In Conversation With: Paola Navone, interior design muse for COMO
From Thailand to Tuscany, paging through the Paola Navone’s COMO portfolio is a journey in both design and destination. She is a designer who always draws in attention with her strong visual statements, and this signature has become interwoven with her history and work with the brand. She approaches each project with a fresh eye and innovative designs, allowing for a strong sense of place and context.
On the COMO website it states that “Italian designer Paola Navone is one of COMO’s greatest inspirations,” so we started the conversation by asking her about this relationship, and how it started.
“I have known Cristina Ong for many years. We immediately shared an appreciation for the same kind of understated luxury – immaterial, never aggressive and respectful. I had the chance to design COMO Point Yamu and we chose to design a hotel that was made entirely with materials available in Thailand, taking advantage of the incredible Thai craft traditions. It was a great creative adventure which has been followed by other very special collaborations with COMO all over the world. The most recent are in Europe, with COMO Castello del Nero in Tuscany and the new COMO Le Montrachet in Burgundy.”
It is clear from looking at Navone’s work across all mediums, that there is a love for travel that expresses itself through her designs, as she has the ability to extract what is essential to a destination and communicate this in the details. She has a rich history in the design movement more broadly and can trace her roots and influences back to being part of the Alchimia family, in the late seventies, right through to today where she is still seen to be at the forefront of contemporary design. There remains an irreverence and eclecticism that runs through her designs which sits comfortably alongside the multifaceted influences that come from travel.
“Much of my free and unconventional way of thinking about things comes from my involvement in Alchimia family, the anti-academic side of architecture in Italy in the late seventies. Then there is, of course, my nomadic attitude, my Mediterranean roots and my sense of beauty linked to simplicity and imperfection.”
The love of travel, the nomadic, clearly informs the designs and gives insight into what makes a successful hotel interior concept and design. “When I travel, I love breathing in the atmosphere of the place I’m in. I always like saying that, when you wake up in a hotel room, you need to open your eyes and feel where you are, whether that be on a Mediterranean island, in India or in New York. So, when I design the interiors of a hotel, I always try to make guests feel an instinctive complicity with the environment, a natural sense of belonging to the place, always in a contemporary, relaxing and joyful way.”
Despite a substantial portfolio in hospitality and hotel design, Navone’s projects have never become formulaic. But like most designers, there is a strand or a common element that runs through the body of work. She discussed a little more about how each project is unique, and what it is that connects the COMO projects she has worked on, the common element, and it is all about a feeling rather than a physical design construct.
“Each of my projects come from a special alchemy, that’s why they are always unique. It’s a bit like in cinema, where each movie is distinctive because the story, the actors and the costumes are different, even if the director is always the same. What connects every project for COMO Hotels and Resorts is the feeling, the special attention to the all-round wellbeing of guests linked to the pleasure of spending quality time in a beautiful place.”
“when you wake up in a hotel room, you need to open your eyes and feel where you are” – Paola Navone
With so many beautiful hotels and resorts in the COMO portfolio, we had to ask Navone, as a designer, if she has a favourite – not necessarily the biggest and the boldest project that she has worked on with the COMO brand, but the one that for her stands out on a personal level. With no hesitation COMO Point Yamu was on top of her list.
“COMO Hotels and Resorts are always located in wonderful places around the world, and this is the first thing that makes them so special. COMO Point Yamu is immersed in the magnificent natural scenery of Phuket and even the smallest details are designed to involve the guest in the magic of the natural environment. Point Yamu demonstrates what I love to do in my work very well, incorporating my passion for craft traditions, my taste for the imperfect beauty of natural materials and the idea that even everyday things can have a surprising chance of a new life.”
Pauline Brettell: Which is your favourite space in the new COMO Le Montrachet Hotel?
Paola Navone: As with all COMO properties, guest wellbeing will be the core of the experience even at Le Montrachet. The COMO Shambhala Retreat, known all over the world for its wellness treatments and therapies, will be one of the surprising highlights of the project
PB: Your favourite (or go-to) colour/palette?
PN: I have an instinctive attraction for cold colours, the shades of air and water
PB: A favourite COMO Hotel 1) as a traveller, and 2) as a designer
PN: Both as a traveller and a designer, I’m looking forward of visiting Bhutan, relaxing and enjoying the breathtaking Himalayan panoramas that COMO Uma Paro offers
PB: Next destination on your travel bucket list?
PN: COMO Uma Paro!
As both the hospitality industry and interior designers are starting to look critically at the design process, we moved away briefly from Le Montrachet and veered off into the bigger and broader question that is on everybody’s lips right now, the question of sustainable and ethical design. Navone’s response makes it clear that this is not a new concept to her, but one that has always been an integral and unselfconscious element of her designs.
“My way of thinking about design, linked to simplicity and respect for the craft traditions of the world, naturally embodies the idea of sustainability. I enjoy introducing the simplicity and poetry hidden in natural materials and the raw finishes present in the industrial process. It’s not always easy but what happens is always full of wonder.”
Looking at the details and the integration of craft and artisanal finishes, is what always draws me into these designs, there is always the element of innovation as she is able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. The magical process of taking an everyday utilitarian item and turning it into a design statement is something she excels at, the vision in which the lobster basket becomes statement lighting, woven wicker is scaled up and becomes a wall. Trying to get a sneak peek into what is happening behind closed doors in the Le Montrachet project, we thought we would ask if she has found anything is this corner of France that called out for repurpose and some design inspiration? But she kept her designer cards close to her chest!
“We love to discover excellence in the craftsmanship of the places we work. Meeting local artisans and getting to know their art is always an exciting part of the project for us and a great source of inspiration. France has got countless traditions and it will be beautiful to express them in the design of this exciting new hotel. Working on an existing property with so much history, the challenge is to create an element of surprise in a special and respectful way. Working on historical heritage has never been a barrier to us, but a great creative opportunity. In harmony with COMO’s style, everything about the Le Montrachet project will be very light and soft, in order not to overshadow the special charm of the place.”
So for now, it looks like “light and soft” are our only taste of designer things to come at Le Montrachet!
Slated to open later this year COMO Le Montrachet has been consistently listed as one of the most anticipated hotel opening of 2022, and the role of Paola Navone as interior designer on this project is creating as much interest as the hotel opening itself. With everything going on behind closed french doors, we are intrigued and waiting to see the results of what her signature style and trademark contemporary touches will bring to the historic 18th-century property in the sought-after Côte-d’Or.
Main image credit: Giovanni Gastel