The Luis Pons Frame Collection Bar. Finely crafted wood frame moldings are applied to the exterior of the piece, a familiar feature used in an unexpected way, creating a unique and engaging impression.

Designer Luis Pons on How Furniture Functions Like Characters in a Story

by Benjamin Genocchio

Luis Pons is the principal of Luis Pons Design Lab, the successful Miami firm known for its work on luxurious tropical resorts such as Rosewood Le Guanahani on the French Caribbean island of Saint Barth, as well as for creating sleek interiors for hotels and homes of A-list clients. Incollect had the opportunity to speak with Pons about his design philosophy and the expansion of his furniture line.

“I believe in grabbing and combining things that document moments in our lives, full of impressions, memories, and stories.”  

Please describe your philosophy as an architect and a designer.

I often say to clients that I want to foster encounters of vision, creativity, and energy within a space. Achieving this requires careful attention to the systems that govern it. I am particularly interested in the systems that govern the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of a space — how they interconnect and flow with one another. I am really referring to the cohesion and fluidity of the space, circulation, and interaction with objects. We meticulously research and study solutions that honor both the physical and emotional context of each project, identifying its unique DNA and addressing the intrinsic complexities of both its physical requirements and emotional needs. Projects should possess an organic quality, capable of reorganization and adaptation to changing circumstances. Our aim is to create architecture and designs that facilitate such flexibility. I am more focused on a system that enables expansion, personalization, and interaction, allowing users to express themselves, imbue the space with their identity, 

In a Miami Beach apartment with an open floor plan, Pons created a sense of intimacy and drama by cocooning the dining area in curtains of floor-to-ceiling fine metallic ball chain.

Can you give me a specific example? 

In interior design, I like to add layers to a space. First, I establish a foundation by incorporating elements of the outdoors, often integrating architectural materials into interior wall and floor treatments. Then, I layer over this foundation with fabrics, screens, or objects to create intimacy and enhance the flow of the space. One of my favorite examples of this approach was the use of hanging fabric as wall dividers in the old Delano Hotel on Miami Beach, where they served to divide areas without separating the space. It was a simple yet effective gesture that evoked a sense of discovery as you walked through the layers of fabric.

The Tangara Long Sideboard with Fabric Panels, shown here crafted in walnut with signature Tangara wooden hinges, fabric-faced door panels, Water Blue glass drawer fronts, and Water Blue glass top. The design is fully customizable in solid wood or with panels in lacquer, wood veneers, fabrics, leather, or cane weave.

Does your personal background impact your thinking?

I am Venezuelan, originally from Caracas, and my designs are rooted in living in and understanding the tropics. I don't perceive a separation between the inside and outside of a building; nature is our true teacher, and to me, a building is similar to a tree — it all begins with the roof, which provides shelter. I reject the notion of a strict boundary between the interior and exterior of a building. Instead, I try to develop my concepts for clients from the inside out, always considering the interconnected systems and how various spaces are experienced beyond mere windows, doors, and walls. I emphasize an intimate integration with the surrounding landscape, inviting a sense of discovery. 

The Curved Sideboard from the Frame Collection presents a subtly curved concave face. Rippling vertical bands of frame molding create a sense of texture and movement. The top surface is precisely crafted to perfectly mirror each detail of the body.

What about your furniture line?

Furniture and objects have been a great way to experiment with some of the principles we care for, they have allowed us to express and interact with the people who purchase our pieces, seeing how they use them and embrace the proposed system; and how they make them theirs. In certain instances, our collections reflect the essence of a particular moment in history. We try to encapsulate the collective consciousness, capturing the nuances of human behavior and imprinting them onto the material world. When we license our designs, we ensure that the furniture or objects are designed for manufacturability and user interaction. This often means creating pieces that are interactive, playful, and adaptable. For the manufacturers, this allows for the creation of product families based on established systems. For end-users, it provides the ability for self-expression. When we design interiors, every piece of it is a character in a story that we are creating. Each piece resonates and enhances the other. They should be functional and also, they are in the space to be perceived as a map of impressions that will activate the senses and life experiences of those who are exposed to them; inspiring and sometimes amusing them. I imagine they are words or phrases of a story that is constantly expanding.

