Turin-born, Milan-based architect-designer Paola Navone is internationally renowned for her prolific, highly-stimulating avant-garde work. A globally-minded design rebel, her unique and malleable style is informed by late-20th-century Italian postmodernism and the Thai concept of tham ma da (“everyday,” in English), which aims to find new, extraordinary uses for low cost, standardized, and utilitarian things.
Born in 1950, Navone studied architecture at her hometown engineering university, the Polytechnic University of Turin. Disappointed in the practical sterility of traditional architecture coursework—the backbone to her degree—Navone focused her final thesis on global and radical movements, exploring Neo-futuristic collectives (e.g., Archigram in London) and communities (e.g., Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti in Arizona). Upon graduating in 1973, Navone traveled Africa, before linking up back in Italy with Alessandro Mendini, who wanted to realize components of her thesis project in the pages of Domus magazine. Navone’s association with Mendini proved catalytic, both professionally and personally. Starting in 1974, she worked alongside Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, and Andrea Branzi in the irreverent Alchimia design group (and later, as a member of Memphis), honing her bold, colorful aesthetic as in, for example, her Gedames Chest for Alchemia (1980).
Around the same time—in the early 1980s—Navone won a competition organized by Europe’s leading high-pressure laminate producer, Abet Laminati. According to legend, the company solicited one design proposal from Navone, but she sent fifty. The project earned her the 1983 Osaka International Design Award and jumpstarted her solo career. Onward into the decade, she blossomed in frenetic activity, forging collaborative relationships with Alessiand Giulio Cappellini, with whom she developed the “Mondo” initiative in 1988. While her relationship with Abet Laminati spanned the next thirty years, she also took a number of lecturing positions across Italy’s design institutions. She went on to work as a consultant in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand on behalf of UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and the World Bank.
Until 2000, Navone split her time between Italy and Asia—in Hong Kong, particularly—as she broadened her client list to include essentially every European heavyweight manufacturer. Her current CV includes designs for Poliform, Driade, Casamilano, Roche Bobois, Egizia, Baxter, Slide, Falper, Emu, Ercol, Habitat, Mamoli, Natuzzi, Reichenbach, Eumenes, Linteloo, Poltrona Frau, Letti & Co, Barovier & Toso, Crate & Barrel, Riva 1920, and more. Additionally, Since 1998, she has handled art direction at Gervasoni, designing most of their collections personally. In 2000, Navone was named Designer of the Year by the German magazine Architektur & Wohnen.