I ensure that the rooms are not similar, different types of floor for example. Then I choose material that doesn’t feel cold and impersonal, material that gives the room a personal touch.”
One of Paola Navone’s characteristics is that she gladly mixes styles and material in order to create contrasts.
“I like opposites. Not only old and new, but soft and hard or matt and shiny.”
In much the same way, her partiality to mistakes in design has become well known:
“A mistake can add a bit of excitement to a process that sometimes tends to be too perfect, too even and stable. Trying to make mistakes is interesting. I sometimes advise my customers to do it in the production process to make the objects look different, but I haven’t been particularly successful. Customers don’t like the thought,” she says laughing aloud.
It’s a liberating laugh.