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Brick & Wonder Profile – Gaia Nodari

Gaia Nodari hails from Bergamo, a town outside Milan in Northern Italy, close to the border with Switzerland. Her aesthetic derives influence from the clean lines of contemporary Milanese furniture, and from the warm materiality and wabi-sabi philosophy of Japan. We sat down with Gaia to hear her story. 

Tell us a little about who you are today.

Most people know me as Gaia Nodari Design, but I’m also part of Northerners Collective, a furniture company I co-founded with Luca Capurso. Typically, my work day is split between these two companies, and the two different processes of selling furniture and doing design projects for clients. I have been growing both and learning from both. 

My background is in interior design, working with architects and designers, typically in collaborations where I have freelanced, and about a year ago I set up my own design studio. 

Renovation projects are the work I most love to do, working alongside an architect. My family owns a construction company, so I grew up with my father on building sites, watching walls being demolished. I studied interior design, but I’ve generally found myself doing more architectural projects.

What first inspired you to enter the world of design? 

I was inspired by my family business. Construction is not design, but the two are related. My father does very high-end hotel renovations around Italy and Europe. He is 68 and he’s still running around as if he’s 40! I was inspired by his expansive access to culture and interesting places, but there was something that didn’t really connect with me about construction. It was a lot of work and effort he put into his business – a lot of responsibility for execution. But there was something I really loved about starting from an idea and making the building happen. So, I knew I wanted to be in this world, but more on the ideas side. 

One of the reasons I wanted to move to America was to expand my view, so see a different culture, as my father had done around Europe.
 

After 10 years working on my own, I thought I would be able to get going quickly, but you need to be humble – you need to learn and absorb.

How did you make your way into design professionally?

I studied in Milan, which, in Italy, is considered the capital of design. I studied Interior Design, and spent about ten years in Milan, freelancing for a couple of firms while also collaborating with my father’s company. If he had a residential project I would do the design for it. But I felt I wasn’t complete – I wanted to work on my own elsewhere. I wanted to explore a new culture. America has a lot of similarities to Europe, but it was still a difficult choice to move here. It was especially hard switching from metres to feet and inches! It’s the ABC of my job, so at the beginning it really wasn’t easy!

I knew I had to work for someone else to find my feet, so I spent 3 years working for West Chin Architects. It was a bit like being in a family – learning the language, learning the system, and learning how to work. After 10 years working on my own, I thought I would be able to get going quickly, but you need to be humble – you need to learn and absorb. I really felt like I was starting from scratch. It was so important for me to see myself in another light.

Where does Northerners Collective fit in?

Another thing I learned from West Chin Architects: the owner of the company started a parallel business selling furniture. He had been the owner of an architecture firm for 25 years when he started a showroom selling Italian furniture. I was helping in the showroom – it was great to have an Italian person on the team! I love product design and the way things are made in Italy, especially in the area I come from. It’s full of these amazing companies that started a hundred years ago and now they are huge names.

I started Northerners Collective with my business partner before I started Gaia Nodari design. For the last two years we’ve been building the brand in NYC and LA, and for now it’s still a startup, selling online and collaborating with designers we know.

My goal is to merge these two worlds – Gaia Nodari Design and Northerners, to build a company that can do design work and provide some of the furniture. I want to set up a personality for the design company – like a point of view, a voice. It’s hard to do that, because you need to be flexible to work with whatever comes along. I’m still finding my way with defining and shaping both companies. Ultimately the goal is for the companies to have the same soul. 

I’ve been visiting the manufacturers in Italy for years, and we’ve established such strong relationships with them. Often they are family owned. I believe in these manufacturers so much, and I’m proud to be representing them. I’m very careful with what I select.
 

With pottery you need to be very focused, but I love that you have to use your body instead of your computer to express yourself.

What inspires your design work today?

I grew up in a culture where objects are very important, often collected, passed down through generations. In order to give value to the history of these pieces, everything else around them in a home needs to be more silent, in a way. Not minimal, but you need to give value to your daily objects, or things you’ve collected from your travels. Spaces become soft, creating a contrast between past and present. Whatever is new must be new – it can’t mimic the past. 

I also have a passion for Japanese design. I’ve been to Japan and I love pottery. Japan and Japanese culture is a big inspiration to me. Its design is quiet – neutral colors, natural materials. Things that are inspired by nature. I’ve been making pottery for five years, but I recently started doing two nights a week for three to four hours. It’s not something I’m ready to ‘bring out’ yet, but my desire is to make it a part of Northerners Collective. With pottery you need to be very focused, but I love that you have to use your body instead of your computer to express yourself. It’s very connected to daily life – the things you use to eat or drink, the things you put on your table. The culinary experience is a big deal for me – I grew up with great Italian cooking!

For every design project, I try to think of it as if it was for myself and put that much passion into it. I try to understand the personality of the client, and then to wear those clothes. It’s so different to go into your client’s mind and think ‘this space is mine, I have this one chance’. That’s why I love residential so much. You can’t do this as much with commercial spaces. You have more freedom in those projects, but when it’s a private space you’re really the psychologist of the client, and you can be a friend to them. 

What’s your vision for how to unify Northerners and Gaia Nodari Design?

I want to create a space, not just an office, where we can combine the two. It would be a space to work from, and a space filled with Northerners pieces. A Northeres ‘casa’, not just a showroom. I like to bond with clients and for them to become friends. It would have a little kitchen with space for private dinners so it conveys a sense of home. It needs to be something eye catching and extraordinary. In New York we’re surrounded by so many interesting things that I think we will need to do something extraordinary. I’ve been working on business plans, looking at spaces, but we’re not ready just yet. When we do it, we want to get it right!