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The interior designer Ingrid Donat returned to New York after eight years with a new show at Carpenters Workshop Gallery, entitled “Origins.” The show, which closed December 17, was a comprehensive survey of her 30-year career complemented by a monograph that analytically explores all of her series, including the most recent ones.
While preparing for the show in Paris, Donat greeted Whitewall in Roissy at the Carpenters Workshop manufacturing space, a reconverted foundry bought by the gallery, where the kept artisans assist artists in the execution of their most ambitious creations. A myriad of imposing design pieces stood realized, while others were still in the making process as the calm activity of casters, bronze makers, carpenters, and painters testified. We got glimpses of Donat’s complex but efficient process: she starts with a sketch, sends it to the carpenter, who sends back a wax template where Donat then manually carves her tribal drawings. Finally, everything gets sent to the foundry, where the wax model is molded into bronze. Gold, bronze, leather, wood, and parchment are her favored mediums.
Collectors of her pieces include Yves Saint Laurent, Peter Marino for Chanel stores, Steve Martin, Tom Ford, and Brad Pitt, among others. Despite the complex expertise that her pieces require to create, the half-Swedish, half-French artist received very little training. She started making pieces professionally only at age 40, translating what had been a hobby during twenty years while she was a stay-at-home mother into a career. Whitewall was curious to know more.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell me about your show in New York with Carpenters Workshop Gallery, “Origins”?
INGRID DONAT: New York is a comeback for me. I became recognized for my work in large part thanks to the United States. I was there several years and did a show with Barry Friedman in 8 years. Now I’ll be there with a different gallery, and I’m just really thrilled to be back. This will be different, though. It will be more like a permanent showroom, I suppose, and there will be new pieces.
WW: What inspired the conception of these new pieces?
ID: Well, I’ve always been inspired by primitive art. That was always the case, but with something less raw and more sophisticated in the finishes, something a bit more feminine. It is important to add that feminine touch. Otherwise, the piece becomes too strong, very imposing and masculine.
WW: So tribal art is your main inspiration. What about Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences?
ID: That, too. I had the chance as a young girl growing up to see a lot of pieces and to follow them regularly at important Art Deco and Art Nouveau auctions. Basically, I’ve had my nose in it since my early twenties.
WW: Did that education come from your studies in the decorative arts?
ID: First, I didn’t study the decorative arts. I was only in a workshop to prepare for the admission exam of L’École des Beaux-Arts. I moved from Sweden at 19 years old to do that. However, when I arrived I got married right away. [Laughs] So I did sculptures and portraits all my life, but, rather, as a hobby from home. I would do my children, and then I grew a passion for decoration. No, actually, allow me to revise my word choice: It wasn’t decoration but interiors. In fact, I find decoration very boring. I prefer something more timeless, more ambient. I’m fascinated with the ambience that radiates from a given place. When you enter somewhere and a piece of furniture or carpet immediately catches your attention, for instance, it terribly bores me. I’m more interested in a discreet table that shows interesting finishes, carved details, only if you choose to get closer.
WW: So it’s the handicraft behind a piece that interests you?
ID: No, no. It’s the art that interests me. I’m after an atmosphere. If I’m doing walls, a sofa, a table, fabric, whatever it is, it has to merge and blend to create an agreeable space. A space where you feel well, but you don’t know why. I work with an overall vision, from the exterior. Honestly, everything that is too showy is not my thing.
WW: So you became a wife at 19, then a stay-at-home mother, and pursued your practice as a simple hobby, but for how long?
ID: Till I was 40 years old. After divorcing from my then-husband I didn’t know how to do anything else. I didn’t have a choice, really. It was a difficult time, but I was lucky to have a hobby that could become something professionally. Also since I had bathed in the art world I was also lucky that people had seen my work and proposed to sell or exhibit it. At home I would do sculptures, but if I needed an 80-inch table I would also just make it myself. The gallery owners that occasionally came to the house would say, “You should exhibit your pieces.”
WW: So you didn’t really have to change many things since you were pretty much already doing then what you’re doing now?
ID: Yes, pretty much. I was always passionate about the interior way of life, of a house, of an apartment. It was a passion for indoors, really, not decoration. I don’t have decorating magazines, and I don’t really go to the museum anymore because I know it subconsciously influences me. I want what I create to come from my guts, not my brain.
WW: So if I asked you who are your favorite designers, you wouldn’t have an answer?
ID: Yes, I do. It’s Armand-Albert Rateau. It was an inspiration when I saw his designs. I thought it was fabulous to do everything like he did—topography, the sink, the floors, floor lamps, door handles, all of it. And what’s extraordinary is that after doing so many things on my own out of habit, today people commission me to do exactly that—interiors from A to Z. I do living rooms, boudoirs, offices, with the floors, the tapestry, the ceilings . . . I love it, because I love sculpture.
WW: The Carpenters Workshop facilities of Roissy allow you to have the logistics to design on such a grand level. Is that why you decided to be represented by them?
ID: You need to know that Julien Lombrail, the gallery’s co-founder, is my son. That’s why I ended up following him after Barry Friedman. It became extraordinary for me. Very quickly I got a team because I couldn’t manage all the orders alone. I had a carpenter. We made the patina, we made the wax, the prototypes, the parchment. What was incredible was that I could conceive something here, give it to Paola next door (our caster); she’ll make a mold, and, hop, it goes to the foundry, comes back, and the guys over there do the assemblage. If there is parchment, it will go to the carpentry shop for bespoke cutting to size, and then in the parchment workshop. From then on the piece is made from A to Y, so to speak. It was not possible when I was doing it on my own, but when I started at Carpenters Julian took care of the production. He became passionate about the work and started taking on other artists. It gave him a love for manufacture.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s winter 2017 Luxury Issue.