Laura Gonzalez: A Pioneer of Maximalism
“An interior designer today needs to have courage, freedom and to be daring. Daring in how they mix colours, patterns, eras, styles and cultural influences. Hence the return to maximalism!“
The French interior designer Laura Gonzalez, 39, is reputed for her audacious projects. Her exuberant approach involves embracing eye-popping palettes and mixing intricate patterns, cultural references, diverse textures and rounded forms.
Among her impressive commissions are boutiques for Cartier, the rooftop terrace Dar Mima – Ziryab at the Institut du Monde Arabe and the château-hotel Saint James Paris in the sixteenth arrondissement. Last year, she opened a Left Bank gallery that showcases her love of oriental flourishes and how she is championing the maximalist design trend.
Gonzalez’s latest venture is the Lebanese restaurant, Noura, on Avenue Marceau. From its pointed archways to handmade tiles and textiles produced in collaboration with Beirut-based design studio Bokja, Noura is richly evocative of Lebanese architecture and culture. The attention to detail is enhanced by an interplay of joyful colours like pistachio, cumin, blue and yellow.
You founded your agency, Pravda Arkitect, at the age of 22 when you were a student at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris-Malaquais. Why did you decide to become an interior designer?
Growing up in Paris and [Cannes in] the south of France, I was constantly surrounded by beautiful, charming places steeped in history. Inevitably, the monuments, museums and landscapes had a cultural and artistic influence on me. Even my bedroom walls, decorated with Pierre Frey patterns and posters, awakened my attraction to visually rich things. In my opinion, this evolution happened gradually because creativity ends up becoming instinctive. That’s what led me to study architecture and establish my own agency after obtaining my diploma in 2008. This profession has always represented a source of freedom for me: freedom to discover new things, to delve into different cultures and to be constantly open and curious in order to create and express myself.
Which interior designers and artists have inspired you?
A designer who has long inspired me is Renzo Mongiardino. His career as a stage designer for theatre and cinema lends an impression of grandeur to his work. I love his lush interiors with trompe-l’oeil finishes, museum-quality antiques, sumptuous fabrics and captivating theatricality. And I’ve always admired the famous French interior designer Madeleine Castaing. She was a strong woman unafraid of being eclectic in her artistic choices and who took great care in selecting objects to decorate houses. She liked saying ‘I make houses like others write poems’. And I love that design philosophy. The American interior designer Dorothy Draper, the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa and artists like Hilma af Klimt and Jean Cocteau have also influenced me.
Your first key project was renovating the Bus Palladium nightclub in 2010. Subsequently, your agency shifted scale. Could you talk to us about that evolution?
Indeed, the Bus Palladium was the first time I was able to show my bohemian style and love of mixing patterns and textures. I installed antique furniture and wallpaper that I’d found in London. I love using antique furniture and it’s something that I’d like to continue doing in my work when I can. But, yes, after the Bus Palladium I started to take on more important projects, including Cartier boutiques worldwide, hotels like the Relais Christine [in Saint-Germain-des-Prés] and Saint James Paris as well as restaurants like the Dar Mima and most recently Noura.
What new visual identity did you want to bring to Noura?
The idea was to create a harmonious combination between the authenticity of Lebanese cuisine and a contemporary aesthetic in order to highlight what I felt every time I went to Noura: a welcoming, exotic and essentially oriental place. All these feelings had to stand out visually which is why I chose a meaningful palette. I worked with traditional materials such as wood, stone and ceramic tiles, mixing them with clean lines and refined details. My aim was to reflect the warmth and conviviality of Lebanese culture while bringing a touch of modernity and sophistication. The starting point was capturing the essence of Eastern architecture by highlighting distinctive features such as pointed arches and Moorish cornices. Each area was designed to tell a different narrative story, contributing to a rich, captivating atmosphere.
One of your references was sepia pictures of cafés in Beirut prior to the Lebanese Civil War. What did you seek to transmit from this period?
This emblematic period is a bittersweet nostalgic moment for Lebanese people and the inhabitants of the Middle East in general. So I wanted to give the feeling of a journey back in time and a means of escape for a few hours so that guests could find themselves in a comforting, timeless bubble.
How well do you know Lebanon?
I don’t know Lebanon as well as I’d like to. I went there before the Beirut port explosion in 2020 and when I was young with my parents. I love Lebanese culture and Beirut for me was like the Paris of the Middle East. The explosion affected me deeply. I have a lot of Lebanese friends, including Paul [Bou Antoun], the boss of Noura, and I wanted to pay tribute to this country through my work.
How would you define your aesthetic?
Eclectic and bold. I like adding my personal touch to each project through a mixture of patterns and colours. With Dar Mima and Noura, the Mediterranean side of my style and inspirations obviously stands out. My oriental heritage [having a father of European descent who was born in Algeria during France’s colonial rule] also guides me, depending on the project. I love warm colours, playing with light, geometric patterns and emanating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
What do you think interior design needs today? Why is there a return to maximalism?
An interior designer today needs to have courage, freedom and to be daring. Daring in how they mix colours, patterns, eras, styles and cultural influences. Hence the return to maximalism! One needs to strike a balance between eclecticism, aesthetics and emotional expression. Interior spaces need to be conceived to meet the need for visually stimulating and inspiring environments.
The return to maximalism is explained by the need to create interiors that stand out and stir strong emotions. Minimalism offered simplicity, functionality and sobriety, whereas maximalism offers a more audacious approach encompassing rich textures, vibrant colours and exuberant patterns. This allows for personal creative expression and playing with decorative elements, bringing one’s own personality to interior spaces.
Did the Covid-19 pandemic change your philosophy?
I’d say that it mostly freed me. I started designing the Saint James hotel during lockdown and it was such as experience! People needed colour and the joy of living after this period and my maximalist work full of colour and different patterns enabled me to bring cheerfulness into some French people’s daily life.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on more than 40 projects, including the decor of a new hotel on the Rue du 4 Septembre in Paris that’s inspired by Japanese culture. The craziest project I’m doing is a huge concept store in Le Printemps in New York. Plus projects with Cartier in Miami, Hawaii, Tokyo and Paris. The Cartier projects are an incredible playground where I can unleash my imagination while respecting the house’s DNA.
You said your dream would be to design a museum.
It’s something I’ve always had in mind and that I’d love to do before I’m 50.
Quelles sont vos autres ambitions ?
Mes ambitions sont toujours les mêmes : créer et inspirer et rester toujours en phase avec moi-même et mon style, tout en étant intemporelle. Je suis toujours occupée puisque j’aime travailler sur plein de projets en même temps, cuisiner et m’occuper de mes enfants.
Vos conseils pour un jeune architecte d’intérieur ?
Le savoir-faire du dessin est essentiel. J’encourage toujours mes collaborateurs à dessiner abondamment et d’ouvrir grand les yeux et contempler tout ce qui les entoure. Je considère que c’est véritablement l’aspect le plus essentiel de l’architecture : cela permet de former l’œil, de trouver l’inspiration et de communiquer dans le cadre du travail. Sinon, il faut utiliser de la couleur et surtout pas en avoir peur. Beaucoup de gens craignent de mélanger les couleurs et de commettre une faute de goût mais il faut suivre son intuition car elle est souvent juste.
Propos recueillis par Anna Sansom
Photos : Matthieu Salvaing, Philippe Garcia, Romain Ricard and Fabrice Fouillet