Furniture Design

Wonmin Park

say hi to_ Wonmin Park

Not only has Paris historically been the epicentre for creative thinking in Europe but a place where foreign masters have flocked to over the past few hundred years. Foreign thinkers and creatives melt together with the strong local culture and liberté, or creative “freedom”, which has produced some of the world’s most famed artists and pieces. France has always been a country which has gladly welcomed foreign talents to set up shop on it’s beautiful (yet dog shit splattered) cobbled streets.

Wonmin Park, a double expat, hailing from Seoul, South Korea via Eindhoven in The Netherlands - landed in Paris six years ago, when the famed Carpenter’s Workshop Galley brought him to the City of Light. Inspiring a lot of the current trends we see in the South Korean design landscape, Wonmin merged the aesthetic and sensibility cultivated in native Seoul with the freedom and material exploration he learned in Eindhoven and the refinement and quality of craftsmanship in Paris.

We have a look at the contemporary creative scene of France from another perspective, the expat designers perspective, in our interview with Wonmin Park. I chat to Wonmin about what it is like to live, work and establish a business in France as a foreigner, his experiences and the differences between working in South Korea, The Netherlands and France as well as getting your work in front of the right people at the beginning of your career.


Calypso Mahieu

February 26, 2019

length of read
12 minutes

say hi to_ India Mahdavi


| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

| Wonmin | My name is Wonmin Park and I’m from Korea. I lived and worked in The Netherlands for nine years. I studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and I graduated in late 2011. I’m an industrial designer, a furniture designer and I moved to Paris a few years ago.

| Kristen | So what is a typical work day for you?

| Wonmin | It’s half half, one half of the work is to work on current projects which are pending and the other half of the day I am focusing on new projects. Now I am focused on metal projects which are based on aluminium, using a patina technique.

| Kristen | So when you have a new project, you start with exploring the materials or?

| Wonmin | My way of working may be different from other designers. I’m not really a traditional industrial designer, I’m a bit more handwork or technique based. I’m not doing all of this myself but have a team whose work fits to my eye, my aesthetic and direction. At the beginning I’m thinking more about the concept and then after that I am creating something where my aesthetic and the new technique fit to each other.

For me, my aim is that many people are asking if stories are important in my design and of course it should be the base but I wanted it to be that stories that the objects can tell themselves. It is about material, that the material has their own characters and feelings. The function maybe. That is important. 


| Kristen | What are some things you have to do at work?

| Wonmin | At the beginning of my period I did everything by myself. So first prototypes… I had many roles myself. I had to be the producer, the designer, the logistics organiser. Now I minimalized everything.

So now I am focused just on the creative part. I always want my work to be fresh. I’m discovering that my work from the beginning, so from painting to drawing, creating new textures - something like this. Inspiration point. Then we find out which direction we go in, also my work - what has already been done and my new work needs to be coherent. So that is my aim - to always do something fresh, something that might influence certain trends in the design world maybe. That is the only way that I think that I can survive and stay relevant. 

I’m spending a lot of time focusing on how I can make fresher work.

| Kristen | So you send a lot of time conceptualising, researching and playing with ideas?

| Wonmin | The forward thinking work is also based on the design history and then I know what is a new idea and what is not.

| Kristen | You need to be up to date on what has already been done..

| Wonmin | Yeah so I spend a lot of time researching and reading books.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Beginning

| Kristen | Did either of your parents work in furniture design?

| Wonmin |  No my father was an officer in the government.

| Kristen | So what made you decide to go into furniture?

| Wonmin | I studied architecture before in Korea, the men like to always make something.. I don’t know like naturally when I look back on my student period from elementary school onwards, I really enjoyed making and creating something… more than other kids maybe. I thought that my job should be something that I could enjoy so architecture is between creative and intellectual, so I chose that and then after that I was more interested in design.

Architecture is a bit more about teamwork, it’s slow, the scale is very large… After that I decided to design and then I was also interested in Dutch Design. This was about 15 years ago and at that time Dutch Design was very famous and I decided to go study in The Netherlands. 

| Kristen | You moved to Holland to study your masters?

| Wonmin | I studied my bachelors in Holland.


Photo Credit_ Calypso Mahieu


| Kristen | So you did architecture already and then you did another undergraduate degree?

| Wonmin | Yeah but I didn’t finish my architecture degree. I was thinking to myself, should I finish or should I just move on now or? 

| Kristen | When you know that you don’t want to do it… I mean I was the same I did photography and then I left and then I came back a few years later and I did graphic design.

| Wonmin | Theres something about it that is snobby in a way.. I’m not dealing with my degree I am dealing with my work.

| Kristen | Yeah that’s what I wanted to ask actually! Did you think that it was important to have a university degree for what you do now? 

| Wonmin |  It’s, let’s say - easier. It’s easier. If I didn’t have a degree then maybe I would need justify myself more whereas when I say that I studies design, I graduated from this school etc - people take me more seriously. They can think - Ah he did the basic studies.

| Kristen | So for other designers do you think that it is important to have a degree in terms of what you learn or more important because it ‘opens doors’ so to speak?

| Wonmin | I mean when we see the design world, there are a few designers who didn’t study design properly so the famous architects they didn’t study architecture but they are famous. I could see that they had to make a bigger effort and put more energy into their work. I heard that sometimes if somebody didn’t study photography for instance, could have a different eye and make more interesting work than someone who for instance, had studied photography.

| Kristen | Yeah well it is something that I think you can see for instance in French graphic design. A lot of young designer’s work looks very similar because they all went to the same schools which teach a quite rigid program, for the ones who went to school… and yeah I guess that one thing is if they were self taught, they were not taught to do it a certain way so they just do what they feel.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Foreign Living

| Kristen | Can you briefly compare the design landscapes of The Nethlands, Korea and France? How are they different or alike?

| Wonmin | France has real history so for me that creative art, this culture is already integrated into design. They are very good. Within the culture the people really appreciate and know what is good etc. The French design is also more focused on like elegance, rich culture maybe but now it is changing a bit somehow. 

Holland is doesn’t have as much of a rich culture as France but they are always on the cutting edge of art, design. Their contributing party is a bit different, they always want to make the avant garde in a way. Now also what young designers are doing is also always a bit avant garde and experimental. 

So in the Netherlands and France there are a lot of young up and coming designers… but in Korea they are more focused on industrial aspects. The environment is also a bit different. Our country developed in a very short time and we are now kind of a rich country and the culture still has to catch up to that, I think. It’s very compressed.


| Kristen | Can you define the styles of those countries? For instance, for me, French design would be ornamental, The Netherlands I would associate with forward thinking and avant garde and as for Korean, I would think it is some sort of mix between experimental and minimalistic. What would your interpretations be?

| Wonmin | French design has many spectrums, so when you see Bouroullec brothers work or Phillip Starck is different but I can tell that there is a French touch, you know what that looks like. Even industrial products… When somebody asks me what Dutch Design is maybe I could say experimental design, many spectrums of experimental. Korean is then a bit more commercial maybe.

What I think some designers are doing well is using aesthetics. We are not Italian design, we are not French design so what we can compare to is finding our own voice. There is a new generation and they need to transform. We still have to create what is Korean design. From what you know, Japanese design is not something that has been around for a long time - it’s been created by people recently. Iconic Korean design is mobile phone or electronic products, or car design, industrial design. Design is mainly for mass production, the scene for independent design is a new paradigm.

| Kristen | Do you see any big differences in work life between Korea, France and The Netherlands?

| Wonmin | The thing is that I haven’t worked in Korea. I’ve had friends and I know what is the conditions in Korea but I started my professional life in the Design Academy in Eindhoven. The Netherlands they are very direct and honest. Historically they are very business based people, they are direct and telling exactly what they want. They are not afraid to do new things. 

France s still a continuation, French people have a rich culture already and they are more conservative than other countries as well. Paris and London are kind of comparable. Other cities like London or New York have a lot of new up and coming designers but in Paris they mainly like to work with designers who they know already.


