No silos, no specialties. Commune is no ordinary award-winning design studio

Let that in: even after nearly two decades at the helm of one of the country’s most famous interior design firms – with high-profile projects like the Ace Hotel and homes that have graced countless magazines on shelters – co-founder of Commune Romain Alonso doesn’t really think of himself as an interior designer. This might come as no surprise, given his winding journey, which took him from the glamorous world of 1980s magazine publishing to the advertising manager at Barneys to work closely with the designer. fashion. Isaac mizrahi. By the time he and three friends founded the Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary firm Commune, Alonso had had several too many careers to settle down and do just one thing.

“At the time, I thought there was no way for me to become an interior designer,” he told the host. Dennis scully on the last episode of The company of the house Podcast. “I thought, ‘I’ll have a design business, I’ll do whatever that entails.’ But I never thought I would be an interior designer, and I still don’t think I am.

From the start, Commune was an unusual company in the design industry. The idea was to break down the walls between disciplines and approach all kinds of work – graphics, architecture, branding, interiors – with the same rigor. “It had a bit to do with the Bauhaus, this idea of ​​having no hierarchy between the different aspects of design,” he says. “There would never be a hierarchy between architecture and graphics. We would have these things the same amount of time and attention.

Such a unique approach has led to unique projects and a unique way of working. The Commune workshop was structured without silos and without specialization, everyone did a bit of everything. After surviving a tough time caused by the financial crisis, the company’s second big test came from its unorthodox structure. Simply put: two of the original founders (siblings Pamela and Ramin shamshiri) wanted to focus on interior design projects; Alonso and partner Steven johanknecht wanted to continue with an omnivorous approach. They split the business in half in 2016 (the Shamshiris formed a new business, Studio Shamshiri), a process which Alonso says went remarkably well.

Ironically, due to the pandemic, at least for now, the township is primarily working on residential design projects. But Alonso is convinced that the roster will change again and that new challenges will arise. Its philosophy, in a nutshell: “Staying agile is very important. “

Listen to the episode and check out some takeaways below. If you like what you hear, subscribe to the podcast here. This episode was sponsored by Chairish and Universal Furniture.

Freedom of creation is not free
Commune’s ethics – letting a kind of free and unbridled creativity guide the direction of the company – is a fine ideal. But Alonso has no illusions that the financial side of the business will just work out. Early on, he and his partners made the decision to hire the best business leaders and accountants they could afford. “What we want is to have the ability to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, like we want to do,” he says. “It costs money. So we’re investing in the ability to do that, because that’s what’s important.

A real collaborative approach
Many designers dread working with a pushy client. The Municipality, for its part, does its best when its customers are most involved. While this customer dynamic isn’t for everyone, Alonso believes that a collaborative approach leads to better design solutions. “A lot of people see collaboration as a branding exercise: ‘How can my brand help yours? We can reach double the number of people! ‘ It’s the link, it’s how to sell something, ”he says. “We don’t see it that way. For us, collaboration is linked to the lack of ego. The project gets better as there are heads and hands on it.

Feels on looks
Alonso’s firm is regularly celebrated on the AD100 and Elle DecorIt’s A-List, and has won numerous awards for its design work, but unlike many similarly acclaimed companies, it’s difficult to determine exactly what a joint project looks like. It’s intentional, says Alonso. “After all these years and all these things that I’ve done, I’m not interested in talking to someone on a very superficial level with just visuals. At this point, I’m more interested in what people think of what we do than what they think of looks.

Home page photo: Steven Johanknecht (left) and Roman Alonso (right) from Commune | Courtesy of the municipality

Joseph E. Golightly