A Design for Life: NOVONO’s innovative approach to reimagining interiors

Increasing numbers of cranes have swooped over Berlin in recent years, creating winds of change that make those who love the city wonder whether it can retain its magic. After a liberated youth in the Nineties, Germany’s capital is growing up. There is nothing as constant as change, but the quality of the process is crucial. Nora von Nordenskjöld, founder of interior architecture studio NOVONO, is at the forefront of these advances, sustainably designing futuristic homes that preserve the past.


Ciara Cunnane


Tina Dubrovsky

Nora, who was born in Munich and raised in Hamburg, studied fine art at Maastricht University and achieved her master’s degree in interior architecture at Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan before escaping to Shanghai, ‘as it was the most extreme place I could find.’ Her 12 years abroad in seven countries across three continents reached the heights of an award-winning career as partner of Kokai Studios in one of China’s biggest industrial cities.

Despite the fact that Nora had an ‘amazing life’ there, she relocated to Berlin in 2010 to improve the career prospects of her then partner, a haute couture designer. It was at this time that Nora fully launched NOVONO, which she had initially begun with small projects in 2003 but set aside. NOVONO quickly took off thanks to a series of acclaimed designs, from high-end gastronomy and event spaces to luxury apartments. Nora says that she has never had to advertise; clients come to her, and now, even at the youthful age of 41, she in a position where she can pick and choose projects.

NOVONO, a team of seven full-time staff led by Nora as managing partner along with the architect Jörn Nolte on the managerial side, is now on its 157th project. Two of these are rooftop apartments at the Geisberg Berlin building in Schöneberg, which is a new build joined onto a listed building from 1925. It will encompass 130 apartments – all already sold in keeping with the city’s rising demand. Nora thinks that the gentrification of Berlin is ‘terrible’ but also inevitable. ‘It happened everywhere else, I think it’s a natural development. What I find a pity is that some of the new architecture is just ugly while other countries are doing much better, like if you look at Copenhagen or Amsterdam they’ve managed to do very modern architecture that doesn’t disturb the other buildings but in Berlin you can count them on one hand, so that’s disturbing me.’

Exteriors are out of her control but Nora gives her all to interiors. She and Jörn show us around one of the apartments at Geisbergstraße which she is set to transform into a bachelor pad featuring a home office, sauna and spa. A wide staircase will lead up to a rooftop garden which, as well as spectacular views across the city, will feature an outdoor kitchen and shower. The ceiling is to be left raw and exposed, to echo Nora’s signature style of keeping old features where appropriate. In her multifaceted career, it is this passion for old buildings that has been Nora’s mainstay, although she says that she only realised this recently. She puts this interest down to her childhood: ‘I have always worked on old buildings, even in Shanghai, the city of new builds. That’s the bit of heritage I bring, as my family were always visiting family in castles and important old buildings and I just love them.’ Her late father Reinhart was an engineer with a PhD in biology whose company purified water. Nora drew her first floor layouts at the tender age of four after learning from the drawings of buildings on her father’s desk. He also invoked the wanderlust she has enjoyed as an adult, as he regularly brought her along on business trips abroad. ‘I was the first kid in my class to go on an aeroplane,’ she recalls fondly.

The Geisberg Berlin building in progress The Geisberg Berlin building in progress
The under construction apartment at Geisberg Berlin The under construction apartment at Geisberg Berlin

Wherever in the world Nora works, she is strict about sourcing materials from that country or its neighbours. ‘It’s not easy to follow but it’s a law within our office. Shipping materials overseas is bad for the environment and I see no reason why I should not use the local materials.’  This ethos developed unconsciously, in the same way as her stance on avoiding plastics. ‘These are things we didn’t even think about, we do that naturally, it’s just normal – it should be normal for everybody.’ The incorporation of new yet sustainable materials developed as her style grew from the early days when she was known to use antique materials to create atmospheres of forgotten memories.

This ability to invoke nostalgia while utilising the best of contemporary design is evident in one of Nora’s rooftop apartments, a new build in Kreuzberg where the nightclub KaterHolzig once stood, overlooking the Spree. Although it’s 160 square metres, the apartment feels even more spacious because of the clever division of rooms. This is a fantasy fusion of 1920s and 1970s glamour, with hidden doors, golden trimmings, bespoke art, and a second bathroom of floor-to-ceiling mirrors with a disco ball in the shower. Stefan Rupperti, who owns the apartment with his partner, welcomes us with warm smiles as Nora’s elegant dog, Polanski, excitedly jumps all over him. During the renovation, Nora and Polanski got close to the couple. Nora says this is typical: ‘Most of our clients became friends and that’s a nice add-on to my profession that I really didn’t expect. It’s such an intimate process getting the story of their life; you even need to find out how much underwear they have!’