Photo Credit_ Calypso Mahieu


| Kristen | I think it’s very hard here for young designers. it is even hard for me to find them, and when I do find them I ask them “Why don’t you put more of your work online?”. They always tell me ‘You have to know people’.

| Kristen | What is the most difficult about living and working abroad?

| Wonmin | Maybe the society I think. I’m a foreigner and I will always be a foreigner here. I’m not afraid of that part, it is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. For them, I am quite fresh as well. I’m enjoying that and if something is difficult it is better to enjoy.

It’s difficult to imagine that I can live here for all of my life because still I think that I am not living, I feel more like I am just visiting. I don’t have family here, I have friends but not as much as in Korea.

| Kristen | Do you think you want to stay in Europe or you mentioned last time that you may want to go to New York?

| Wonmin | Visa problems are always occurring, as a foreigner I have to tell them everything about what I am doing, where I am living. I am spending a lot of time and money for these things, such as the lawyer and visa paperwork.

| Kristen | Oh I know it well, it is such a pain in the ass. 

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Business

| Kristen | You became successful quite young, what was the most important instance which gained you exposure? 

| Wonmin | At the beginning, actually many young designers ask me about this. Right away when I graduated school I wondered what should I do? There are no rules. You need to know what do you want? To be an independent designer you need to really find out what is your talent.


| Kristen | Did something happen for instance, did you win a contest or what was the first time that you got a lot of media exposure?

| Wonmin | At the beginning, after graduation some famous designers came out from the graduation show at that time, 6 years ago or so, but my work was not apart of that. I spent some time, 3 or 4 months thinking about what I should do, I had family pushing me - should I start to work for a company? Working for a company seemed like the most natural thing, something my parents perhaps expected. At that time I had a one year visa in Europe so I could only stay one year. I studied at the design academy in Eindhoven, which is quite avant garde and experimental design, which is not really industrial design. I came to study in the Netherlands not to work in a big company and it would have been a pity if I stopped my personal work and went back to that. So, I took some freelance work, earned some money and then there was only one chance for me. I was thinking, how should I handle this? The only way a designer can survive is that my work needs to be really fresh, avant garde in a way. So I started to discover aesthetic part and practical aspects at the same time. This is how my work has continued until now. It's the same philosophy. In that aspect, it needs to be a reflection of what is going on now.

| Kristen | Do you use social media at all to do PR for your work or do you use a PR agency or how do you get your work seen?

| Wonmin | I have a PR agency now but it is for my gallery, not for me personally. So basically I do my PR work myself. At the beginning it was the same.

| Kristen | Do you send newsletters? What advice could you give to young designers about how to get their work seen when they start producing work?

| Wonmin | The current environment is always changing and for example like five years ago, with social media - Facebook was the best but nowadays it seems like instagram is the best. I think I'm not really good social media, so I prefer to focus on what I am good at -laughs- But I know that I'm not good at social media but I try to use it..!

| Kristen | Well you know, if you need help - that's kinda my thang. 

| Wonmin | You're good with social media, I can see that! Your content is interesting but if I take the same picture, it's a different style so.


Photo Credit_ Calpyso Mahieu


| Kristen | Did you ever have a mentor?

| Wonmin | While I was in school I did. I learned a lot from the academy actually, it was a good school.

The Korean education is kind of a one way street - from the teacher to the student. Wheras The Netherlands is more like - it's yours - do it yourself, the way that you want to! 

| Kristen | But do they guide you at least?

| Wonmin | Yeah I mean, I had some lectures and classes and I noticed that creative things are sometimes difficult to teach. The only way to survive is to always be fresh and they just give you some direction to which way you should play with the materials. 

| Kristen | Were your classes in English or in Dutch?

| Wonmin | English. There were a lot of Dutch mixed in but the classes were in English. Most Dutch people speak good English anyways… Everyone.

| Kristen | I just wondering if you went to school in a different country… I mean in France for instance I don't think you can study at a French University in English? I could be wrong but I don't think that is really a thing. Because I would love to go back and study something here as it is more or less free, but I would have to do it IN French and it is one thing to talk to someone in a bar in French but I can't imagine writing 10 page papers in French...

| Wonmin |  Yeah I was interested in studying architecture in Basel but French was required so… 


| Kristen | How do you know what to price your work? Is that hard to figure out at the beginning or did you always have a gallery to help you with pricing?

| Wonmin | No, the galleries only come once you already have things selling or to sell… At the beginning it was hard I didn't know what the prices should be and sometimes I got e-mailed, I'm a young designer and I don't know what to charge for my work. It's the same story. I calculated with the production cost. I needed to find the most affordable prices that were still fair for the buyer. So at the beginning I didn't earn much profit, it was mainly just a price covering the cost of materials, I just wanted to get the work out there.

| Kristen | How do you go about selling your work? Now it is generally through a gallery but before how did you sell it?

| Wonmin | I made my work and then I uploaded my work to Dezeen or famous websites like Design Boom… I just researched and then I tried to find famous and influential online media platforms. Some people contacted me  through that but it was not clients.. it was more galleries or something like this. Clients are coming after. They are not really experts, they need the galleries to show them. So in 2013 I first debuted my work in Dubai but I didn't sell anything there but I shook the hand of the King of Dubai.

Photo Credit_ Calpso Mahieu

| Kristen |  -laughs- Why not?! But…. He didn't want a chair?!

| Wonmin | I also showed my work at Rossana Orlandi in 2013 and then actually I had a lot of success in Milan. It was one of the most popular pieces that year and i got a lot of publicity for that. Some of the people came from Dubai to buy my work in Milan because in Dubai the design fair is a bit related to the art fair and art collectors are kind of my main clients.

Art collectors are always traveling and they came to Milan and they were my first clients. After I could prepare work for the National Museum of Korea. The museum didn't give me a lot of money so they gave me the opportunity to show my work in a big space so I made 8 new pieces immediately. That collection got other galleries interested. Galleries are specialists and they can kind of spot when a designer is talented and on their way up.  

| Kristen | It must have been difficult at the beginning when you only get enough money for the production…

| Wonmin | I really started with nothing honestly. My parents and my family, I couldn't ask them for money. Especially if I don't go home - laughs -

| Kristen | It's the same with my parents " Mom, Dad - can I have some money? " " NO, Why aren't you living in America?? What are you doing?". They think that I am like on an extended vacation.

| Wonmin | Yeah! Yes same thing…!

| Kristen | So do you have a favorite material to work with?

| Wonmin | Now my favorite material is resin.

| Kristen | Yes you're quite famous for this.

| Wonmin | Yeah I'm very used to working with this material but I am interested in other materials. I'm not working with metal and perhaps that will end up become my favorite… but when I start to do this material (resin) this material was not so popular yet. So I founded new techniques using this material so I can say that I am comfortable with this material. There were not many people using resin at this time and we still had problems for instance with cracking, using this technique… 

| Kristen | Yeah I remember the last time I talked to you, you told me it took a few years to get the perfect process because you have this kind of translucent effect.

| Wonmin | There are also sponsors like galleries who try new techniques but at the same time it's very painful because I spent a lot of time and money before.. using a material but then it was the wrong material, failed, failed, failed and it was a pain you know?

| Kristen | But that is how you learn but I can imagine sometimes you must just feel like you want to give up.



| Kristen | So what is a dream project for you?

| Wonmin | I want to really complete my work. I'm still discovering myself and I'm still discovering what I want to do.. so when I finish one project and then discovering what kind of things I want to continue doing.

So the beginning of your questions was like 'What do you want to be doing' and that is a bit difficult to answer but now I can tell that it is a continuation of things… so at first I made this and then I wanted to make something new but different from the past projects but still coherent. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My intention is to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to complete my works. During school my English was terrible but I still remember I was in a painting class and the teacher said 'When you have your work then it is graduation'. That saying stayed in my mind, so I wanted to have my work.

| Kristen | What is your favorite project that you've worked on already and why?

| Wonmin | I really enjoyed my project with marble for Wallpaper commission project because it was very large scale. It was also the most expensive piece I've ever created as well.


