A designer who starts by building dollhouse models

Designers often use the word “storytelling,” which can be a polite way of saying nothing. But Giancarlo Valle hears it more precisely, as in a fairy tale. Valle, who creates soft, uncluttered interiors and things to fill them in, practices a trend of modernism dosed with whimsy – squat, oblong tables with mosaic tops that resemble turtle scales; small tea room chairs upholstered in nubby chenille reminiscent of the lower half of a faun; velvet sofas the color of tree bark that roll up longer than strictly necessary, all of which would look like they were at home in a stylish storybook chalet, perhaps be a nestled in an enchanted forest. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Valle, 39, trained as an architect, a discipline that demands an icy rigor, and worked for several years for some of the most influential practitioners in the field, including the firms SHoP and Snøhetta. . In many ways, his own practice, which he started in 2016, is an effort to unlearn the coldness of architecture, with which he has lost his illusions, in favor of something warmer.

“It’s become so siled,” he said, sitting in his Chinatown studio, a small workshop whose walls are sheathed in olive velvet, his team quietly lining around him. “From the study of architecture to the position of architect. Or you might never practice but write a lot. This is probably why I went in the opposite direction. I just thought it was more before, you know?

Valle, who grew up between San Francisco and Chicago with stops in Guatemala City and Caracas, aspired to lavish the same level of attention to interiors as his peers have done facade work. He was drawn to such figures as Gio Ponti and Carlo Scarpa, designers whose self-defined mandate was so manifold that it felt endless, sliding fluidly between buildings, hardware, furniture, lighting. and a myriad of other landmarks. “In a way, I’m trying to bring back that kind of sensitivity,” Valle said. “You can start with an object and build a room story around it, or with the architecture and work towards the object,” he said. “There is a return to questioning the limits of things.

So far, Valle has applied this sensibility to a varied regimen of private residences and commercial spaces, from Upper East Side townhouses to a hotel in Tulum. In the entrance to artist Marilyn Minter’s studio in Cold Spring, NY, he imagined a geometric crash of rectangular wood shapes that serve as a deconstructed wardrobe; Through the Altuzarra boutique on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, it meandered a waist-high display clad in chalky Danish brick, its elongated wave echoing a 16-foot-long cream-colored wool sofa dotted with oversized shaped cushions. tennis ball. These are shapes that must be too playful to be elegant but manage to be both.

Curves are especially important to Valle, and he likes to insert them wherever possible: a plaster stairwell guard wall, the back of an upholstered bench that folds in on itself. Her Smile chair, which echoes traditional Ethiopian carved pieces, appears to do just that, its deep half-moon of a seat beckoning a sitter with the primitive familiarity of a cradle or womb.

One of the charming aspects of Valle’s practice is the mock-ups he makes of his pieces, a habit that has come from architecture’s dependence on models. But Valle’s models are handmade and look like it. Indeed, the miniatures – lumpen clay armchairs and side tables that Valle arranges and rearranges into shoebox versions of their ultimate destinations – are closer to dollhouse furniture than centerpiece renderings. For Valle, it’s a more efficient way to draw, less for exact dimension than for mood.

Diorama of a space in the making, the large room of a former Chicago orphanage converted into a private residence, is perched in a corner of the studio. The scale makes it soft, until you register the intense details, down to tiny iterations of the dozens of reliefs New York ceramicist Matt Merkel Hess makes to dot the jade-colored vaulted ceiling. “You have to edit with the model, you have to make decisions so that you can explain the idea in a concrete way,” said Valle. “It’s this very free way of moving. The realized versions of his pieces are strangely faithful to their modeled beginnings. “How do we recreate this playfulness or how do we achieve this artisanal quality? ” he added. “At the end of the day, the computer plays a role, but I like that there is a naive entry point.”

Valle is also gearing up for an exhibition of his furniture which will open at the Magen H Gallery in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village later this month. He describes the exhibition, which will combine 11 new pieces with their archival inspirations, as a conversation between contemporary and historical: Valle’s sculptural zinc sconces, their hand-painted interiors with personalized enamel, will be confronted with their ancestor designed by Le Corbusier; a graceful chaise longue upholstered in saffron mohair, a fall of silk carpet grafted to its seat, will share the space with the undulating “Poisson” table by Michel Chauvet; and a faceted stoneware lamp (collaboration with ceramist Natalie Weinberger, who also makes the tiles for the Valle tortoiseshell tables), made up in cardboard and then slushed so that the finish retains the irregularities of the paper and looks like something primordial, like a fossil bone exhumed and wired for halogen bulbs, will nod to a bulbous ceramic pitcher by Jean Lerat. Most of the pieces in the exhibition come from Valle’s new body of work, which marks his first retail offering in depth, a formal start that, because he’s used to creating site-specific pieces, was “kind of like this slow burn.” “

“I wanted to take a longer arc on the furniture,” he said. “Usually we offer parts of sorts right out of the oven. They are very specific to the projects and bear the names of clients, but there is ultimately a language that joins them. This language, a primitive modernism of carved wood, an earthy palette, low profiles and raw edges, enjoys a certain vogue in the world of design. (A version of it is also practiced by the Green River Project, which Valle frequently collaborates with.) “There’s a set of ingredients, but recipes that we’re still playing around with,” Valle said. “An idea can have nine lives, and it can take many different forms, but there is a continuity in the way they are. [all] compound. Shapes, shape and proportions can be super free.

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