Interview by Anna Caradeuc
Portrait by Levan Maisuradze
Photography by Hannah Whitaker, Guram Kapanadze
* Originally published in Issue No. 4 / SS2019
When Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia met at the Academy of Arts of Tbilisi, little did they know they would soon be making history as icons of Georgia’s contemporary design landscape.
With ROOMS — the interior and product design studio they co-founded — the duo has put their country on the map of global design, and is the first to unearth Georgia’s contemporary design language. Last year, ROOMS celebrated their tenth anniversary with a dedicated retrospective during Salone del Mobile in Milan, and their pieces are coveted collectibles, sold at some of the most praised galleries around the world including The Future Perfect in New York City, Rossana Orlandi in Milan and GARDE in Los Angeles. Mirrors shaped like military medals of honor, tapestries adorned with mythological creatures, table surfaces atop staircases that lead to nowhere… Nata and Keti’s work reflects the iconography and landscape of their homeland: an enchanting mix of influences and narratives that have met through history – Georgia is located in the Caucasus where Asia meets Europe and was part of the Soviet Union until its dismantlement in 1991. Through the ROOMS lens, functional minimalism and sculptural grandiosity are seamlessly tied together by a very human desire to exalt the little things in life. From Tbilisi, they shared some of their magic with us.
Anna Caradeuc (AC) — How did you decide on the name ROOMS for your studio?
ROOMS — The decision to name our studio ROOMS was pretty simple. We wanted the name to express the basic meaning of space and simplicity and thus, we formulated it from the word “room.”
AC — You’ve worked together as a duo since you met at the interior design faculty at Tbilisi’s Academy of Arts. How has your dynamic evolved through the years and experiences?
ROOMS — After graduation, we immediately started working on private residential projects. We also started experimenting and developing our voice. As years passed, our working process hasn’t changed. Of course, the volume and reach have definitely grown in size, we’re a lot more experienced and we have a lot more work but the dynamic between us and how we approach our work has remained the same for all these years. Being best friends has also helped a lot so it’s been pretty harmonious.
AC — Last year, you celebrated the 10th anniversary of the studio at Milan’s Salone with the “Sculpting in Time” retrospective exhibition. Looking back and seeing your collections next to one another, what are some of your proudest achievements?
ROOMS — We think that our greatest accomplishment isn’t something material or physically touchable. What we’re most proud of is what we have achieved in terms of our own identity and vision and how it fully expresses our needs. Another important thing that humbles us is that people started to recognize history and sheer spirit in our objects and interiors.
AC — Your work is very much of Georgia and its history through time: the minimalism of the collections recalls the brutalism of the Soviet Era; the handmade and raw quality of the pieces is an ode to centuries-old Georgian craftsmanship; the themes surrounding each collection embody the convergence of East and West in the Caucasus. How do you manage to anchor such influences in the present?
ROOMS — Considering that this whole history and past is so rooted in our own minds and identities, it comes naturally to us to translate it authentically in our own creations. The whole concept of what we do is to follow our instincts and go in the direction our spirits take us to. We hope it feels as natural and honest as we intend it to.
AC — Have you ever felt a sense of isolation by establishing and keeping your design practice in Tbilisi, away from the traditional circuit of design studios, galleries, buyers, etc.? If so, how has this isolation informed your approach both in terms of creating and running a business?
ROOMS — In the beginning, there was a sense of being an outsider to the design world, considering the lack of information and the little resources available at that moment in time. There were no shops or galleries that would satisfy our needs; literally, nothing was happening in terms of design in Georgia. We can easily say that the only channel that connected us with things that clicked with our vision was the Internet. On the one hand, it was some kind of an obstacle for a young design studio to be so far remote, but in the long term, this whole situation helped us define ourselves, mainly because we were devoid of outer influences, trends or whatever was happening in a parallel universe. It had a positive outcome on establishing our style and marking our place on the international design scene.
AC — Not only are you responsible for having put the country of Georgia on the design map but you’ve also created its modern design style/language with a body of work that’s distinct and often referred to as “Primitive Chic” or, to reference your latest collection, “Wild Minimalism.” Is this something you’re aware of now when you approach new projects?
ROOMS — Just recently, we were pleasantly surprised when we received an award from the Business Leaders Foundation “Women for Tomorrow” for taking part in developing business and culture. We rarely stop to think and focus on our achievements but as we’re steadily growing, moments like this make us realize we have a bigger responsibility on our shoulders.
As for creating a style and language, we’re never fixated on one
concrete direction. We’re open to experimenting with new ideas.
For our upcoming ROOMS HOTEL project in Bakuriani, we’re working on developing a “Poetic Brutalism” line.
AC — On your website, you state that your goal in design is “to
capture the simple bliss of life” which I absolutely love. How does this translate in real life, whether you’re working on a line of
products or the interiors of a hotel?
ROOMS — We accentuate the character and the mood of products and space. We think less in terms of a brand or specific objects as we’re focused on authenticity and evoking emotions than highlighting materialistic features. Every time we start working on a line of objects or an interiors project, our main objective is to create an organic story that lives on and for which we put part of our own spirit into every detail. It’s all about the awakening of senses and emotions. Thus, the “simple bliss of life” moment is naturally felt in everything we do — or at least that’s our goal.
AC — What would be your dream project?
ROOMS — Nothing, in particular, comes to mind when
thinking about a dream project. Of course, the scale of work has changed over time but even now, the most important part is
receiving pleasure and pouring our hearts into every project — whether it’s a small apartment or massive hotel, it’s all about
enjoying the moment and doing our best.
AC — As a female power-duo, what’s the best advice you have received or would like to give to young female creatives about to start their careers?
ROOMS — From our personal experience, we think that being honest in what we do and listening to our inner voices have taken us this far. Probably, these are the most important pieces of advice to consider — do what you love passionately, be authentic and never compromise your values for anyone or anything.
AC — How do you envision for the next ten years?
ROOMS — We’re the kind of people who live in the moment and think less far ahead in the future but we’d definitely like to have more freedom of choice to express our creativity more distinctively and even more naturally than we do now.