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Designs Tandem

Gemma Fenol lives in a skylight-drenched Venice apartment, spends her weekdays handcrafting her signature notebooks, and can up and leave for a local vacay at a moment's notice. Upon meeting her, it's obvious she lives a full, beautiful life. We met up with Gemma to learn more. We may have also played with her cat.

On getting started

I'm a production designer with a graphic design background, and for my last year at UCLA, I had to compile a portfolio of all my work. I wanted to present something that integrated graphic and production design, so when I designed the notebooks, it felt like a natural fit. I was running late and had just finished the night before, so of course I wrapped it in craft paper to save the paint, and this committee of judges looked at me like I was insane. Here I was sitting with people who had these clean, sleek portfolios, and I ran in with a thick stack of crinkled craft paper.

On proving them wrong

I walked in and they still had this look like "what the fuck is she doing." But when I unwrapped them, their faces changed. I made two books to bind my portfolio, and instead of focusing on the pages and pages of work I wanted to present, they fixated on the notebook design and binding. We spent fifteen minutes talking about the books and five minutes talking about the portfolio. That's when I knew - my strength was in the books. I had to keep going.

On heritage

I am Catalan and I grew up in Spain, which means I'm Spanish - but I'm also not. So, I have a deep connection toward minority cultures and indigenous cultures. I speak a language that's less frequent where I am from. So I always felt the same, but different.

On roaming and inspiration

All of my notebooks are inspired by experiences I've had or trips I've taken. I went to Colorado and was inspired by the region's Native American community and their symbols for friendship and eternity. I go on impulsive trips with my boyfriend all the time. We just throw the tent in and road trip around. Whenever we do this, I discover a new culture or symbol that clicks with me. I like that symbols aren't super complex or colorful, but there is power in their structure and simplicity.

On her impeccably designed home/studio

The space used to belong to an artist, and it was his painting studio. Because I'm in production and set design, I made a lot of the stuff in here. I built a few lamps. We did some samples for friends - the ones I sell are inspired by tassels. We hung the siesta hammock, where we take naps.

On owning only special things

I like to own things with a story. When I was working on set once, I came across this box we were thinking of using as a prop. I opened it, and I found these super old food stamps from decades and decades ago, and the names of the owners are still listed. I have a ring from Japan that just happens to be part of an old empire, which I know because of the way it turns in the middle. Some old dynasty. Every time I wear it it brings me bad luck! I have a Moroccan bracelet that's hand painted. I bought it off the street at one of the markets. When I was in Marrakech some guy stopped me and was like, 'I need that bracelet! Where did you get it? It's a very rare piece from hundreds of years ago.' He could just tell by the design and the quality. I obviously kept it! He should've said it was worthless if he wanted to take it from me!

On remembering

Every year I do a diary. I'm not a great writer, so I collage instead. There's one from when I lived in Milan ages ago. I draw things, whether it's things that inspired me or things I worked on, or just images that made me pause. I try to do them often. My love of, I don't know, making my memories more physical... it's part of why I make notebooks for other people.