Born in 1977 in Jerusalem, with a degree in Conceptual Design from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2003 and a studio in Paris, Raphaël Navot is a “non-industrial designer,” as he likes to say. His aesthetic has always kept its distance from industrialization, getting closer over time to greater awareness of craftsmanship, tradition and natural materials as a potentially universal language.
Maison&Objet, which selects a “Designer of the Year” for each iteration, as a tribute to talent and know-how, has chosen him for the latest edition, from 19 to 23 January. Novot’s portfolio has great variety, including projects that showcase French crafts and expertise, from hotel interiors to commercial and custom products.
He has worked with David Lynch on the charismatic Parisian club Silencio (2011), as well as creating a line of furnishings for Roche Bobois (2018) and, last year, for Loro Piana. He collaborates with the Friedman Benda gallery in New York, and has designed two hotels, one in Cannes and another in the center of Paris.
“My projects do not necessarily have a similar aesthetic, but in the values they transmit the works resemble each other,” he explains. “I use natural materials and crafts with traditional techniques, reinterpreted in a contemporary and timeless form. This sense of the timeless is very important for me. I do not simply decorate things, and I very rarely make use of paint or wallpaper, or anything flat that is lacking in depth. Instead, I like to use materials that have thickness. I find my colors in the materials: my yellow is gold, my brown is wood, my blue is oxide. I work to bring beauty into my creations through a handmade approach.”
A great believer in collaboration, Navot nevertheless has his doubts about a team in the sense of a pre-set, permanent group of professionals. “Collaboration between independent partners, in my view, can make projects well-balanced and exciting. I acknowledge the challenges of independance and the potential lack of security, but I prefer the idea that every partner is responsible for their own part. It somehow makes the process more dynamic. I understand that structured organizations are essential in certain cases, but I have an instinctive fear of losing time working on motivation, while I need to protect the time I devote to designing and drawing.”
“I have learned that sometimes it is useful not to know all the rules, which can limit your creative spirit,” he continues. “I often come across an engineer or a manufacturer who says that certain things are impossible, only to then discover that instead they are feasible, simply by getting out of one’s comfort zone. In many cases it is harder to unlearn than to learn, and it is important for me to keep a certain ingenuous quality intact, to have access to the imagination.”
Another Navot mantra is the concept of listening. “I put the guest at the center of my work,” he says. “Those who will live inside the setting and will blend into this specific atmosphere are the most precious parts of the project. I try to emphasize comfort and a natural flow, hopefully lightening up the body and mind in a welcoming situation. I like the idea of working with brands because in that moment I am telling a story, which I have first tried to understand in depth and to share.”
For example: “I think that what was interesting for me with Roche Bobois was the fact that it is a French brand operating on an international level and producing its items in Europe with natural high-quality materials. The collaboration with them was very enjoyable, because they have special contacts with many artisans and makers. In the Native collection, where the focus is on bodily comfort, we used solid wood, leather and traditional colors, while introducing 3D printing and mineral pastes.”
The project he is creating for Maison&Objet is called Apothem Lounge, and it is an immersive installation of light and textures, with strong emotional force: a circular room protected by two curved walls with 12 portals through which visitors can enter and exit.
“It is an open architectural structure, a simplified labyrinth that offers freedom and privacy,” he says. “This large circular space invites visitors to experience the interiors away from their function or context, precisely like a stage in a theater where the visitors are the actors. The interior design is a form of set design that aims to create an atmosphere.”
In greater detail: “The installation will have various ‘ambient frames’ from my earlier interior design projects made with different partners. On this occasion, the fact of not having to come to terms with a client, a context or a function has been a privilege, allowing us to enter a more imaginative realm and to create an experience that is perhaps truly unexpected.”