‘It’s such an intimate process getting the story of clients’ lives; you even need to find out how much underwear they have!’

Nora’s desire to understand what people need in order to make the most of their living space has led to her being commissioned for several rooftop apartments. Her respect for a building’s origins ties in with her passion for creating an intimate atmosphere. She tries to ‘preserve or at least play with’ the older aspects of a building. Nora adds: ‘I think it’s something that connects with us on a human basis. If I go to these supermodern, concrete buildings with a lot of glass I personally don’t feel touched; like I don’t have any emotion going on.’

Nora, her dog Polanski, and client Stefan Rupperti

When Nora creates futuristic homes that pay attention to the past, clients are ‘very thankful and say that for them it’s a very pleasant way of living. We also sometimes have customers who say they moved into somewhere new and they’re very unhappy so maybe it’s a wild guess but I think that to really feel at home, you need to have something with history or a little bit of messiness. If I see these very clean homes and someone tells me he feels at home there, I don’t really believe that!’

Despite the rapid changes to Berlin’s cityscape, the extremities of the seasons are predictable. In summer, the copious green spaces are filled with groups playing games, exercising, picnicking and drinking, but the streets become as bare as the trees during the icy winters. Throughout those long, cold months, home is a cocoon and Nora takes deep pride in creating the perfect sanctuary for clients. ‘I want them to be stunned; every time I want to make something that’s even better than what they expected,’ she says. ‘It’s a true collaboration; it’s all about reading the client’s character and mixing it with my style.’ With a smile, Nora reveals that a common upshot of her work is clients giving up dining out in favour of playing host because they love their homes so much. She designs smart so that even the smallest apartment can be one you don’t want to leave. One client, a party animal working in PR, gave up his nightly revelry to bask in his tiny apartment after Nora redesigned it. ‘That’s my goal now!’ she laughs. ‘That’s a nice benchmark.’

When Nora started out, her dedication meant that she took a sleeping bag to the building she was working on and stayed overnight to help visualise what it would become. She gave up this ‘spooky’ habit because ‘over the years, there is a certain professionality you develop so now it’s enough if you give me a floor plan; I can envision the space and I know what emotions I want. What I’m designing is not what you see; it’s what you don’t see. It’s not about a shelf or table being amazing or everything being expensive but that it all creates some kind of atmosphere.’

'What I’m designing is not what you see; it’s what you don’t see.'

Nora’s various disciplines influence each other to each project’s benefit; the knowledge she gleaned from chefs when designing restaurant kitchens has helped her to improve those in homes. She says she has often motivated ‘people to start cooking again because of the way I designed the kitchen. Cooking and sleeping are the absolute fundamentals of an apartment, no?’ Rather than following classic design rules of triangular proportions between fridge, stove and sink, she timed how long cooks spent on each worktop. This taught her that chopping is the most time-consuming element of the process nowadays, so she began creating larger kitchen islands to facilitate that.

For those who cannot afford an interior designer, Nora says there are multiple ways to improve your living space on a budget. Instead of following the masses to Ikea, she recommends searching flea markets for quirky furniture and repainting the walls in bold colours to create vibrancy. Plants are a frequent feature of her work, and she particularly loves ferns and banana trees. Nora worked with feng shui masters in Shanghai, and has had to incorporate some seemingly bizarre requests such as placing four plastic clocks out of sight in the ceiling of a nightclub and turning the hands to different angles. ‘So that sounds really pointless, right? Maybe it was because of that, maybe not, but this was the most successful club in town!’ she laughs, shaking her head. She says basic feng shui is common sense, and worth following to improve the quality of home life.

From a huge apartment with a luscious garden in Shanghai, Nora now lives part of the week in a studio in Mitte above her office. ‘When I was young, I always wanted the biggest apartment I could afford and all of a sudden there came a time when I shrank down again. I’m in a very small space but I have the most cosy bed and best kitchen and greatest bathtub and that’s all I really want – I’m not lacking a thing. So the question is, how much is showing off and eventually fulfilling something that you think you need rather than what you really need?’