Photo Credit_ Carl Kleiner for Wallpaper*


| Kristen | So how does that work? Wallpaper pays for that?

| Wonmin | No I don't think so, they ask the companies, suppliers and the designers we are planning, having a conversation together to collaborate. 

| Kristen | Yeah but I mean I guess it is so much media exposure that everyone is willing to contribute what they can.

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| Kristen | Can you describe the contemporary design landscape in France?

| Wonmin | In design there are two parts, independent designers, one is more mass production furniture and one is more like gallery work. I think the Bouroullec brothers are representing contemporary French design well. It's like what I told you before of what you 'think' Japanese design is, someone created that idea. In France the café, like the Costas brother created this 'French Style'. This was not existing before. Japanese design like Nendo, for instance, created what we know as Japanese design. That is what I was saying what we need to do in Korea.

| Kristen | Ah I see, so you mean for Korea for instance, you need that one big star who defines the style. You can go back and do it!!

| Wonmin | If Korean's do what the Japanese do, we just need to do it in a different way. Design is the same, if you want to be noticed you need to be different. That part is always difficult.

| Kristen | I'm excited, I really want to see what Korea's design scene develops into because what I've seen so far… I see some really interesting things coming from there. It's kind of playful. 

| Wonmin | Yes also there are a lot of places, perhaps you even know more places than I do because I am not really that interested in popular design anymore, I'm more focused on my identity and my style and I'm not interested in what trends are happening. At the beginning I was really interested and researched all the time, what is going on here or there.

| Kristen | That's probably a good method though because then you don't let it influence what you do.

| Wonmin | Yeah. I've gone a bit more in the 'artists' way. 

| Kristen | So what do you think the DNA of Paris is?

| Wonmin | The reason that I came to Paris was to be in what I see as one of the most influential cities in Europe. It has such a deep culture, decorative arts started here. 

Italian design, French design. Italian design is also amazing but French design has something really interesting. France has a history of hosting many artists.

| Kristen | There really is something about this city, in terms on inspiration… I feel completely different than when I lived in Berlin. When I'm here, even though there are a lot of creative people in Berlin, there is something about Paris that makes me excited to work everyday. I'm inspired by the country, the buildings. For me, Paris is perfect. New York is too expensive, it's better than London though because in New York they pay more money -laughs-

| Wonmin | Yeah I went to New York two weeks ago and I always question myself… New York is fabulous, the scale is unbelievable but the life is tough. New York is all about business for me, but here I see more percentage of people living a creative life.

| Kristen | Yeah I also think that it is easier to be creative here than in New York in my opinion because people here live outside of work. In New York you only work. You don't really have fun, go on vacation, we don't fully enjoy life.

Whereas here you work, then you go have a wine on a terrace with your friends, you eat good food, talk all night, have sex whatever and then go back to work and you're full of ideas and in New York you don't even have time to like barely take a shower in the morning. It's just work work work work work!

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Thank You Wonmin!

insta_ @wonminpark



say hi to_ POOL

France, a country which has historically been quite conservative in it’s organisation and evoking an urge to label and categorise and jobs and creatives into specific disciplines, is seeing a new emergence of undefinable, multidisciplinary studios and practices. POOL Studio, a multidisciplinary design studio working between furniture design, art direction and graphic design, who we originally knew for their furniture, is one of these studios redefining the way things are done in the French system.

Starting off working for famed French furniture designer, Noé Duchafour-Lawrance, Léa and Sebastien met and collaborated for 6 years before deciding to break off and start their own studio, POOL. They took a few months of experimenting before knowing exactly what their creative studio would do and specialise in. They now work closely with furniture editors such as La Chance, Petite Friture, Habitat and The Future Perfect, to create pieces for their collections as well as working on projects where they can design not only the furniture but handle the entire branding and interior architecture of a space.

Earlier in the year we had the pleasure of discussing how emerging designers could collaborate with artisan manufacturers with Atelier François Pouenat. We coincidentally found out at the same time that POOL Studio acted as the metal artisan manufacturer’s art directors. Creating everything from the graphic design to bespoke pieces and curating an exhibition of contemporary collectible furniture designers collaborating with the 3 generations run metal atelier - POOL is not only a studio to keep an eye on but a studio reviving and innovating the treasured industry of French artisan savoir-faire.


February 23, 2019

length of read
10 minutes

say hi to_ India Mahdavi


| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourselves? 

| Léa | We are Léa Padovani and Sébastian Kieffer, and we make up POOL Studio. We are a furniture design and interior architecture studio. We mainly do furniture design, make lamps for publishers/ editors, but we are still expanding, especially right now, [we have] a limited collection of pieces which we sell to private clients, interior decorators, or galleries. And our other side is interior architecture that we create for restaurant projects or apartments, etc.. 

| Sébastian | And graphic design as well, which allows us, when we create spaces, to do a complete package. We can also create the style guidelines and do some logo work. We love that, it allows us to really control all aspects of the project. 

| Léa | That’s what we do. We created Pool in 2010/2011. It took us 6 months to determine what we wanted to do, and how. 

| Sébastian | At first, we both worked for Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance. We met there. I had already been gone for a year when you began to want to leave as well. 

| Léa | Yes, you stayed with Noé for 6 years, and I stayed for 5. And then after we had had a quarter-life crisis at 30 years old, asking ourselves what it was that we wanted to do, and if we would work for someone again, we met our guardian angel, Cédric Morrissey, who was preparing the New Wave [Nouvelle Vague] exhibition in Milan, the first one, and he proposed that we be apart of it. That was really our springboard. 

| Sébastian | It was the first time we were showing pieces. 

| Léa | And we showed together as Pool.


| Kristen | And was he your mentor, or simply gave you the initial momentum? 

| Léa | He is always incredibly present in our work.

| Kristen | What is a typical day of work?

| Léa | Even still, it depends. Unfortunately, we start with a lot of emails. 

| Sébastian | First it’s coffee, reading emails, have another coffee, smoke a cigarette, and then respond to the emails. 

| Léa | We try to respond to them once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and not all day long. It’s awful but it’s practically a huge part of our job. Some days we try not to respond at all, but it depends on the projects. Then, there are some days when we are going to spend all day designing pieces for brands, that happened to us a lot last year, it’s cool but it’s rare. 

| Sébastian | Yes, and other than that, we’re managing our projects and making plans. 

| Léa | Each project has its specificity. Later it’s meetings that make the days pass quickly. 

| Kristen | And what is your favorite part of your job? 

| Sébastian | Going abroad because that’s really the time when we can get out of the closed vase of our studio, and suddenly we’re in these exhibitions in Milan or Stockholm. We come across all these people that we will eventually meet in other shows and exhibitions. 

| Sébastian | That’s really the part that I love because it’s a rather rare moment in our work that we can enjoy what we have done. When it is presented in an exhibition, all of a sudden the pressure levels off, the piece is there, within the deadline...

| Léa | That isn’t my favorite part, even if we end up meeting with our friends. What I love is going to see the craftsmen and the factories. Plus, the more I age, the less I like the walkabout. I find it quite gratifying to go and meet with the craftsmen who make our pieces, it’s an intimate part of our work that I love. Milan, blablabla... for me it’s too much. 

| Sébastian | Well I love it.

| Léa | That is where we are very different. 

| Kristen | I imagine that once the work is completed, it’s exciting to see the result. 

| Sébastian | Yes, every so often there are pieces that we only get to see a little bit of, so there is some apprehension at the moment of reveal. And suddenly when we see it and it works, it’s brilliant. 

| Léa | It’s true that the more we progress, the more brilliant these moments are. 

| Sébastian | Now that we have more contacts, we have built ourselves up a bit more, we are starting to make interesting pieces that are larger. We design sofas, large lighting fixtures, we don’t do small vases anymore - it’s not that we don’t like doing that - we have changed scale recently and now you can really see the materials.  

| Kristen | And how do you find the people that you work and collaborate with?

