Eric Carlson, founder of Carbondale, answers the questions on tackling the challenges of ‘luxury interior architecture’
WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ARCHITECT?
I always loved to draw and ever since I can remember I’ve been cognisant about how places and spaces feel. I wasn’t one of those people who knew what they wanted to do at a very young age, but when I began to design in university, I realised this profession was for me.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE JOB?
Seeing the final design come to fruition and succeeding in all aspects of the brief – aesthetically, architecturally, functionally, operationally, economically and in terms of image. I don’t get involved in projects unless I am certain that I can succeed. The key is the client’s determination to achieve exceptional results and their understanding of what the process involves.
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
The toughest part is producing the most luxurious work possible. The key to that is to constantly evolve.
For example, luxury brands are increasingly focusing on digital shopping to heighten the shopping experience for the visitor. This ‘quest’ to digitalise has been translated into adding a screen, or combining multiple screens or even a LED wall. I think it is important to consider the digital components as creative tools and integrate them into the architecture.
WHICH RECENT PROJECT ARE YOU PROUDEST OF?
A highlight of my career has most certainly been creating the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysees. When I first began working at Louis Vuitton in 1997, store designs were composed essentially of standardised display counters and I was dubious that good architecture could be achieved because of the commercial constraints and the long tradition of a decorative, neo-traditional approach. However, with the brand’s expansion and the need for bigger stores, combined with an inspired, open-minded president in Yves Carcel, I found myself in a fertile environment for motivated individuals with ideas. After designing the first flagship store for Louis Vuitton in Osaka, the flood gates opened. Other luxury brands took notice and soon followed suit with buildings by Rem Koolhaas and Herzog and de Meuron for Prada and Renzo Piano for Hermes.
HOW DOES THE PRACTICE OPERATE ACROSS ITS TWO BASES IN PARIS AND SAO PAOLO?
We work collaboratively and this provides us with a wide variety of projects to work upon. We wanted Carbondale to have outreach to South America and now we are looking onward to Central America too. In Brazil we have worked on projects such as the Piselli Restaurant in Sao Paulo’s Main Plaza while the Paris office is currently focusing on luxury schemes such as Longchamp on Bond Street, London.
ARE YOU LOOKING TO EXPAND INTO ANY PARTICULAR SECTORS?
Carbondale is known in the industry as a consummate expert in luxury architecture and design and we want to continue being high-end niche architects.
WHAT ARE THE KEY TRENDS IN LUXURY ARCHITECTURE?
Customisation and standing out as something different is the trend. This means we customise each project to correspond to the unique characteristics of each of our clients and do not repeat the same formal style for every project. The goal for me is to capture the client’s identity within the design – if my projects were recognisable as ‘Eric Carlson building interiors’, then I have failed. So, each work is different and each provides a unique challenge.
CAN SUSTAINABILITY BE COMBINED WITH OPULENCE?
Yes, it can. Most of the brands we work with are all about sustainability and long-life, hardwearing products and we aim to address this in our designs.
IS IT DANGEROUS TO ALLOW THE CLIENT TOO MUCH FREE REIN – DO YOU FOCUS ON HELPING SHAPE THEIR VISION?
Without doubt, it’s my clients that inspire me the most but we are fully trusted with the design process. We carry out an in-depth research on every aspect of the project, including the people involved, to define our design strategies. Fundamentally it is the client’s unique characteristics, desires, and qualities that inspire us to create exceptional works, and our designs are most often an expression of their brand identity.
IS THE QUALITY OF INTERIORS AND USER EXPERIENCE MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU THAN EXTERIOR VISUAL STATEMENTS, AND IF SO WHY?
In luxury architecture everything is important, the big and the small. Often projects are separated into parts and dedicated to separate designers, but this happens because it’s rare to find designers that understand how to design at many scales. Working at different scales was something I learned from my early professional experiences.
DO YOU ENJOY WORKING WITH THE CHALLENGES OF OLD BUILDINGS?
An old building is something to embrace. One of our latest projects was the Longchamp project in London’s New Bond Street. This project was conceived as a fusion of the embodiment of the French Longchamp brand and the quintessential prestige of its London location.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE ARCHITECT’S ROLE CHANGING POST-2017?
Architecture will continue to embrace unique designs over standardisation. It used to be about the superstore, but now brands want individuality. For example, we are working with Dolce & Gabanna to design three projects – Venice, Montecarlo and Beijing – and each store design will be customised to correspond with its specific environment and location.