Nora has also increasingly noticed this desire for minimalism among others and thinks that co-living is the way forward. ‘We collaborated with a project that provides co-living, meaning their clients pay rent for one place but actually have 20 houses to choose from, so they spend one month in Bali and one in Lisbon, and that’s a new way of thinking. I think that’s where it’s all going. Like everyone has a laundry machine here, why? Why not use the same machine my neighbour is using when I only need it twice a week? And when it’s broken I’ll throw it away, which again has environmental consequences. I think there’s a lot of change coming and [co-living] would help us feel more connected in an urban environment too – we could actually start talking to people!’

‘Shipping materials overseas is bad for the environment and I see no reason why I should not use the local materials.’

On the weekends, Nora heads to her Uckermark country retreat where her horse lives and computers are banned. Since shutting down NOVONO’s operations in Lisbon, Nora has dedicated what little spare time she has to a family project close to her heart. ‘As if I’m not busy enough!’ she laughs, shrugging when asked when she finds the time to sleep. Hällingsbor Gård is a historical country house overlooking an ecological farm in Sweden which Nora’s father bought long ago. She has redesigned it to be a high-end guesthouse and health farm, and has already received significant interest online. Nora hopes that Hällingsbor Gård will become a place where guests can go to find themselves, just as she, her mother and others in her family did. When renovating the house, she asked family members what the most important thing was that had happened to them there and discovered that it was where several of them had made decisions that proved to be life-changing.

Nora thrives on challenges – ‘If I keep doing the same thing I get good but bored’ – and her focus going forward is co-living, hotels, serviced apartments, and wellness centres with spas, pools and therapy rooms. ‘It’s a very technical area of work because you obviously have all the water to deal with. That’s why I was always a little bit scared of it but now I’m really into it and it’s funny, my Dad working with water and now I’m doing the same; it’s like coming home.’

More information about NOVONO’s work can be found at www.novono.com

设计生活: NOVONO 以创新方式重新定义室内设计

近年来,越来越多的起重机扑向柏林, 吹起了改变之风,那些热爱城市的人们开始疑惑它是否能保持它原有的魔力。在一个解放青年的90年代后,德国的首都正在成长,唯一不变的是万变,但进度的质量具有决定性。室内建筑工作室NOVONO的创办人诺挪拉 (Nora von Nordenskjöld),走在最进步的前端,设计可持续性并保留过去的未来房屋。


Ciara Cunnane


Tina Dubrovsky

挪拉,出生于慕尼黑,汉堡长大,并于马斯特里赫特大学攻读艺术,在取得米兰欧设计学院室内建筑硕士学位后出走到上海,“这是我所能找到最极端的地方了。”在国外12年,她一共去了7个国家并横跨3大洲。并在中国最大的工业都市之一的合作伙伴Kokai Studios 获得职业生涯的最高奖项。尽管挪拉的日子过得挺了不起的,在2010年她为了帮助当时另一半的职业前景-高级时装设计师,而搬到柏林。就在那时,挪拉开始全面启动NOVONO,虽早在2003年她以小型企划案开始,并搁置一边。NOVONO迅速的起飞,感谢一系列备受赞赏的设计,从顶级料理、活动空间至豪华公寓。挪拉说她永远不需要做广告,客户就会主动上门,现在她算很年轻的41岁,已处于能任意挑选工作的位置上。

NOVONO由挪拉管理合伙人,与负责管理方面的建筑师诺尤恩(Jörn Nolte) 所领导的7人全职团队,现今正接到了第157个企划案。其中有两项是柏林美山区Geisberg顶楼公寓,并与1925年历史保护建筑合并的新建案。它将包含130套准备出售的公寓,以因应都市中不断增长的需求。挪拉认为柏林士绅化的问题,虽很糟糕但无可避免,其他地方也存在,我认为它是一个自然发展。可惜在于有些新建案盖得很丑陋;但当其他国家却做得很好,比方说哥本哈根或阿姆斯特丹,他们设法盖了一些非常现代化的建筑,却不会干扰其他建筑物。但回到柏林,你无法完全指望他们,这让我很苦恼。

外观虽不受诺拉的控制,但她把一切精神都花在室内设计上。她与尤恩领我们参观了在Geisbergstraße街道上的公寓之一,她打算将它改造成有家庭办公室、桑拿浴与SPA的单身公寓。宽敞的楼梯通往屋顶花园,那享有城市的壮观景色,将会有个户外厨房与淋浴间。天花板将维持原始的状态,呼应挪拉的招牌风格“尽可能的保留旧有特色。”她多方面的职涯中,对旧建筑的热情一直是她的中流砥柱,尽管她认为自己最近才意识到。兴趣应该来自她的童年: “即使在上海,现属最新的建筑城市,我做的一直是老建筑工作。这是我带回来的一个遗产,我的家人总是去古堡或重要的老建筑拜访亲友,我就好喜欢它们。”挪拉过世的父亲Reinhart是顶着生物博士头衔的工程师,其公司做的是净化水资源。四岁时挪拉在父亲桌上看到图稿,即画出了生平第一张地板平面图。父亲经常带着她到国外出差,这引起了她成年后内心的流浪魂。她开心的回忆: “我是班上第一位坐过飞机的孩子呢。”