| Léa | For example, the collection of pieces that we are currently working on, the singular objects, in marble or otherwise, it starts by a collaboration with an ironworker. A friend of ours who is an architect introduced us to this ironworker who only works with metal and we worked with him for 6 years. A year ago he asked to be our artistic director and help us expand the company. It was a brilliant encounter because we have developed together, we have always trusted him with our pieces, and we’ve grown. I really love this work, and sometimes it’s hard, but there are incredible craftsmen. Sometimes he spends a whole day just making the base of a lamp, or something else. We met him through a friend, but each new project brings new people or projects to us. 

| Sébastian | It is often necessary to have a relationship where there is mutual trust between the publisher, the craftsman, and us. In the beginning, we didn’t make sofas or pieces like that, but once we started to see what was possible when we work together, it was then that we successfully developed this kind of relationship that allowed us to create larger and more ambitious pieces.

| Léa | Each time it’s a bit like that. We’re always looking for craftsmen. We have designer friends but they are true friends of ours and we try to work with the same people. We are lucky that we have publishers ask us to design, at first we would approach them, but now they come to us because we’ve made more pieces. 


| Sébastian | It’s easier to trust someone who has been published a lot, and someone who has a lot of pieces on the market. 

| Léa | That’s really what is happening now, they are asking us to design. We created a lot of things last year that will come out in January 2017. 

| Kristen | So you met each other at Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance where you worked for 6 and 5 years, respectively? 

| Sébastian | Yes, that was my first job, I was 20 years old, I was an intern then an employee, and then I left. 

| Léa | For me, it was my second job.

| Kristen | Had you studied Industrial Product Design before? 

| Sébastian | Yes. 

| Léa | Yes, and Interior Design as well. 

| Kristen | Do you find it necessary for your work? Because sometimes it’s not. For example, I studied photography but it didn’t end up being my job necessarily. But I imagine that it is different for you?

| Sébastian | For Interior Architecture it would be but for design, it’s not a problem. But even still, it’s important because it’s a process to integrate into it, to learn more than just the job, you must learn design, allow yourself the time to discover what it is exactly. There are plenty of little things such as the height of a chair [seat] for example. After that while in the process of working, there with be some familiarity with other creative jobs. 

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Beginning

| Kristen | When you started working together, did you allocate individual roles? For example, one of you worked with the business or marketing aspect and the other with the creative side, or did you do everything together? 

| Léa | We’re rather complementary we each have different strengths. There isn't only one of us who does the business side, it's both of us even if one of us is stronger than the other in an area. Sébastian always did a lot of graphic design  and I did a lot of interior architecture and at Noé I worked in the business part but it is a subject which we both work a lot on, that's the aim. That is it's truly 100% from both of us. 


| Sébastian | Even still, when we design a piece, I think that we always work a little staggered. There are things that one of us will be draw to, and the other less so. One will grow one way, and the other in another direction and in the end, that is what makes the project [successful].   

| Léa | It’s true that we don’t work the same way, and it’s what works well for us. 

| Sébastian | That sometimes gives us quite funny things, the basis for some of our pieces was simply a misunderstanding of the other’s design. I remember a stool which became a lamp. 


“POOL stays POOL and not Sébastain and Léa. If i like one color, and she likes another, ultimately, our finest works are with POOL in mind. “


| Kristen | And is it ever difficult? If for example one of you is happy with the end result but the other completely rejects a piece and says it has to be redone? 

| Sébastian | I think we argue sometimes.

| Léa | Sometimes that happens but the goal is to not take it personally, POOL stays POOL and not Sébastain and Léa. If i like one color, and she likes another, ultimately, our finest works are with POOL in mind. 

| Kristen | I imagine it’s similar to say hi to_, sometimes I’m going to use something that I wouldn’t necessarily want in my apartment, but it’s the spirit and aesthetic of say hi to_, which is it’s own entity.  

| Léa | We love POOL’s style and POOL is my home but we’re trying to hold the line where it’s POOL, but not fashion. We don’t make pink lamps because that’s the zeitgeist, it’s fashion. 

| Sébastian | Of course, it’s complicated [when you] break away from the zeitgeist, our wish is to participate in it, but not to follow it. It’s true that POOL became it’s own thing, more Léa and Sébastian and that helps us make a decision sometimes when we’re at a standstill.  But what is it that makes POOL? It’s as if we have a third person. There are often decisions that must be made in a certain order “What is our range? Where will it take our design?” because must evolve, we expand every year, we reach new markets, new clients, therefore it’s necessary at any given moment to adjust Pool’s image in a sense. 

Fortunately, we had done a lot in cosmetics, designing perfume bottles, working for people or a brand within a very particular frame where it was necessary to know how to respect codes which we didn’t necessarily like. It’s the same with POOL today when we happen to do certain projects, even if it’s furniture, which is much more personal than the cosmetic industry.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Business

| Kristen | How did you source the materials for your pieces? How did you find where and how to realize your first prototypes? 

| Léa | We didn’t have any.

| Kristen |  And how did that work? How did you find where and how to realize your first prototypes? 

| Léa | It is easier these days because we know more specialists and ultimately our technical work with metal is fairly well-known. That is why it’s so interesting to go to the factories to understand the techniques. We don’t learn how to work with marble, or what not to do with marble, from behind our computers. When we started out, we made a lot of mistakes with our choice of materials but now we have the ability to work with people who know better. 

| Kristen | But they were working for free at the beginning? 

| Sébastian | No, we financed them. 

| Kristen | How did you finance your first pieces? 

| Sébastian | With our savings. 

| Léa | For Nouvelle Vague [ New Wave] , it was with our money.

| Sébastian | Except for the pieces which had the support of a publisher behind them and were done for free. It’s funny because now we’ve managed to pay less for our prototypes, people trust us more now and know that we aren’t just making these for attention but rather to make objects and sell them. The craftsmen can trust us and it’s easier to find these arrangements now that we’re a little bit more recognized. 

| Léa | From our perspective, if we create a piece with a craftsman, it must be able to sell. Otherwise we’re just making prototypes all of our life and that wouldn’t be interesting anymore, it would be a joke. A designer’s work is to create an object in quantities [which are able to sell] for Habitat, La Chance, or a limited edition object meant for consumerism. Or else we’re just making beautiful things for our own homes. 


| Kristen | Was it difficult at the start to find furniture publications and producers for your work  and how did you first find those partnerships? 

| Sébastian | It’s a whole other process, you really need to know them, and know that they have seen things, and eventually the door opens. 

| Léa | Occasionally there is an [ripple] effect. Once you have one like that, it brings another one. And each time we’ve met people, it’s through our friends that we’ve met others, but in the beginning it was difficult.

| Sébastian | It’s a small community, a community of niches, there aren’t a lot of people who are capable of opening the door.  

| Léa | There are too many designers and few stand out. 

| Kristen | It’s the same for a photographer who wants to find an agent, it’s quite difficult at the beginning. I don’t know with furniture, but I’ve found that it’s different in France than in the U.S.A. Here, it’s really a question of networking, the more people you meet, the more things work out for you, but in the U.S.A., people [aren’t as willing] to help. 

| Léa | It can be a bit like that in France as well, it’s not so open. We work a lot with Future Perfect in the U.S.A. and it’s a very different way of working but we think it’s pretty cool because there, they get straight to the point. 

