AD100 interior architect Giancarlo Valle's improvisational approach to designing spaces and objects
“The most interesting element of architecture, and actually this works for anything you do, is the search for the unexpected… When you are in the studio or undertaking a project, there is always an expectation, yet you know that the best outcome will be to arrive at something different from what you expected in the first place.” —Luis M. Mansilla, quoted in From Rules to Constraints
Ten years ago—after completing his master’s from Princeton’s School of Architecture and in the early stages of a career aimed at top-tier firms—Giancarlo Valle published Luis M. Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón: From Rules to Constraints. A tribute to his grad school mentors, the book frames the award-winning architect duo’s design process as “an ongoing conversation between the building and the environment, between freedom and limits, and between the decided and undecided.” For Valle, Mansilla and Tuñón’s fluid, improvisational approach resonated, offering a compelling contrast to the rigorous theory that dominated his training. Four years later, it would become Valle’s lodestar as he founded his own studio.
“I knew that I wanted to be hands-on and tell stories through physical expressions that feel light-hearted and spontaneous,” Valle says, elaborating on his decision to leave behind large public projects at major firms (including stints at SHoP and Snøhetta). While Valle’s clarity of purpose was seeded under Mansilla and Tuñón’s mentorship, it only fully emerged once Valle was able to experience it firsthand—during the redesign of his own home.
As he spent his off-hours “obsessively” transforming an industrial, open-plan Brooklyn loft into a chic living space for his growing family, Valle increasingly felt, as he phrases it, “a disconnect” from the work he was doing during the day. Upon his home’s completion, he officially launched his eponymous studio with a focus on residential interiors.
Valle’s signature design language was evident from the start and quickly attracted an impressive list of discerning clients. Picture invitingly spare environments, neutral palettes accented by saturated jewel-tones, and thoughtful yet laid-back mixes of 20th-century icons—a Philip and Kelvin Laverne cocktail table and Pierre Paulin chair, for example—alongside contemporary, often bespoke handcrafted pieces sourced from his talented circle of friends (like Green River Project), international artisans, and his own furniture line.
With the eye of an architect and the heart of a collector, Valle selects the elements of his interiors, as his mentors advised, “in conversation” with the architectural envelope and contextual constraints, maintaining an openness throughout the process to, in Mansilla’s words, “always allow an opportunity for surprise.”
When Valle made his debut on the coveted AD100 List in December 2018, the magazine’s editors praised his aptitude for brokering “a nuanced rapprochement between the archetypes of the past and the spirit of the present.” AD’s florid phrasing highlights Valle’s ongoing engagement with design history and the joy he takes in riffing off of the timeless masterworks of his design heroes, from Frank Lloyd Wright and Gio Ponti to Donald Judd.
“I see my furniture designs as layered and evolutionary; participating in a larger context,” he explains. “I recognize that I’m building on the shoulders of giants.” This reverential sensibility took center stage last year when Magen H. Gallery invited Valle to curate Affinities, an exhibition that coupled historical design works from mid-century France with Valle’s of-the-moment furniture. The old and the new looked perfectly at home with one another.
For all his veneration of the past, Valle’s work exudes a playful idiosyncrasy that feels fresh. “What I find interesting about design is looking for surprises,” Valle says, echoing the theme of his decade-old book. “I started out following a traditional path in architecture, but I wanted to break out of the seriousness that was expected. It was liberating.” ◆