WORDS: Yahdon Israel PHOTOGRAPHY: Julien Roubinet
One of my favorite stories, which I tell often, is the one Toni Morrison tells of her father, George Wofford, who was a ship welder. Returning home one day from work, Wofford told a young Morrison about this particular beam he welded. It had been his best one yet. He was so proud of his work, he discreetly inscribed his initials into the beam. "But daddy," Toni Morrison, "no one will see that." Her father's response: "I know it's there." What does any of this have to do with the French interior designer and furniture maker, Valerie Pasquiou? Everything.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, details matter. If not to the people who rip and run, then at least to the person who sits and contemplates. Valerie is one of those people. The thoughtful kind. To be thoughtful is to commit yourself to the things most people don’t see. Something akin to faith. Having over 20 years in interior and set design, I suspect Valerie has a lot of it. Why else would someone honor a lost bet that required her to be blindfolded, with an atlas placed in front of her and told, “Wherever your finger lands that’s where you’re going?” This is the kind of faith that' possible to anyone who believes that the interior life is a real one. And what is interior design, really, besides the ability to express that the little things have always mattered?
I’m only able to articulate this because Valerie lent the language. She also graced us with an interview in her Downtown Manhattan loft where she talked about her first make on the beaches of Biarritz (a sandcastle), her recent collection of furniture with friend and longtime design collaborator Sebastien Leon, and what happened the one time she didn’t pay attention to the little things.
What was the first thing you remember making?
A sandcastle at the age of 3. We always made sandcastles. The beach for me was complete freedom. It was a time of complete innocence. I love the ocean. It grounds me.
My father grew up in Brittany in St. Malo, a beautiful fortified where corsairs were harboring. The history there is so rich. When I was little, I was fascinated by it. My imagination would take me so far. We would wait for the tide to go down and to get the perfect sand to build the castles. It was a way to leave a mark behind.
I’ve noticed that the first makes become self-fulfilling prophecies. Or they begin a trajectory for someone’s creative life. So it’s interesting that at 3 you, with the help of your parents, would make sandcastles; then later in life you're doing interior design and making furniture. Did you see this coming or did it surprise you?
It’s so funny cause I didn’t have a plan. I was so disappointed not to go to art school. My father said, “What are you gonna do with art? If you go to art school in Paris, you’re gonna party.” So then, I went to law school for the first year. I partied like crazy, ironically. Law School was too rigid for me. I did end up in Bordeaux, and went to an Art and Advertising school. From there, I got my diploma. Then I lost a bet and ended up in LA.
What was the bet?
I was turning 21 or 22. I had a fight with my father. So I went out with friends. And I can’t even remember what the bet actually was. I just remember the stipulation was if I lost I’d have to wear a blindfold, they would put an atlas in front of me, and wherever I pointed to that’s where I had to go. My finger landed on one of the middle states and I thought, “I am not going to the Midwest.” So I went to LA.
My ex was a photographer and the prop stylist’s assistant wasn’t there so they called me in and asked if I could help. We went around looking for things and that’s when the prop stylist told me, “Wow, you have a good eye. You should keep going.” That’s how I got into set design.
What attracted you to set design?
I always love telling stories through spaces. I can be in a raw space, and visualize what needs to be there. It was amazing to be able to design sets and let your imagination run.
If there was one thing you wish you would’ve known sooner, what would it be?
I wish I had more mentors. Someone who would’ve given me guidance on what and what not to do.
What was one of the earlier mistakes you made in your career?
When I designed my first armoire for my first big client. This was 22 years ago. He had a loft in Venice. I designed the piece for him. The day we delivered it, I realized I was a quarter inch off in my measurements to go up the stairs. It wouldn’t fit through the large window either. We had to take the piece apart. That was a mistake I never forgot. After that I double and tripled checked measurements. We always learn from our mistakes, right?
What are some of the things you’ve learned about people through interior design?
A big part of interior design is psychology. You have to be a good listener. You really have to go beyond the surface to see what’s beneath; find that little niche and figure out how you’re going to highlight it to personalize a client’s space where they feel comfortable.
What is something you do to continue to hone your craft?
I pay attention to details to make sure that the design concept and story translates well.
What inspires you?
Everything. New York is such an inspiration. The first collection we—Sebastien Leon and I—created, "Laisse Béton," was basically inspired from all the construction being done around New York. Laisse Béton is a slang expression used in the 70's that has a double-meaning: “Laisse” means "let"; “Béton” means “concrete.” It translates as "let go." We took those raw and rough materials and used it in a a softer and luxurious way. So many people go around looking for inspiration. Sometimes you just have to let it come to you.
Do you have any people who inspire you?
Louise Bourgeois was fascinating, with such a strong and provocative mind. I admired her determination and her fearlessness at a time where very few women were recognized as artists.
The last thing you made?
I designed a large dining table called IRM inspired from a whale bone made out solid bronze base and a resine top. I didn't realize how complex it was until we started producing it and went through a long process. The details are very subtle, even the ones that are not visible right away. This is why this piece is so special and timeless.
What do you feel you need most to help you continue making?