It’s a bit more indirect in France. Plus, it’s considered taboo to discuss money; to say that a lamp which was expensive to make will be expensive to sell. I remember an email from an American [company] that clearly asked for our list of expenses to be laid out. It’s the complete opposite in France where it’s complicated when you are creative. 


| Kristen | Did you have part-time jobs when you were young that gave you experience that you can use today?

| Sébastian | No, I only did work that coincided with my studies. 

| Léa | I had a few jobs just to earn some money, and I had one that wasn’t really for me, but it taught me how to sell [market]. Since then, I know how to sell and that helps for POOL. 

| Kristen | Was it difficult to create and launch your own company?

| Sébastian | Yes. 

| Kristen | How did you decide to do that, and what was the most difficult step?

| Sébastian | At the beginning when Léa was still working with Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, we would get together at her house to work on our résumés, before we ever had the idea to start POOL. I knew how to format [the resumes] and Léa knew how to write them. That was the start of POOL, not launching a company. I’m not sure how that idea manifested exactly, we told ourselves that we could start a studio. 

| Léa | We asked ourselves if we wanted to keep working for someone else. We’re creative so should we take the plunge or not?

| Sébastian | We had already worked as partners when we were with Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, so we knew how to collaborate and support each other at work and that was important. 

| Léa | Now, we have worked together for 11 years.

| Kristen | What was the most difficult thing at the beginning? 

| Léa | Earning money.

| Sébastian | Knowing precisely what we wanted to do because we were facing a big blank page. It really was vast. Such as where we wanted to start? What did we want to design? How we’re going to design it?

| Léa | In the beginning, Pool was super arty. We wanted to do installations, sculptures, it was a bit weird. It was extreme. 

| Sébastian | It’s not that it was nothing, but it just went in every direction. It turned into strange things that we could never have shown.

| Kristen | How did you actually start to make money?

| Sébastian | At the beginning we continued to work side by side. The first things that started to bring us money were from Craft, our interior architecture [work]. 

| Léa | When we did that project, people started to see us in another light, and were saying that it was rather serious to create an interior project. This project had great success in the media and that gave us a lot of help. There were several very important moments like that, Nouvelle Vague, Craft, meeting with the U.S.A. [market] because this freedom and ease of creation permitted us to do a lot more. We were less encumbered by the fact that we were small because in the States, it’s a large table, not a small one. 


| Sébastian | Especially since we were selling them directly because it was necessary to discuss pricing, when we sell a marble table to The Future Perfect we make money directly from it. 

When we develop furniture with a publisher, the piece must come out in order to start to earn royalties, even if we’re now paid for our designs. Besides, we don’t work in the same line for the U.S.A. [market]. It’s a luxury brand there, when we sell a table, it will be fairly expensive and we will be paid directly from it. When we work with Habitat or Petite Friture, it takes time for the product to be manufactured and to become known well enough to sell. It has only been for the last year that our royalty returns became quite significant, which then became a large part of our budget. In the beginning, it only paid for our coffee and internet. 

| Kristen | That depends on the country but when you’re freelancing, that can be a nightmare. How did you launch the marketing aspect when you started? With say hi to_, for example, I used social media. I posted a lot of content to gain followers and as I went along, people started contacting me.

| Léa | We were still with Nouvelle Vague then. We had a great deal of press, and a lot of very important people came to that expo. 

| Sébastian | That led to us being able to meet with talented journalists and talk with them. For instance, we didn’t have a [press] agency because the publishers and the clients which we worked for had them, and as a result, we didn’t need to have one. We are our own [press] agency, we manage it all in house. We also have a small group of journalists who we quite like, it’s a pleasure to speak with them. 

| Léa | There are brilliant journalists in design.

| Sébastian | Our instagram was created just last year. 

| Léa | We do social media but it’s not our strong suit. 

say hi to_ POOL by Manual Obadia-Wills

“Never work for free, even if you are very young. Never sell yourself or your work for free.”


| Kristen | What would you have like to have known before starting your business

| Sébastian | Oh a lot of things... I don’t know, we made inevitable mistakes... 

| Léa | Never work for free, even if you are very young. Never sell yourself or your work for free. For me, that’s the only thing. For the rest, we had good professional experiences working with Noé [Duchaufour-Lawrance] and before that, we saw plenty of things. We went to a good school, The only thing that one should know is that you must never work for free. 

| Sébastian | And it’s difficult at the beginning to not do that. 

| Léa | It’s hard to say no and it’s good to say no.

| Sébastian | Now we do. And it’s a good thing. 

| Léa | And still, it is nice.

| Sébastian | We aren’t nice, we’re polite. 

| Kristen | What does your creative process look like, say if you’re working with a publisher? For example. 

| Léa | CVL is a good example. All those lamps there. 

| Sébastian | Those are brass lamps, manufactured by a French brand which has it’s own factories. Most of the publishers don’t have their own factories, they do. They only work with brass.

| Léa | They produce and they sell. We met them through a designer friend and they were looking for a new designer. And every designer who makes an object suggest a new designer, which is very cool. But still they choose. In their studio the pitch is simple: they only make brass lamps. 

| Kristen | So there are constraints. 

| Léa | Yes, which is great. They asked us to design a collection of lamps, and we had really loved visiting  the factory. After that, we submitted three projects, three collections, and thy loved them. So last year, we launched a whole collection all in brass. Every year now they ask us to do a new collection. 

| Sébastian | And that happens two ways. Either we already have a collection, an idea which we feel fits their modality and we propose that, or they come to us with a direction to take, and we design it for them.

| Kristen | How does it work with publishers? Are they like agents? You can only work with one at a time or with who you want?

| Léa | Well yes, but with some nuance. For example, ideally we don’t want to work with only French publications/ publishers.

| Sébastian | It doesn’t make sense. 

| Léa | Essentially, the goal isn’t to work with everyone. That’s not the main objective.

| Kristen |  And how to you decide which publishers you want to work with?

| Léa | If it’s a new brand, their history is what matters for us, and what they can bring us. [Sometimes] they are very new on the scene, but their story is magic. 

| Sébastian | They are young in the furniture editing industry, but the company has been around for 60 years. The market evolves so they have seen plenty of phases. They make supermarket lamps, but the realized that if they wanted their company to continue to be successful in France, they’d need to go upmarket so now they try to break into the architecture market. 

say hi to_ India Mahdavi


| Kristen | What is your favorite piece or project that you have done? 

| Sébastian | The problem is that often when the projects finally make their debut, we are happy, but we don’t love them as much, we can’t look at them anymore. We’ve seen them too much.

| Léa | I will always love the project. 

| Sébastian | I quite like the sofa wallpaper but it’s because I hadn’t seen it enough.

| Léa | For me, that projects story is the most beautiful. 

| Sébastian | I agree with you because that was truly the purest expression of what we want to make because we made everything. It is 100 percent POOL I do not know if it is my favorite but it is most “us”.

| Léa | And it was such a joy to create it. It was brilliant. But moreover, we move on and the idea is that we want to be able to present a new collection next year. 

| Kristen | You could really do what you wanted. 

| Sébastian | Nearly because obviously there is a financial limit most of the time, or that kind of thing, but it’s more or less where we wanted to go. 

| Léa | But if all goes well this year, we’ll do it again with new pieces. 


| Kristen | What is your dream project?

| Léa | A swimming pool. For me, it will always be a pool. For you, it’s a train, right? 

| Sébastian | For me it’s a train, yes. I’m from Quimper and when I was 8 or 9 the train came [to town]. First class was blue and had small black alcoves with little facets of smoked glass. I was completely fascinated by it. The train was old and dusty, but in another that, there was this sort of machine that appeared that you just wanted to touch, it was gleaming and loud. It was beautiful, like a spaceship but more chic. I just loved it so I’d really like to make one, one day. Or a Concorde, but that doesn’t exist yet.

| Léa | For me, I’d love to make a watch. And a pool.

say hi to_


| Kristen | Could you describe the French contemporary design scene? 

| Léa | Now? It’s hard because in the past design was really an individual person, a strong one; [Philippe] Starck, [Charlotte] Perriand, some big personalities. Now that we are in that scene, we don’t know too much. 

| Sébastian | I believe that it’s really this recession [crisis history]. Some companies vanished and others rose to the top. There is this whole generation of young French publishers, and they must not forget what came before them. Maybe I’m talking bullshit but I get the feeling that has disappeared from this side of French design, which was able to be quite prevalent in the 60’s, 70’s, and even in the 80’s. In the 90’s, it feels like there was nothing but Starck, I’m not sure if it’s because he took center stage in the media, but he had become so big, it felt like there was no room for young designers. And I believe there is more space these days for young designers. 

| Sébastian | I think that the French scene stays fresh and eager. Eager for what, I can’t say exactly. 

| Léa | No, I disagree because there are all the French who leave to go to school abroad. There’s the Royal Academy style, ECAL, ENSCI, or those who work for the Bouroullecs, they have a similar style. They make up different categories. 