The Geisberg Berlin building in progress The Geisberg Berlin building in progress
The under construction apartment at Geisberg Berlin The under construction apartment at Geisberg Berlin


挪拉的顶楼公寓之一显现了用最好的当代设计证明唤起怀旧的能力,这是在十字山区的新建筑,夜店KaterHolzig过去的所在地,俯瞰整条施普雷河。虽它有160平方米,整套公寓因有聪明的隔间设计,视觉上感觉更为宽敞。这是20年代幻想和70年代的魅力融合,有隐藏门、金色装饰、订制艺术、还有第二间浴室的落地镜,淋浴间有一颗迪斯科球。骆史黛芬(Stefan Rupperti) 与同居人共同拥有一间公寓,当他温暖笑着前来迎接我们时,挪拉那只优雅的狗波蓝斯基 (Polanski) 却兴奋地往他身上跳。公寓重建时,挪拉与波兰斯基和这对情侣变得很亲近。 挪拉说很典型的:“大多时候我们与客户成为朋友,就我职业而言是件很好且从未料想中的附加物。探索客户的故事是种亲密的过程,你甚至需要知道他们到底有几件内衣呢!”



Nora, her dog Polanski, and client Stefan Rupperti






对于那些负担不起室内设计师的人,挪拉说仍有许多经济的方式能提升你的生活质量。无须跟随大众到宜家家具,她建议去跳蚤市场找寻奇特的家具、用鲜艳色彩重新粉刷墙壁,以创造活力。植物也经常出现在她的设计,她特别喜爱蕨类和芭蕉树,挪拉在上海曾与风水大师合作,不得不加入一些奇怪的要求,例如在夜店的天花板上安置四个时钟,将手转到不同的角度。 “这听起来毫无意义,对吧? 或是如此,也许不,这可是镇上最成功的夜店呢!”她笑着摇头说。风水是基本常识,值得关注以助提高家庭生活的质量。

在上海住的大型公寓有宽阔的花园,至现今挪拉平日住在柏林米特区办公室楼上的小单间。 “当我年轻时,总想着我要一个负担的起的最大公寓,突然间,我再度地从大地方换到小地方住。虽然现在住的地方挺小的,但我的床铺是最舒适的、有最好的厨房与最棒的浴缸,这已是所有我想要的,我甚么也不缺。问题来了,到底怎样才叫炫耀,最终才能满足真正所需而非自认所需的东西。”

挪拉也更加注意到他人对极简主义的渴望,她认为共同生活是必行之路。“我们与提供共生理念的企划合作,他们的客户付一个地方的房租,但实际上有20间对象去选择,他们在峇里岛度过一个月、另一个月在里斯本,这是新的思维模式。我认为这是新方向,如同每个人都有一台洗衣机,为什么? 为何不用邻居那台跟我一模一样的洗衣机呢,当我一周只需要用它两次而已。如果它坏了,我就把它丢掉,这也再度造成环境影响。我想有许多变化,共生将帮助我们对都会环境有更多联系感,实际上我们可以开始与人们谈论!”


周末,挪拉前往她位在乌克马克乡村的度假胜地,她的马儿在那里生活、计算器完全被禁止使用。自从停止NOVONO在里斯本的一切活动后,挪拉将所剩不多的闲暇时间投注在最靠近她的心­,一个家庭企划。 她笑说:“好像我还不够忙似的!”她对被问及何时有空休息的问题耸耸肩。Hällingsbor Gård 是个在瑞典历史悠久的乡间别墅,俯瞰着挪拉父亲许久以前购买的生态农场。她已重新设计使之变成一个高级旅馆和健康农场,并开始在网上获得大量的兴趣关注。挪拉希望Hällingsbor Gård是一个能提供客人去寻找自己的地方。如同她、她的母亲与家人那样。重新翻修别墅时,她曾询问家人在那里发生了那些重要的事? 并发现他们当中一些人在那里做出改变生活的重大决定。


更多关于NOVONO的工作请查阅官网 www.novono.com


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