A sofa is like an island
by Uta Abendroth | Feb 4, 2013

Uta Abendroth: Señor Gomez, you were an opera singer and now you design furniture. How come you changed professions?

Didier Gomez: Well the opera was a long time ago … I felt that I wasn’t really able to fully express myself through song, not the way I wanted and needed. Something in me said that something was missing.

Does music still play a role in your life?

Gomez: Most definitely! A major one, in fact. I listen to music all day long, and that includes when I’m designing. Depending on my mood I go for Jazz or Classical music, in any number of different styles.

And it was music that brought you to Paris.

Gomez: That’s true. I was in Spain, but moved to Paris when I was just 18 – and stayed. That’s simply the way things turned out. I started working as a designer and then added interior design to the portfolio.

Very successfully, at that. You are the mastermind behind the interior design of many a corporate HQ, stores, offices, hotels, restaurants and private residences – for top international brands and celebrities such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Pierre Berger, Daniel Auteuil, De Beers, LVMH, Kenzo, Dior, Cartier, to mention but a few, not to forget Hollywood star Harrison Ford’s Parisian apartment. In fact, you even helped shape the face of the stores underneath the Louvre’s glass pyramid.

Gomez: Yes, one thing simply led to another, it’s not like you can plan something like that. And you know what? I think my clients know that I bring a good portion of naturalness and simplicity to the tasks I tackle. What I mean is that perfection itself is completely boring, not to say inhuman. So all my designs have a touch of the incomplete about them, a little less perfection, a “mistake”, if you so will. Only then can users or inhabitants feel good with the objects in their working or home environments. I never seek out the smooth or the perfect. My designs are meant to touch people’s souls and that is possibly something I adopted or adapted from music.

So do you populate your own home with your furniture?

Gomez: I live in a complete hodgepodge, among a real mix of things. I had the good fortune of working for Yves Saint Laurent. He gifted me things he had brought back with him from his travels, above all from Asia, things I would never have bought for myself. But they mean so much to me, and therefore have a special place in my life. He also gave me some paintings, and that’s marvelous! And I simply love 18th century French furniture; I’ve even integrated the one or other such item into my home furnishings. But for me, at home, pride of place goes to the sofa, which is where it all happens.

What do you think makes a sofa a good sofa?

Gomez: The comfort! I don’t care about the structure or some elaborate technology. For me, a sofa is like an island which is why it must be comfortable, and come with thick cushions. Added to which, it must be perfectly made and finished, able to blend in with any possible setting. Of course, a sofa is a sculptural piece and requires space. And precisely for that reason I believe it must be as tranquil, as calm a design as possible.

At the imm Cologne Ligne Roset proudly displayed your new “Nils” sofa. What’s special about it? And why the Scandinavian name?

Gomez: “Nils” is an incredibly comfy sofa, because both the body and the cushions are stuffed with goose down and feathers – in separate chambers. And the name alludes to this soft upholstery, as “Nils” is an homage to Nils Holgersson, the 14-year-old boy who author Selma Lagerlöf wrote about travelling throughout Sweden with his wild geese in her novel over a hundred years ago.

“Nils” is not your first seating item for Ligne Roset is it?

Gomez: No, we started collaborating back in 1986 with the “Nomade” sofa – it boasted seating that was quilted and somewhat reminiscent of oriental-style couches. Now that model was fairly flat and thus there’s a line leading directly from it to “Nils”, which again has essentially low lines. You can, if you want, choose between two heights for the feet – which are as good as tucked away under the body: either three of five centimeters.

And in-between the two there were also models with a curved silhouette, such as your “Belem” sofa or your “Rive Droite” armchair.

Gomez: Yes, that’s right. But today we use sofas in a completely different way. We put our feet on the upholstery, perhaps balance a tray on it, too, rest something on the broader armrests, and thus turn the sofa into a something of a home base. Meaning that elements such as the backrests, armrests and seats need essentially to be rectangular and straight-edged, as otherwise they wouldn’t work properly.

So all plain and straight, and where’s the proverbial French elegance?

Gomez: Well it’s in the harmonious and balanced proportions as well as the soft and graceful touch, be it the sofa, armchair, couch, ottoman or stool. If you view the sofa close up you’ll see how carefully the seams have been sewn. The double ornamental seam on the backrest cushions is especially beautiful.

“Nils” is available with different covers, such as leather, microfiber, a thick flat woven or chenille. Do you have a preference?

Gomez: In actual fact I like fabric upholstery best, it simply feels so great to the touch.

What inspires you most?

Gomez: I tend to gain hundreds of different impressions on my travels, and these ideas find their way into my designs. Wherever I am in the world I’m forever watching people and the way they live.

And what do you consider the real challenge in design?

Gomez: Bringing my observations to life. Each individual project rests on a very careful analysis of things. I want to develop something fresh from my impressions, something that has an identity all of its own. And of course my roots play a role here: Andalusian culture with all its Moorish influences. Then there’s my high esteem for 18th century French furniture, as mentioned. And I appreciate the Bauhaus, too. I try to develop my own very personal designs on the basis of all these things inside me.

In terms of the approach you take, do you have any role models?

Gomez: I don’t know how other creative minds go about their projects. But I’m a great admirer of Ron Arad. I think his almost sculptural designs are really great. And I like Philippe Starck. I have the good fortune of knowing him privately, too, and his private persona is quite unlike the public Philippe Starck. He is a remarkable polymath and has an immense feel for things, and has of course done an incredible amount for design, too.

You’ve lived in Paris doe so long now that people tend to take you for a Frenchman. But there’s another place that plays a key role in your life, isn’t there.

Gomez: There is indeed. I have discovered Brazil – and above all Rio...

Where you have created a second life for yourself...

Gomez: Well, actually Paris remains the center of my life, and it’s here that I have my studio with 25 employees. But I also have a home in Rio and an office with eight staff members. Hey, there’s masses to do there: South America is so vibrant and there’s so much going on there at the moment. And the people are so open-minded, so young and full of life! Which is so much fun, just like their music.