| Sébastian | Yes all the time.

| Léa | Sure but I think that the French scene is harder to identify than the Swedish scene for example. 

| Léa | But already, it’s not the same culture, their manufacture, it’s what they do well. 

| Sébastian | I disagree, I believe that the French scene is perhaps more identifiable than the Swedish scene some time ago, which in the end is more conservative, with a recurring theme. I think that there is a kind of French style that is making a comeback. There is a creative side in French design and development. Yet I can’t say exactly what the style is.  

| Léa | I get the impression, even if it is a bit terrible to say, that there is a bit of a post-Memphis epoch. And the French have the capacity to mix that [style] with our own, because we have a long history in furniture.

| Léa | Our generation is from the 80’s, and I get the impression that style is defined more by the generation rather than by country. After that, it’s a mix. And our country has a good mix of design. In our generation we have Guillaume Delvigne, Victoria Wilemotte, Fabien Cappello, us... we all look to the 80’s. We love the 80’s and 90’s. That is our childhood.

| Kristen | How would you define the essence of Paris? 

| Sébastian | Coffee with a cigarette. 

| Léa | Yes but that’s French, not just Parisian.

| Kristen | I’m from New York, and when I describe my city, it’s about the energy. You can find it anywhere else. The feeling of never being able to stop, that you must always keep going, pushing forwards. We work until we’re dead. 

| Léa | I find that in Paris, there is so much life outside. 

| Sébastian | There is New york energy, but while taking an hour for lunch in a restaurant mid-afternoon. 

| Léa | People take more time for themselves. It’s something that I really reflected on when I took a trip up north, to the scandinavian countries. It’s our thing, here in France, we take our time when we have lunch, and in the evening, we take time for ourselves. And I’ve seen that in Paris, when you’re in the street in the middle of the week, people are out, and not just out in the evenings for aperitifs. For me, that is Paris. 

| Sébastian | I’m always on the terrace. 

| Sébastian | I love this rhythm of Paris, it has both of these energies, people are not necessarily polite, but people who are too polite annoy me after a while. And we can do our projects but at the same time, take a moment to stop and have a coffee, or stroll through Tuileries garden, even going one extra Metro stop and taking a detour. 

| Léa | In France, there is no question of holidays in August. This summer I spoke with our gallery in New York and I told them I am sorry but the factory is closed from mid-July to the end of August.

| Kristen | Yes, they don’t understand that. Because in New York we don’t take vacations, we have 10 days, but if we take them, our colleagues think that we’re lazy! We just take a 3-day weekend.

| Léa | In France life is important and that’s great.

| Kristen | I believe that it’s visible in the work as well, because in New York, there is that energy, but at the end, there is nothing left. Here [in Paris] if we want to work 15 hours straight, and we have the energy for it, we can. But if we want to go home at 6pm, we can do that, too. I like that. 

| Léa | We do the same with our clients. Sometimes we say it’s Friday afternoon, we’re not working because we worked a lot earlier. 

| Sébastian | Yes and any time when we’ve exhausted ourselves, we work badly so it is enough to just take an hour to do something else, come back and have clear ideas. 

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Thank You POOL!

say hi to_ POOL by Manuel Obadia-Wills

India Mahdavi

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

If France has an Interior, Design and Goddess of color - it would most certainly have to be Madame India Mahdavi. I am sure that no matter what corner of the Earth you come from, you have seen her playful and sophisticated candy hued interiors and sumptuous furniture. Born in Iran and raised in France (and across a few countries in-beween), this powerhouse designer and architect took strength from her diverse upbringing and created her own path at a time when it was unheard of for a woman to go out on her own in the world of Architecture. As a young, foreign, female entrepreneur in France myself, it was an honour to be able to sit down to India and discuss her path, drive and get a little bit of insight into how she put herself in the forefront of an industry traditionally led by men.

From more or less starting the ‘Millennial Pink’ trend with the redesign of restaurant, Sketch, in London to approaching each new project as movie with a narrative to create, to running one of France’s most important design studio’s as a single mother - I had so much to ask this power woman. We sit down to talk creative process, growing your network, managing family and work and taking a risk to challenge yourself to pursue what you need to establish your career.


February 12, 2019

length of read
12 minutes

say hi to_ India Mahdavi


| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?

| India | Hello! India Mahdavi, Architect, Designer .. and many other things.

| India | I think I consider myself a woman of my time, a modern woman in many ways, in many respects because I see myself as more than just my profession.

What was more challenging was to do it as a woman, as a mother, and I think what was even more complicated to achieve was - although my education is very occidental - I come from a middle eastern background, where as a woman, you always remained either the daughter of your father or the wife of your husband, and to become very or completely independent and to be able to have your own business, to do everything on your own and not depend on anybody. Although I work with a team and my clients, but basically, I’m standing alone. And I think that was maybe the more challenging (thing) and thats why I say that I’m more than just a designer or an architect.

| India | I think that I’m exactly a product and a model of success of a metissage, a cultural mix of religions, of education, of east and west.


| Kristen |  It’s really inspirational not only to speak to a woman that I really admire because of your work, but especially because you are a woman - a woman from a middle eastern background - who has succeeded in everything that I, myself as a woman would like to do, without a man, and I wonder what kind of challenges you face as a woman that people may not realize?

| India | You know, as you start, you don’t really know what you’re gonna go through, and being a woman really helped me in many ways, because there are not so many women doing this.

When I started, there was Andree Putman, and I think Zaha Hadid was starting on her own, which is why I have a lot of admiration for her because I know, when you come from the Middle East, you either have to have very progressive parents, who are gonna push you and say, „You know what, why not? Go for it!“, or, they’re gonna say, „Why would you want to do that? Go get married, have a great life, relax!“. 


“Being a woman really helped me in many ways, because there are not so many women doing this.”


| India | My parents raised 5 kids, and they said, „You know what, we’re gonna give you and your brothers the same education, because when you’ll be 20 years old, you might not even get married - things are changing, and women are the future of men. And if you’re not getting married, you’re gonna have to take care of yourself. And to take care of yourself, what I’m gonna give you is the best education you can get in a field you choose yourself, because you’re gonna spend more time at your job than with anything else in your life (laughs), so you better choose something you really like!


| Kristen | You studied Architecture, correct?  I read that you lived all over, in Massachusetts, in Germany and France…

| India | Yes, I studied Architecture.

In the south of France, too. I did that at a time where nobody did that, so I was always the foreigner. I always experienced being the foreigner from a place that no one had even heard about.. Maybe places like Egypt more, but Iran? Everyone was like, Where is that? (laughs) . It was that type of upbringing. And then I went to very progressive schools.

| Kristen | So how did you first get interested in Interior Design and Architecture?

| India | I was not, really. I was interested in making movies, I wanted to make movies as a young girl and it could still be interesting for me to do so. So in fact, when I realized I wanted to make movies, I was interested in two things: I was always more in an imaginary world, for one, and that world was always very aesthetic, there was always an aesthetic ring to it, a narrative that was different from my every day life that allowed me to dream, and that was why I wanted to make movies. 

So after my BAC, there was not really a movie school I could attend in France,  so I decided I would do it like Fritz Lang and go to Architecture school.

My father said that that gives you a kind of big vision. If you’re an Architect, you’ll understand space, you’ll understand composition, and then, you can go into movies.

The mode of production, the production span was like, 7 years, so by the time you finished a project, you hated it. When you’re an Architect, it’s really about experience. You come out of school and you don’t know how to do anything. You have start working. And how you learn is building. Its the same thing with movies. There is only so much you can learn in school, and then you have to just make them. So if you take 7 years to make a movie, you’re not gonna learn. So the best thing is to take a little camera, move around, experience, see what looks good. So I thought 7 years, that’s not gonna work.

| India | So I said forget it, that’s not what I wanna do. Interior Design is great because you go super quickly. You see a project unfold in six months, a year, sometimes two months. If you do furniture, you can see things within one month.

