Cover Paola Navone, pictured on the Baxter Chester Moon sofa

Paola Navone brings her offbeat designs and artisanal craftsmanship while designing collections for Italian furniture manufacturer Baxter

Memphis designer Alessandro Mendini must have sensed something quite unique in Paola Navone to call her up in Milan after reading her thesis. This was how the Italian architect, interior decorator and designer joined the '80s avant-garde group Alchimia, whose irreverent design style is defined by bold geometric forms and colours.

Some of that idiosyncrasy is still present in Navone’s aesthetic, combined with her love of natural materials and craft techniques gleaned from her travels, especially in Asia. In Singapore, this is evident in the interior she designed for Como Dempsey, a multifunctional retail, lifestyle and dining venue.

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Navone has also designed collections for Baxter, an Italian furniture manufacturer founded in 1990 by Luigi Bestetti and his nephew Paolo Bestetti which is now available in Malaysia exclusively at Space Furniture. When the Bestettis chanced upon a tannery using traditional techniques, they created the Alfred sofa using a unique leather considered too thick for making furniture.  

Thus began the brand’s story of pushing the boundaries of leather craftsmanship, guided by Navone’s perceptive eye. Her Budapest sofa is a bestseller, and her recent Milano sofa sports a relaxed silhouette hinging upon the notion of imperfect beauty. “I love the imperfect beauty of natural materials and crafts production. They make everything unique,” says Navone.

What is so special about Baxter?

Baxter’s craftsmanship in working with leather, making it as soft as a fabric, is something very special. Taking advantage of this incredible skill, I enjoy giving the products a new and informal appeal by mixing the extra-soft leather with my free and unconventional way of thinking about design.

I have tried to create imperfection in industrial production with very unexpected results; sometimes these results lead to ideas for marvellous techniques we have not experienced before.

Were there any challenges when you were working with Baxter on these new collections?

One of the hardest challenges was convincing Baxter’s master craftsmen to subvert their rules. They were used to stretching the leather, and the idea of a slightly soft and oversized upholstery (for my designs) was unexpected. In the end when they saw the prototypes, they changed their minds. Actually, they were absolutely enthusiastic.

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You live by a philosophy you call “tham ma da”, which means “everyday” in Thai. How does that apply to a chair or a sofa?

It has to do with the idea of simple and imperfect beauty, and the joy of giving new life to everyday things by imagining them used somewhere else or by customising the product to make it unique, (such as) painting a chair, embroidering a pillow or choosing a special colour.

I have a special attraction to “cold” colours—the shades of air and water. Having said that, I am curious and I like to experiment with the combinations of materials and colours. Each of my projects is tied to an alchemy with a person, a place and a special artisan tradition. That is why my projects are always very different from one another.

However, there are some tools I use in all my work. They are: simplicity, which for me is a word full of inspiration; respect for the traditions of the world; and the imperfection that makes everything friendly and unique.

Tell us more about how this came to life in your design for Como Dempsey in Singapore.

Como Dempsey is a joyful dive into creativity involving fashion, food, design and new concepts. We designed an imaginative and eclectic space that surprises you every time you look around, like an extra-colourful kaleidoscope. Everything is simple, friendly and eye-catching, and gives the feeling of a very special and yet familiar place.

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