In September 2019, Pierre Gonalons opened a grand, intimate showroom in the heart of one of Paris’ most famous covered shopping passages, the enchanting 19th-century Vero-Dodat Gallery in the 1st arrondissement. While his works reflect the present day, they are informed by the rich history of decorative arts, with a particular affinity for the late 19th century – a period of exceptionally high-quality production, intellectually and technically.
“I follow the path of the decorative arts, reinventing them in my way. The diversity of French and Italian art from different eras provides endless inspiration. I try to find the balance between multiple historical influences in all my pieces,” he tells us.
To give the illusion of a period boutique, he designed his showroom with Empire columns, panels and woodwork by Feau & Cie and oak flooring created in collaboration with CarreSol.
A New Twist
Still, there’s an air of playfulness about the space. Pierre, for example, imagined a landscape as a child would have drawn hills for his San Primo 280 sofa upholstered in Toundra boucle fabric by Hermes-owned Metaphores.
His Chou vase by French porcelain and enamel manufacturer Longwy has giant marshmallow swirls, and his Tesoro mouth-blown Murano glass vase incorporates skittles.
More elaborate works, like the Lacrima mirror adorned with passementerie (decorative trimming) by Verrier, are at the frontier of art. As a designer who enjoys decorating and creating, his furniture and objects are a testament to the skill with which he designs the interiors of homes, hotels, boutiques, bars and restaurants in Paris, London, Venice and Bologna.
“When I design a product or a space, I usually have a vision or at least a sensibility of what it could be or what direction it should take,” he explains. “After that, I research the different aspects and layers of history surrounding it. I then explain my ideas to my team using mood boards and sketches.
“The process often generates many more new ideas that change the direction constructively. I am very aware of what daily life brings by chance to the studio.”
The materials Pierre chooses influence his designs. For example, to create a strong visual impact, he prefers concrete, marble, wood, and light pinks and greens.
The marble, for instance, dates back to the 19th century when polychrome marble was used for the decorative arts in France.
The Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, adorned with over 50 different types of marble, is a significant point of reference, as is the red marble Grand Trianon building of the Chateau de Versailles.
“I love using particular marbles because they’re naturally coloured and portray the story of our planet,” he says.
Pierre uses traditional materials and manufacturing methods to design furniture for contemporary interiors.
“I enjoy rewriting traditional shapes, using classical materials with a new perspective, and showing what is old-fashioned from a new perspective,” he says.
His new Century collection of side tables, mirrors, and lighting, produced by Galerie Vauclair, reflects their shared passion for the Belle Epoque period. It engages with late 19th-century objects in which the gallery specialises.
Pierre worked with enamelled lava for his new pieces, a material wildly popular at the time, including the facade of the legendary Paris department store La Samaritaine. In his creations, enamel appears as brushstrokes rather than as a solid colour.
Born in Lyon in 1977 into a family with Italian and Spanish origins, Pierre has happy childhood memories of growing up in a beautiful house in the countryside. Even though none of his relatives came from a creative family, he developed an early passion for French culture and art history.
“Since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful objects, furniture, and places. From age 12, I’ve always wanted to visit antique dealers and auction houses every weekend.”
Pierre graduated from the Camondo School of product design and interior architecture in Paris with a unique vision of design and space.
At 23, he founded his namesake studio and has collaborated with prestigious brands, including Tai Ping, Pinton, Maison Drucker, Ceramica Bardelli, Masiero, Lalique, Chloe, Pierre Frey, Nina Ricci, Pernod and Weston, alongside collections under his company Ascete Design & Architecture Studio launched in 2004, and limited editions for international galleries.
“Whenever brands or private clients come to me with a deep desire to create beauty, a project with a sense of quality, know-how, or history, I am thrilled. I like enchanting everyday life,” he says.
Dream Comes True
Pierre’s appointment in 2018 as artistic director of the historic Italian furniture brand Paradisoterrestre, spearheading its revival alongside its current owner, Gherardo Tonelli, marked a turning point in his career.
It was a dream come true for him, as he has long admired the work of its visionary founder, Dino Gavina, a pioneer in the field of design. As a follower of Rene Lalique, Rene Gruau and Piero Fornasetti, all “exceptional dreamers and storytellers”, his style is graphic and wide-ranging. From baroque to minimalist, he strives to create contrasts between concepts or materials to create a dramatic effect.
His creations, which he describes as “playful, poetic, surprising, colourful, and spectacular,” embrace a broad spectrum of artistic references and place a high value on craftsmanship, which he considers a significant source of inspiration.
French and Italian artisans produce Pierre’s Extraction tables, consoles, and armchairs from ancient Grand Antique marble quarried in the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France, a region well known during the Roman and Renaissance periods. In contrast, his Palais coffee table and console are made with Peach Blossom marble.
A masterpiece of contemporary French cabinetmaking, his Le Monde secretary has five geometric chests with secret openings displaying the art of marquetry. The fifth-generation family atelier Craman-Lagarde spent 600 working hours making the piece.
His Devotion mirror was crafted from handmade coloured glass by Saint-Just, a French glassworks company known for creating and restoring stained-glass windows.
Pierre adds that he does not target a specific type of client because he does not know how to do so. “I strive to create furniture and objects that represent the ideal beauty I dream of, and I hope people will recognise something that speaks to them.”
Having completed an apartment in Venice, he is currently working on a residence in Colmar in northeastern France, and a cafe in Florence, slated for completion this year. His schedule for 2023 already includes a hotel in Italy and a historical restaurant in France.
Additionally, he will debut several new design collaborations – a set of rugs for a well-known French brand, a series of industrial lighting, and a capsule collection of colours for Russian paint brand Lanors – this year.
Even though he has never been to Singapore, he says, “I would love to see how they combine modernity with tradition. I’m also impressed by their use of local materials and traditional techniques. I hope to have the chance to work there and design a restaurant or hotel that mixes French and Singaporean cultures to create a unique place.”