A lush, inspiring design tome

Paola Navone’s adventurous interiors shine in Tham Ma Da

The Paola Navone-designed Nahmyaa Thai restaurant at Como Point Yamu hotel
The Paola Navone-designed Nahmyaa Thai restaurant at Como Point Yamu hotel | Image: Enrico Conti

My dream house is a white-on-white affair, with a bit of unvarnished wood tossed into the colour-free, Aman-inspired mix. Hence the first time I knowingly encountered the design work of Paola Navone, at the Como Point Yamu hoteloverlooking Phuket’s Phang Nga Bay, it felt altogether too much like staying on a rainbow. Glass mosaics of goldfish adorn the décor, as do far too many shades of red and orange for my taste.

Navone’s scheme for Ibaji – a Korean eatery in the Haut Marais, Paris – is centred around smashed-tile mosaics
Navone’s scheme for Ibaji – a Korean eatery in the Haut Marais, Paris – is centred around smashed-tile mosaics

I checked out and did not give the Milan-based architect and interior designer another thought until one recent afternoon. Sheltering from a rainstorm inside my local bookshop, I pick up Tham Ma Da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone (Pointed Leaf Press, $85) – largely because its electric-turquoise cover caught my eye. Within minutes, I am curled up in a nearby club chair, surreptitiously pulling out my iPhone and snapping away.

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While her large-scale hotel work may have left me dizzy, it turns out that I am already a fan of Navone’s more intimate interiors, having unknowingly frequented one of her Parisian projects: Ibaji, a tiny mod-Korean eatery in the Haut Marais. Both the exterior and interior of this place are covered in an intentionally smashed-up mosaic of shiny white tiles, and inside the icy crackle is complemented with sculptural lighting formed from cheap and cheerful plastic baskets.

Tham Ma Da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone
Tham Ma Da: The Adventurous Interiors of Paola Navone

The rain stops, but I am still reading the engaging prose by American magazine editor Spencer Bailey. I am intrigued to learn that, like me, Navone graduated and soon fled her own country to live in the developing world, then called Hong Kong home “part time” for over 20 years and continues to travel often around Southeast Asia. I identify with her insatiable curiosity and appreciate her penchant for finding beauty in mundane accessories. Unlike me, however, Navone possesses the talent to turn these mass-produced items found across Asia, Africa and the Middle East into artful but unfussy interiors that embody her design philosophy. She named tham ma da, meaning “everyday” in Thai.

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Ditching the iPhone for my credit card, I take the book home and continue to admire Navone’s proclivity for using humble materials in unexpected ways, particularly at one house in Umbria, a converted silkworm factory, where she limits her palette to my preferred grey tiles, brown woods and white on white. So while the book was quite affordable, it has unleashed my ambition for Navone to take on my own Paris pad, perhaps with a bit of the Jardin Majorelle blue hue she lacquered on the walls of La Porrona, a Tuscan estate belonging to her fashion industry friend, and the mélange of vintage mirrors she created at another friend’s apartment in Nice.

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