Luis Pons Design Lab’s renovation of a Miami waterfront apartment focused on the client’s edgy collection of photography. Creating ample wall space for creative installation schemes with perfect sightlines, and the challenge of displaying a substantial collection without evoking the sense of being in a gallery were the goals that guided many of the design decisions. A 1953 classic Modernist design, the Vladimir Kagan Omnibus II sofa,  created an intimate space within the large central salon. Warm tones in textiles and accessories and wood furniture add character and warmth throughout. To emphasize depth, walls were painted in an increasingly darker palette of gray tones as they proceeded into the interior of the apartment.

So your furniture is part of the overall system you conceive?

Correct. Today, much furniture merely fits into a space without a deeper connection to its surroundings. I believe it's wrong to view the interior as a consequence of what has happened on the outside. Instead, the interior should be conceived as an integral part of the overall project, intimately connected to its surroundings. I am more interested in thinking of interior design as the creation of a family of objects and relations; a place for things to happen and where life can take place. True interaction between exterior, interior, and furniture is what matters to me. Part of that is a duality of intimacy and yet openness and the right furniture in relation to a structure plays an important part in that.

How did your furniture designs come about?

I've been designing furniture for more than 40 years. Initially, it was a way to test my ideas. Coming from an architectural background, I found that architectural projects often took too long to complete, prompting me to explore furniture design as a more immediate outlet for my creativity. The response from clients was overwhelmingly positive, and in 2005, I had the opportunity to showcase a collection of prototypes at a satellite pavilion during the International Furniture Fair in Milan. My first works were a series of pieces covered in molding frames — I went to a framer and bought leftover pieces of picture frames he was not using. I started covering 1950s wooden furniture I would buy in junk stores in Miami and covered them with this beautiful molding, and in that way giving them a new life. I was reframing them as a take on classical French imperial furniture with the ornate decorative frames around them but with a playful contemporary twist.

The Frame Collection Credenza features layer upon layer of stacked frame molding, creating a subtle chiaroscuro effect as light reflects on the undulating details. The division of the drawers is concealed, giving a unified appearance, and the frame edges act as handles.

What kind of furniture are you designing today?

All sorts of things! I particularly like the Tangara system. These are pieces that I've been working on and are produced in Brazil. The joinery is a key feature; it is not only functional in its construction but also serves as an aesthetic statement. My fascination with hinges played a significant role in inspiring this design. Drawing inspiration from piping and stitching in clothing, I reimagined the concept of wood hinges, previously crafted by Vermeil, to create an entirely new family of furniture pieces under the Tangara Collection.

The modular nature of these cabinets allows for various configurations, accommodating the diverse needs of users. Whether it's sideboards, dressers, bars, or nightstands, they can be adapted to suit different visual aesthetics and functional requirements. In addition to the Tangara pieces, I've also been exploring vitrines. By removing the interior panels, I've created empty spaces that can be utilized, for instance, for mood lighting, adding another layer of versatility to the design.

Tangara Collection Set of Cabinets A and C. The modular qualities of the cabinets, finishes, and colors enable them to be separated or grouped together to create multiple configurations that adjust to the users’ needs.

What kind of furniture do you live with in Miami?

I have eclectic tastes. I have some of my prototypes and prototypes of other designers. Furniture by Gio Ponti, Hans Wegner, Droog Design, Campana Brothers, Kuramata, Carlo Scarpa, and many others all blended together. I believe in grabbing and combining things that document moments in our lives, full of impressions, memories, and stories.

The Tangara II Collection explores the natural beauty of wood. The Two-Door Bar features distinctive signature Tangara hinges and bookmatched front door panels in a selection of fine timbers. The interior lacquer color can be customized as well.

You live and work in Miami. What is special about that location for you and your work?

Miami has an openness, a welcoming vibe, and a vibrant energy, making it a playground for those with a creative spark. It is a young city, in a way immature, when it looks to others in an aspirational way as an example for its growth; absorbing elements of cities and cultures that are not theirs. This youthfulness provides a unique opportunity to create a new language that is genuine and authentic to this city. It is of the utmost importance to not let this opportunity go by and celebrate the diversity and collective spirit that truly defines Miami.

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