So what you think is, even if it’s a different skill, you think about it, you make a little drawing, and one month later, that drawing becomes and object. That’s something fascinating. So I thought, if I do that on a regular basis, I can gain experience that I would normally gain by building five buildings, which would take me 25 years.

| Kristen | At the beginning, how do you realize projects? I think its one thing to design, but I spoke to a lot of young designers who say‚ we don’t have the funds to make the prototypes, etc.. I think people question sometimes where to start…

| India | Well, I was very good with that. So how it happened was I’d get a client who’d ask me to do their apartment, and I’d say fine, great, I’ll do the apartment - but I’ll design your furniture, too. So basically, I designed the furniture, the client basically paid for the prototype, and if the prototype was good, I’d make a second and that one goes to my showroom. 

| Kristen | That’s a great method! That’s one thing I always ask creatives - how did you start out, how did you manage to get your prototypes produced..

| India | You just have to make sure … you cannot sell your clients prototypes. If you make a piece for them, you have to make another one, too. That’s how you gain the experience

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Beginning

| Kristen | So what was your first real job in Interior Design, and how did you get there?

| India | Well, first of all, I was working with Christian Liaigre and then I had my son, and then I decided I would have to resign because I thought it was not right for me to continue, that I wanted to have a different life.

| Kristen | And how long had you already been working for Christian Liaigre?

| India | For seven years, I was his Art Director. It was a very comfortable and enjoyable experience and time and I really enjoyed it. And then, my first job came, and it was funny because I had been working with Joseph Ettedgui in London, who has the shops, and I had a very good relationship with him. I was working with him on different projects, we had a good contact and it was easy to work together and he asked me to do a few things for him, but also, he introduced me to a few clients in London. One thing led to another, so I did his homes, I worked on a few of his shops, I did a few Residences in London, so immediately, my connection as a pure designer was abroad.

When we opened Townhouse it was a huge hit, it was the first chic and cheap hotel. It was chic but very accessible. There was a crowd of people who didn’t have a huge budget but would have taste, and we did incredible things because on the terrace of the Townhouse - there was a huge Terrace - we did all the waterbeds, all the terrace was red waterbed-matresses, because we didn’t have a swimming pool. The hotel was fun all the way. It was happy and fun. And it was a huge success!

In the meantime I was working with Jonathan Moore still, I was doing this Project in the Meatmarket which was called APT, which was a Nightclub, and that was another huge success because it was an interesting concept, it was really about creating an apartment.

It was a club that was designed like an apartment for a character that I invented. That guy was a french guy called Bernard, and he was teaching Anthropology at Columbia and he was from this french Bourgeois background and moved to New York. He wanted to live on the Upper East Side, but didn’t have means so he decided to transform this place into it. So that’s how I made my movies, and this goes on forever. 

| Kristen | It sounds like a really, really fun conceptual project. It’s making me want to switch to become an interior designer now…

| India | That’s how you can invent a story. So that’s why my link to interior design is very similar to making movies. I just make movies and the actors are everybody. So that’s why I do it.


| Kristen | That’s a very interesting way of thinking about it! I really like that. Do you have any advice for young designers on where to start? Do you feel like you need a certain education to go into this field? Would it be good to study archtitecture?

| India | Yeah! Or Interior Design. But the relation to space is very important. Not only the space, but understanding the flow. Because a great space is also a great circulation. That’s the way it works. You have to understand how people come in. What is the energy that just goes around, comes around? 

| Kristen | So what’s next?

| India | I think you shouldn’t be afraid of working hard. It’s a lot of work. And to see everything, want to know everything. To remain curious. To see the movies, to see the theater, to everything as an inspiration. To go to the flea market, everything. 

| India | I also mean to speak about what you like and the things you see, because we take in a lot of things. But then you have to understand what you like and why you liked it, and be able to express it and speak about it. That’s a good exercise. 

| Kristen | Good to know! Noted, that’s good advice! Did you have any type of mentor along the way?

| India | Well, I would say Joseph Ettedgui was kind of my mentor. I was happy to be able to work with a lot of incredible clients from whom I’ve learned a lot.

Working with someone like Maja Hoffman was absolutely fantastic because I really see the way you work with a client is a path that you do together. You meet and ask yourselves, what’s our story gonna say, what do we wanna say? And you go together, and you tell a story together for a while, and then it’s like making a movie. It pushes you, you learn so much from the way they think. Every client told me something else and sort of made me aware of something else and you learn a lot from that. 

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

The Business

| Kristen | France is notoriously difficult to open a business. What was the most difficult for you?

| India | France is not difficult to open a business. It’s not difficult. Okay, there is a lot of administrative work and you don’t know exactly… It’s true that when I started, someday, you start getting a number of papers that’ll take you half a day to figure out and it takes so much time, you think, okay, I gotta get somebody to do this. (laughs)

I think what’s difficult is to meet the right people. I never had that problem because I started and someday there was this silver tray that came to me with all these fantastic people to work with and so I never had that problem. But when I see young kids leave my office and I see how they start usually with residential work, the difficulty usually is to go from residential to non-residential work to get a public job.

Once you have a public job, it’s to have a budget... to make a difference. And also, I think once more, the way I got lucky is that I think my name is unusual. Somehow I was already a story. All these magazines  about interior design are run by women, suddenly, they have, I don’t even understand that, but they (already) have a story. This is a young girl, a mother, with an interesting name and an interesting background, going on her own. Great! It’s like a head start. Of course, I always say that I was lucky I started (my career) being a woman with my background, etc. This name already meant something, you know? It sounds exotic. 

You didn’t have anybody who is doing … I promise you, an Architect on her own … people don’t do that. Even today, you only have a few girls doing interior design and of course I think a lot of girls are so projected, you know, they make it as a model or something. It’s a lot of work!

| Kristen | I can imagine and with a child on top of that. I think already, when you want to build your career, I see as single woman with no children and I’m still working morning until night, seven days a week - working to build what I want to build. If I had children, I don't know where I would have enough time, energy or flexibility to do that. I mean, I have a cat, but thats not very demanding (laughs). I can’t even imagine!

| India | Yeah, so I worked with my son, I separated with the father of my child when Miles was 5, and then I was raising him on my own. That’s why I have this organization where everything is so local. I live on the same block and everything is here because I couldn’t have done it otherwise. 

| Kristen | I give you a lot of credit. I don’t have children yet but I imagine this is a huge accomplishment.

| India | It was all kind of super organic. 


| Kristen | How does that fit? Was it difficult, once you had children, to - because I imagine there is just so much more planning you have to do, schedules must be a lot more important.

| India | Yes, but the school was next door, so Miles used to come after school, then we had a bit of help at home in the evening to cook dinner, but it was all super organic, and very local.

| Kristen | What do you wish you knew before you started your business, or went on your own? Was there anything you learned that you didn’t expect? 

| India | I wish .. - something that you don’t realize and you learn as you go along is that you have to know a bit about business. That’s something that really takes time. Becoming a manager. If you start on your own, it’s you and your maybe one person, then two, then three, then four. The team grows, and then it’s like a pyramid. And you grow on the top, and one day, without knowing, you’re on the top. And people look up to you and you look down to them. That’s not how you want it. And you’re alone. Alone! When you’re out there, and you don’t know what you are doing to do, it’s really scary!

| Kristen | Yeah. Also, that’s a whole other skill set, to be a manager. I can imagine that on the one hand, you’re following your dream of making interiors and architecture, and then that’s a whole other job, to also manage people.

| India | You have to do a bit of multitasking. You have to get the right people who can multitask.  Sometimes I just need to be on my own and think, and then I decided, okay, so how can I do this, being alone and making these business decisions, you’re like a captain on a boat.

