Paris Design Week 2020 – One To Watch: Pierre Gonalons
Pierre Gonalons has become one of the buzziest names to know in Paris design circles. But for those who have been watching him for the last 16 years, it comes as no surprise. The design wiz has been wooing the market since 2005, when he created his popular Sunset lamp: a metal birdcage housing a lamp with a light-shade. Five thousand Sunset lamps have been sold over the last decade, making Gonalons’ unique aesthetic of graphic lines steeped in decorative arts a veritable piece of history.
Words he uses to describe his vision include “poetry, fantasy, and romanticism.” But beyond dreamy accolades, Gonalons’ star rose along with his clear and determined vision just after he graduated from the École Camondo, the prestigious Paris design school that boasts Phillipe Starck and Pierre Paulin as graduates.
Gonalons’ interest in design was ignited when he was a child growing up in Lyon, France, where his parents and neighbors paid particular attention to their homes. Jaunts to antiques stores, museums, and monuments deepened his curiosity. As a young boy he also traveled to Italy to visit relatives, which effectively widened his perspective on design. Those were the ingredients, but what completed his course was freedom of discovery. “The fact that I was left very free to be interested in I wanted to be interested in and what I wanted to do without influence, as well as make choices that are mine alone, helped,” commented the designer on his career path.
A year after graduating, Gonalons established himself without financing or industry contacts; he was determined to form his own studio and design edition. “Being creative and commercial at the same time was a challenge that I always wanted to take on. The idea of designing, producing, distributing — to control the whole process — was a real desire from the start, despite the risks,” he explains.
His career took root with the Sunset lamp and escalated from there. With nods to the Memphis Group movement, in which geometry, awkward, off-balance shapes, classicism, and baroque influences converged, Gonalons’ creations are marked by the use of marble, wood, and ceramics, as well as glass. “I like working with glass, in particular with Murano glass factories. It’s like a magical material with which you can imagine anything you want,” says the designer. Combined, these materials “play with contrasts, the thrill of emotion, and the passage of time, which remain key values in my work.”
Gonalons’ designs and philosophy attracted like-minded creatives, and he has collaborated with prestigious brands such as Lalique, Chloé, Pierre Frey, Nina Ricci, Pernod, and Weston, to name a few. He was named artistic director for the historic Italian design editor Paradisoterrestre and has worked closely with Italian clients such as Ceramica Bardelli and Masiero. The designer says he was blessed to discover a shared vision with his collaborators that allowed his ideas of beauty, however eclectic they might be, to transpire.
Gonalons has only gained in prestige and celebrity. An incredibly proud moment for him was his room in the Jardin d’Hiver project for AD Intérieurs in 2019. The full-scale home for which he created a salon was a romantic reimagining of a 19th-century winter garden bedecked with circular marble furniture, plush fabrics, and earthy tones. The designer’s salon featured a unique canapé, including a three-panel sofa back with an undulating wave effect rendered in tones of solid and patterned sage green.
While significantly scaled back, Paris Design Week took place last September when, as part of Maison&Objet, Gonalons showed at the Hôtel de Soubise in the Marais. His focus on seating, based on a cylindrical shape lopped off at a sharp angle to create the seat, commanded the wonderfully baroque room. He accented the seating with an impressive marble-based mirror and a Murano glass floor lamp. Even with coronavirus still looming, he was quite busy at the fair. “It was a wonderful surprise that a lot of visitors came, and I had great meetings,” he recalls, “so I must say that Design Week was very positive for me!”
The recently reimposed confinement period in France hasn’t slowed the designer down much; he is working on a new exhibition in a magnificent palace for Milano Design Week 2021 with many new features. He is also decorating a house in Italy and designing a restaurant in France for a fall 2021 debut.
Gonalons plays upon his heritage and continuously draws upon centuries-old European architectural references as he creates his own designs. He acknowledges this isn’t always easy. “It seems to me that it can only really work if you have a real taste for the past, faith in the future, and a solid background in art history,” he opines. However, his goals usually remain closer to home. “More than anything, I hope that my design is the reflection of everyday life, everyday emotions.”