Pierre Gonalons: The Modern French Ambassador of Design

Pierre Gonalons
Installation view of the exhibition
Palais console and Palais coffee table at the back
Installation view of the current exhibition in Hong Kong
The PAVILLONS furnitures at the Galerie Armel Soyer in Paris

An elegant but understated exhibition opened on the top floor of Hotel Icon during Hong Kong’s sparkling week of Le French May. Presented by Avenue Des Arts, it is an exhibition of the whole body of work of the French designer, Pierre Gonalons, over the years. Set against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s unique cityscape and skyline, the exhibition is his first in Asia and demonstrates a sublime celebration of French culture with a modern interpretation.

Pierre founded Ascéte, his limited edition design atelier, at the age of 24 and is still exploring the edge of design with a hands-on approach and supreme craftsmanship. With designs that resemble the subtle elegance of Andrée Putman, Pierre Gonalons is retelling the story of French design.

TEXT: Elise Yau
IMAGES: Courtesy of Pierre Gonalons, Avenue Des Arts & Galerie Armel Soyer

Pierre Gonalons
Pierre Gonalons
Installation view of the exhibition
Installation view of the exhibition

I see you work with marble a lot, particularly French marble. Is there any reason for this choice of material?

It is because historically the French decorative arts used to use polychrome, coloured marble. A lot of coloured marble was used in the 19th century, as it was very fashionable, including the Opera Garnier in Paris. This was one of the most important historical buildings in Paris and has more than 50 different marbles inside. It’s a huge reference point for me.

From the 20th century onwards, this marble hasn’t been used anymore and the quarry closed down, as it was no longer modern or fashionable. This side of history really interests me. Also, my name is Pierre, which means stone in French. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, but why not.

Palais console and Palais coffee table at the back

I also see that you take many references from architecture. Does this come from your background in interior design?

Yes, absolutely. I have a foundation in interior architecture and product design and I really like to introduce architectural forms or shapes in my designs that are not from the design world, but the architectural world. It gives my designs great force. I am very inspired by the Grand Trianon, a château in Versailles Park that is covered in red marble. The pyramid table also comes from architectural forms and could be urban furniture. I’m very interested in that.

In a minimal way it’s quite a simple form, but there is a sense of narrative and each of us can imagine something around this piece.

There is heavy craftsmanship involved in your designs. How do you work with craftsmen to make the ideal product?

Well, I first have to search for the right workshop for each of the products. Everything is made in France, which is important. Some were made by a master craftsman in Normandy, and the lamps were made in a very small city called Vichy (like the cosmetics) in the centre of France.

Two pieces were made in quarries close to the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France. The furniture Extraction in Grand Antique was made from very old marble, which was well known in the Roman and Renaissance periods, and the furniture Palais in Rouge de Saint Pons is named after the place it was extracted from. The mirror Devotion was made from the artisanal glass used to restore churches in France.

These are just some of the products I have done, but not everything of course. The glass producer is Saint Just and the glass is “vitrail” (stained glass), which is used to restore windows in churches. So they come from traditional materials, which are not very innovative or technological.

To me light is very expressive but in your designs, you always seem to cover the light.

Yes, you are right. In a poetic way, it invokes something. But it could also express… I don’t know if its philosophical, but maybe in a spiritual way it has the freedom of the light, and also the reality of the human condition. There could be a lot of interpretations. Maybe the light part is the more poetic way of working. It has to be very narrative and evoke a story, whereas the furniture is more minimal and anonymous, you could say.


Would you describe yourself as a Renaissance man? You look into history a lot.

Yes. For me, it’s a modern way of working. We work with traditional materials, as well as traditional ways of making pieces, but do it in a contemporary way for contemporary interiors. So I try to match all of these things together. I think people need to have an eye looking behind them and an eye looking forward. So I try to be in the right place, with my eye looking both back and forward at the same time.

What comes first, the design or the material?

First, I choose the material and then I design. It is not the shape and the material that comes together, the design comes from the material. I would not have done the same thing with Italian marble because I can’t do that with Carrara or Italian marble. If someone said to me, “Can you do the same with another material?” I would say, “No, we will design something else in relation to the history of the place,” etc. It is something that has to link together, the material and the shape, rather than two different things.

How is being based in Paris important to your work?

Paris is perfect. It is an incredible place, but the market is international and my clients are not only French. They are also from London to New York, as my work is very much appreciated in both Europe and the U.S. France is the perfect base for working and I have had great interest from the press and the galleries.

I don’t have any French blood. I was born in Lyon with an Italian background and came to Paris for my studies. I am inspired by European culture, rather than French culture, because I’m inspired by lots of things. Paris, for me, is still a centre of arts and I have a lot of friends there in the fashion world who are very creative. I go each week to the Louvre for inspiration, as I am very interested in classical paintings. So that’s why I really like staying in Paris and France. I love travelling, but my base is in Paris.

There’s a small design community in Paris, but France is better known for its decorative arts and interior architects. I hope to live in, and also travel between, Milan and Paris sometime. My mother is Italian and it’s the Italian part of me that is the most important to me. The attention that’s paid to everything. My family are more attentive to details than the French are, such as how the table is done, etc. This approach is very important to me. So, yes I love Milan, absolutely.

Installation view of the current exhibition in Hong Kong

Ronan Bouroullec was your teacher at design school. How did he influence you?

My way of working is quite special and unique, as I think I’m one of the only one to work with such historical references. Many people look to the future, at innovative materials, but I look more into the past. Ronan Bouroullec is a refined person. I learned the details from him. How to be close to the material, not to be too fake, and to be very attentive to the reality of the material. Phillipe Starck was in the same school as me, who also looks to the past and has a lot of references in his work. So maybe it’s the French way of working.

Can you share your upcoming projects with us? You said you were going to have an exhibition in Milan?

I’m going to have an exhibition in Salone del Mobile 2017, where I will show my new pieces, including a big marble table. I don’t know if I’ll do a mini-retrospective or just present new pieces. It all depends on the space I have.

Some of my products will be presented by the Gastou Gallery in Paris and I’ll also have a small pop up tour in Le Bon Marche and a pop up store for Ascéte in September. The collection’s called King Sun. I don’t know if you know, the surname of Louis XIV of Versailles was King Sun. I’m always working on these old references. If people don’t know that though, it’s not a problem because it will invoke something in them.

home site
The PAVILLONS furnitures at the Galerie Armel Soyer in Paris


Pierre Gonalons Design Works
2.30 pm to 5.30 pm daily, until June 26th
Above & Beyond, 28th floor, Hotel ICON


Elise YAU (Editor of CoBo)
Elise YAU is an editor and journalist specialises in design, lifestyle and luxury topics. She has written extensively for Ming Pao Weekly, City Magazine and HK01, and she is the author of book projects regarding design, architecture and Hong Kong culture. Currently based in Hong Kong, Elise is immersing the art world after joining CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.


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