Design

The feel of good design

Alessandro Munge has a scrupulous eye for detail and a knack for creating spaces that make strong, lasting impressions.Maxime Bocken/Handout

Toronto interior designer Alessandro Munge is one of the most sought-after names in international design for a few key reasons: He has a scrupulous eye for detail and a knack for creating spaces that make strong, lasting impressions. He believes good design should leave an emotional imprint, not just a physical one. And, perhaps most importantly, he works tirelessly to ensure that none of his projects his ever look, or feel, the same – which, given the volume of work he has on the go at any one time, is a remarkable feat.

“We truly have been blessed,” says Munge of his roster of clients, which includes Park Hyatt, MGM, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, as well as A-listers such as Robert De Niro and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (partners in Nobu Restaurant , which has a Toronto flagship – designed by Studio Munge – set to open soon).

At this year’s Interior Design Show, which runs in Toronto from April 7 to 10, the Canadian-Italian designer will unveil his latest creation, an immersive installation for quartz countertop manufacturer, Caesarstone, called Neo Colosseo. “It’s not something that we would normally do but I took one look at this new product, which is inspired by nature and fell in love,” he says of Caesarstone’s latest collection of surfaces, called the Pebble Collection, which is featured in the installation.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Munge explains that he needs to feel a connection to a product or place for the design inspiration to flow. He likens the space he helped create at the Interior Design Show to art. “I jumped at the chance to do it because I’m this emotional Italian guy and, after all we’ve been through with COVID – and everything else going on in the world right now – I saw an opportunity to create a place of quiet reflection in a really innovative, and I hope, unexpected way.”

Caesarstone has previously invited designers including Marije Vogelzang, Snarkitecture, Jaime Hayon, Tom Dixon and Jonathan Adler to offer their perspectives on its material. Why do you think they tapped you for 2022?

The Pebbles Collection is in a palette of warm gray monochromes, inspired by nature and laced with softer hues that nurture, comfort and calm – feelings we try to integrate into all our projects. Our goal with design is to take people on a journey of personal discovery, which means we try to design physical spaces that leave a lasting emotional impact. Here, we wanted to do something that was subtle but at the same time bold. When you walk into this space you see the product, but you don’t see the product. Immediately there is a sense of mystery that I love. It is not a hard sell. You can sit, contemplate quietly and break away from what is going on in the world right now. Whatever we are designing – whether a hotel, a restaurant or a home – we like to pull people away from the noise and escape to an entirely different place.

So much of the discussion in design today revolves around sustainability and how to build greener spaces. How are you incorporating sustainable design practices into your business?

I have always said you are only as good as the partners you surround yourself with so I rely on vendors who use sustainable best practices into every facet of their business. The best vendors – the ones with integrity and a commitment to taking care of the planet and our natural resources – are going to educate me on the best products to use, whether they are natural materials or man-made. Let me give you an example. We like to use a lot of wood in our projects. I love walnut – the color, the feel and the texture – but I have stopped using it because it is depleting very quickly. Oak, of which we have an abundance here in Canada, is a fantastic alternative so we use a lot of that, as well as ash. Also, wherever we are building in the world, we try to use local materials that are sustainably sourced or manufactured. Is the industry making progress? Yes, but not enough. We are moving in the right direction but to treat this planet better we all have to get more creative.

What is your design philosophy?

Before Studio Munge takes on any project, we have to be assured we will control the whole environment. If it is a home, for instance, I tell my clients I’m not interested unless I can control [the design process] from the moment they get out of their car in the driveway until they get into bed at night. Every single detail is important to me because design is all about the cumulative effect – it is never one thing. Good design, in my opinion, is a journey that takes you to unexpected places that can be soulful, mysterious, calming or joyous. It should make you walk away with a good feeling or a good memory. There is no higher purpose than that.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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