'NOVONO': A German-Born Design Firm : NPR FM Berlin Blog Nora von Nordenskjöld recently opened NOVONO, a Berlin-based design firm. Her recent projects include restaurant redesigns, pop-up diners, and clothes boutiques.
NPR logo 'NOVONO': A German-Born Design Firm

'NOVONO': A German-Born Design Firm

After four and a half years in Shanghai, Nora von Nordenskjöld, a striking, 30-something blond with handsome features and ostentatiously framed glasses, was through.

Nora von Nordenskjoeld Courtesy of NOVONO hide caption

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Courtesy of NOVONO

Nora von Nordenskjoeld

Courtesy of NOVONO

"I swore up and down that I would never come back to Germany. I promised myself it wouldn't happen, but now here I am. Compared to Shanghai, Berlin's slow pace feels like I've been dropped into a gel bubble," von Nordenskjöld says.

"Imagine that you've boarded a seat on a roller coaster; the operator hits the 'on' button, refusing to turn it off, let alone slow it down, despite your pleas. This? This is what it's like living in Shanghai, and it's amazing."

Von Nordenskjöld is Munich-born, Hamburg-raised and the founding force behind NOVONO, a two year-old design firm with offices a stone's throw from the hype of Torstraße in Berlin's Mitte district.

Conversationally, she is measured and studious, while a bubbly, almost girl-like, enthusiasm suffuses her voice.

"NOVONO is not a firm, not a studio," she says. "What do those words even mean? We are a creative practice."

With a laugh, she shrugs off the thought to explain that the true life force behind architecture, whether a structure or its interior design, is not that which one sees, but what one feels.

NOVONO's spontaneous showroom is currently on exhibition in Berlin. Courtesy of NOVONO hide caption

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Courtesy of NOVONO

NOVONO's spontaneous showroom is currently on exhibition in Berlin.

Courtesy of NOVONO

"I am not creating a space but rather evoking an emotion. One by one, people enter a room and experience a deeply personal, internal response to a curated environment. As people congregate in a location, there is an accumulation of emotional, social and intellectual feeling. This is the so-called energy of a room, and it shapes the way that people come together and interact with one another."

After studying interior architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Maastricht and Istituto Eu­ropeo di Design in Milan, von Nordenskjöld lived and worked abroad first in Mexico City before relocating to China, where she quickly became the Head of Interiors at Kokai Studios, an Italian-owned architectural firm in Shanghai.

With Kokai, she was promoted to partner and racked up international awards for Huai Hai Lu, Lounge 18 and TBWA Asia.

After nearly half a decade, however, the daily rigors of residing in the world's largest metropolis began to wear on von Nordenskjöld.

"Shanghai aged me by 10 years," she laughs, "and the only places I could imagine relocating were Paris or Istanbul. I do love those cities, but the cost of living there, let alone opening my own company, were untenable."

And thus she packed her bags and beelined to Berlin in 2009.

Here, in partnership with Israeli-born Itamar Zechoval, she first helped create Dandy of the Grotesque, a bespoke men's shop that caters to clientele such as dark rocker Marilyn Manson. From this juncture, NOVONO summarily exploded into its own, scoring a series, then a flurry, of projects.

"I can and often do choose to say no," von Nordenskjöld says. "I only agree to do interesting projects. Especially if they involve champagne. There is nothing better," she says, referencing her work with luxury French vinter Veuve Cliquot, for whom she designed its pop-up Rolling Diner in Berlin and is currently creating a similar event in Munich.

Around half of von Nordenskjöld's projects are traditional interior architecture—one of her current clients is Berlin's Jewish Museum, for whom she is redesigning its Cafe Schmus—and the other half are temporary installations.

Von Nordenskjöld's designed Pret-a-Diner, an upscale dining experience in locations throughout Europe. Courtesy of NOVONO hide caption

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Courtesy of NOVONO

NOVONO, for instance, has created environments for Pret-a-Diner, an upscale dining experience, something of a restaurant installation, that occurs in locations throughout Europe.

"After leaving Kokai Studios, Pret-a-Diner was my first big client under the rubric of NOVONO. This was a fully uncharted experience for me. As a German, I have always loved and believed in technical precision, but this other side of design—the impromptu, off-the-cuff creation of a space that isn't intended to endure—was a revelation for me," von Nordenskjöld says. "It taught me that improvisation can yield better results."

It is this blend of slow, laborious long-term projects alongside the rapid-fire, controlled chaos of one-off assignments that feed von Nordenskjöld's process.

"It sounds silly to say this aloud, but it's as if my ideas are birthed through me from a source. I close my eyes, and an idea, something that wasn't alive only moments before, exists. It's like miracles are coming out of my hands," von Nordenskjöld says.