Furniture Label CARLO Blends The Best Of East And West

For over a quarter century, Italian-born designer Carlo Pessina has been taking disparate materials and ideals and forcing them together in order to outfit some of the world’s most distinguished homes with equally distinguished interiors. A pioneer in incorporating Indonesia’s signature coconut shell, mother-of-pearl and woods, Pessina, as founder and creative director of Bali-based CARLO, and his crew of 300 artisans still hand craft each piece the label manufactures — making it easy to customise the beds, dining tables, chairs, chests, credenzas and sofas’ odd angles and contrarian curves (at least by typical furniture standards) to individual needs.

The newly launched 2015 collection includes the strikingly asymmetrical and tridimensional Karimun Cabinet, the coconut or yellow pen shell Buru Sofa and the daring and wilfully contrasting Muna Cabinet. With the new series set to ship, Squarefoot chats with Pessina.

You’ve been designing furniture for over 20 years. How did you get into the industry?
Love is what makes people move and I found myself in Bali. In the beginning, Bali was very different as everything is very simple, but I had the luck to live in Batujimbar, a villa in Sanur designed by [architect] Geoffrey Bawa from Sri Lanka and where I built my first house. It was surrounded by interesting people and visitors all the time. I then started to make furniture when I met Mercedes, my first wife. We designed and made furniture for the presidential suite at the Hyatt in Singapore, and this is how I started this adventure more than 25 years ago.

You use a lot of unconventional angles, construction and finishes. Is that a conscious choice that separated your work from others’ or is it just your own innate sense of aesthetics? 
I think my work is clearly a blend of both Western and Eastern style. Without my previous experience in Italy, my products would not be what they are today, and of course if I were not in Bali I don’t know how my creations would be.

What inspired your interest in materials from Indonesia? And coconuts? 
In the beginning, I thought of using coconut since there were plenty available; they were only used for cooking at that time. For me, it was fascinating because it was a way to recycle this common but beautiful material. I wanted to give it another usage. We did very important projects with coconut shell for [Aman Resorts’] Amankila in collaboration with the architect Ed Tuttle and for the Sheraton in Bali. Since then, for 20 years, I have been producing furniture for hospitality projects and beautiful houses around the world, not only with coconut shell but some other natural, beautiful materials including natural fibres, stone, sea shell, bark, metals and so forth.

Is this stuff truly functional? Like most art, people tend to want to stand back and admire it from a safe distance.
There is always a practical element in my designs, however aesthetics and the “striking” factor is what I like to create, to focus on, in furniture.

Any idea what’s next? Is there anything you want to try your hand at that you haven’t yet?
I always keep an eye on new materials and would love to incorporate them in my furniture. Luckily Indonesia provides me with a lot of chances to do this. With my team’s assistance, we are looking at fabrics and sculptural elements to be inserted in the coming collections, in ways never seen before.

How do you define good design?