You have to adapt, the whole time.

| Kristen | Seeing it as an outsider, an American who has now has lived a few years in France... When you hire an employee in America there are not that many liabilities, you can easily hire and fire employees. Whereas here, the employees have a lot of rights; which on one hand is a wonderful, wonderful thing but as a business owner, its also a much bigger responsibility than in the States in a way. I think you have to be extremely careful in your decision making at work. The decisions are more permanent, in a way. I think you have to be more careful here when hiring people and building the right team and it’s also very expensive to hire people. A lot of things to think about. 

| India | It’s very expensive to hire people, that’s true. Now, I’ve kind of re-thought my thing, because I used to have all - employees - and I said okay, all the creative things have to be freelance, and I could play with things. I see this place like an organic company. It’s organic. It cannot be static. I think that’s very important, to have that feel. 

| Kristen | And also, there’s always new perspectives if there are new freelancers coming in ..

| India | Yeah, and I think everybody brings their own thing and we leave, come back in … I think that makes more sense for me, in a way. Then, also, in the way I’ve become, and I think it’s very important that I say this, is that I’m located on one street, so I’m very local. Being very local, everything is here but I’m very global. I’m a small important office, because I think that when I do my projects I get international recognition although I’m just located here, I can’t compare my office to the Peter Marinos of this world. I’m a small entity. But what I do is, I do my creations in the studio, I have a unity that oversees production, I have, let’s say, my manufacturers at my booth where I work and I have my partners, then I sell my own furniture and my objects and then we communicate. So there’s like a real circle, like an eco system, that makes me very independent. 


| Kristen | So what does your creative process look like when you start with a new project?

| India | It’s more or less the same. A project usually comes with the space and a client and the project as sort of a program, so there are needs that you have to incorporate. There’s a function and it’s a location.

The location is in the building; in a building, but it’s also on a street, in a city, the city is a location. It’s in the south, or in the north, or where ever. So all those elements give me a certain number of constraints that I listen to.

The first thing is to listen to what the space requires, the client wants, what he wants from me, what he’s expecting from the project. You know, some people say modest, some want it to be a continuity of what we’ve already done, some people say they want utter luxury, some want something very accessible, whatever.

So all these elements help me to find a question that I want to answer. And the more precise the question, the easier it is to design and to give it the answer. You come up with some kind of little concept, like I was saying earlier on, for - .. and it’s not necessarily a question but a story you want to tell, what kind of idea do you want to make people understand. 

| Kristen | So you have to be extremely efficient and work under a lot of pressure I guess? 

| India | You have to be precise. It’s about precision. What is it, you know? What is gonna make the difference? So the pink wasn’t something obvious for me when I started, because Mourad Mazouz’s place, Sketch, was completely eclectic. When you entered, there was vintage everywhere. And so, suddenly, it’s all vintage, but vintage kills vintage in the end. So I wanted it to be fresh, open, you have to breathe, airy, chic.


| India | Yeah. The artwork is provocative, you know, David Shirgley, and it’s put on the walls in a bourgeois but radical way. The layout is very much the layout of a brasserie, very straightforward, and then suddenly - everything pink!

| Kristen | So what’s more important - technical know-how or having a vision?

| India | The vision. Of course, in anything you do in life, having a vision is more important than anything else. Then, you also have to have the vision to choose the right people. 

| Kristen | Makes sense. You have a very strong and defined aesthetic and vision. How long did it take you to define that? Was it always there?

| India | Look, a lot of people always refer to me saying „You love color!“ - yes, I love color, you know, of course, it’s something that I always had, this attraction to color and I think that I can see the colors that appeal to me and those that don’t.

I think now, what’s happened in the last few years is that I’ve been speaking about my work in a more… maybe, understanding myself more, where I want to go. So I’ve been speaking about it in a different way, and that’s been helping me also to define where I wanna go. It’s like one of those things, that’s why I say - if you like something, you have to explain why you like it. It helps you, putting words on things helps you to conceptualize it. Then, you can push it forward.

| Kristen | And so how do you go about choosing what jobs you do, while balancing keeping true to your aesthetic and creative integrity?

| India | You know, it’s about … I choose my projects according to people I meet, if I have a good connection to them, (..), and also, locations. For instance, Ladurée, we started in Hôtel des Bergues, and I said yes immediately, but in the beginning, he told me, maybe we can do it in Luxembourg..? I said, no, I’m not going to Luxembourg, I don’t wanna go to Luxembourg. But he said we can go to Geneva and do it in the Hotel des Bergues, and I said, yes, that works for me.

So I always considered - is this a project for me, will I make a difference or do they not need me? You know? So, if people want to dream, if you want something really different, I feel I’m the right person. If it’s just to do a job, I don’t need to do that unless I need work - you know, when you have an office, sometimes, you have to take jobs just because you need to…


| Kristen | So you’ve lived in several countries, I’m not sure if you’ve worked - well, I guess you’ve worked in the US - do you see a big difference in work culture in different countries? 

| India | Yes. For instance, here, everybody multitasks. In America, I think it’s divided. ‚I do this, but I don’t do that‘. It’s very, very divided. ‚I’m sorry, but this is not my job!‘. So there are a lot of people on a project that don’t do anything as far as I’m concerned, that are paid fortunes to do nothing, when we can do it in a much quicker way. 

| Kristen | So I guess you lived most of your life in France? Because I was gonna ask why you chose France to open your business?

| India | You know, my education is mostly French, and then, after working with Christian Liagre for seven years, I had all my professional connections. I was based here, and you know, I could’ve decided, at one point, Joseph told me: „Why don’t you come to London and we set up a business together?“. I thought, If I set up a business with Joseph, it’s gonna be all about Joseph, because he was so much more known. I just felt it was a time that I needed to be on my own. Make my own mistakes, do my own thing and see if I’m capable. 

| Kristen | Definitely.

| India | You know? And really see what I can do. Maybe I won’t do anything and it doesn’t work out, then I can go and work for somebody else again. But I think that it was also a challenge I wanted to give myself, and also, it was important that I did that for my son. To set an example.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi


| Kristen | So what do you find is the DNA of Paris? You can interpret that any way you like.

| India | I’m gonna speak about what France is for me and my own business. So, France offers a fantastic array of know-how, which is fantastic. It’s the best place to do interior design. You have the best manufacturers in the world, the know-hows, the sophistication, it’s fantastic. From Upholstery to Woodwork to Metalwork to Plasterwork to finishes, they’re very inventive. 

| Kristen | Also, there are generations of people that do this…

| India | Yeah, Exactly. So there is a history of that, and luxury, knowing how to do it high end. And, the passion about it as well. Being in Paris, or at least France, is great for me because of that. And of course, the downsides… Life in Paris, it’s a very cultural city, there are fantastic exhibitions, movie theaters all over, food is great, it’s very accessible. I mean, if you’re rich or poor, you can nearly do the same things.

The bad sides of Paris is, for me, there is something a bit static about the french bourgeoisie. Paris has to get out of that - in my opinion. But it’s years and years of bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie is governing this country so they’re all very attached to their benefits, to their comfort, to everything. Sometimes you have to break it to move on, and that’s difficult. 


| Kristen | Do you see any trends in the Design Landscape in France at the moment? Or something that’s specific to France? 

| India | Well, i think color is back. Let’s face it. I mean, it’s not very new but everybody is experimenting with color, everyone became tired of the beige and black.. And I think people are becoming more open to work with.. they’re more open to dreams. I think they’re more open to texture, they want .. I think people want to be engaged when they enter a place. They want it to mean something without being overwhelmed. I don’t know, I think it’s something like that. 

| Kristen | What is a dream project for you? You mentioned earlier possibly doing a film, is that something you’d like to do all the interiors of the film, or direct a film, like, the whole thing?

| India | No, no, no. I wanna do a movie on my own. 

| Kristen | That’s super exciting! Do you have plans to get the wheels for that in motion?  

| India | I do, and it’s kind of, the movie of life.

| Kristen | I’ll be the first one there to see it! What’s next, do have - certain projects I assume you can’t talk about, but - are there things going forward that you’d love to do, dream projects etc.?

| India | Well, I’d like to do architecture a bit more, you know, do complete projects. I’ve always been saving architecture. They come in with architecture that’s a bit lousy and I have to „save“ it. I feel like a firefighter, going like, okay, I’m gonna risk it, cut this, open this.. But maybe it’s just time for me to do it on my own, you know, my perception of what an interior should be and build it from scratch.

say hi to_ India Mahdavi

Thank You India!

insta_ @indiamahdavi