Inside Giancarlo Valle’s Chinatown Studio
Stepping inside Giancarlo Valle’s Manhattan studio, one can feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. A quick look around the Chinatown loft reveals a spellbinding cache of tiny furniture and homes—models for the AD100 designer’s impressive slate of current work. A maquette for a West Village town-house renovation shows an exquisite bathroom wrapped in end-grain oakwood. A rustic structure captures the country-home concept he is hatching with Green River Project. And a cylindrical model hints at the daring powder room he’s creating for a ground-up Craftsman-style cottage in Carmel, California, his most significant commission to date.
“We carve out all the windows, all the human-scale elements, all the furniture,” explains Valle, noting that the architecture program at Princeton, where he got his master’s, emphasized model making. “When you see everything in context, you realize if something doesn’t make sense. There’s a fluidity between the architecture and the furniture.”
That it’s-all-connected approach has become a calling card for his namesake studio, which he founded in 2016 after stints at SHoP and Snøhetta. “A house is a city, and a city is a house,” muses Valle, paraphrasing the Dutch Structuralist architect Aldo van Eyck. “I like the idea that there’s a scaleless-ness to the way we approach design.” In the spirit of legends like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe, Valle layers his spaces with sculptural, often sinuous furniture of his own design, realized versions of which fill his atelier. Chunky perches like his velvet-and-brass Stump series, crowd-pleasing Smile seats, and wood Folk dining chairs capture his evolving point of view, an aesthetic that feels simultaneously postmodern and primitive, playful and pared-back.
Thanks to the support of clients like artist Marilyn Minter, hotelier Kevin Wendle, and fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra, Valle’s young practice continues to expand, allowing him to collaborate with master artisans on increasingly ambitious ideas. For that Carmel cottage, he commissioned a Swedish ceramist who specializes in traditional tiled stoves to create a pizza oven. For a pavilion in Mexico City, meanwhile, he tapped the local design duo Tezontle Studio to cast exterior columns in a stone-concrete mixture inspired by vernacular architecture. “I think a lot about Pierre Chareau and Jean Lurçat,” says Valle, noting that the French designer and tapestry artist collaborated frequently in the early 20th century. “That is what I look for. People who have a specialization, a point of view, but are open to doing something new.” giancarlovalle.com