Creators

Victoria Yakusha

Interview by Carl MH Barenbrug

Victoria Yakusha

Yakusha Design is a multidisciplinary design studio founded by architect and designer Victoria Yakusha in 2006. Based in Kyiv, Ukraine, Victoria has led a small team of creatives in designing a number of remarkable interior spaces and architectural builds. Seeking to revive endangered crafts, Victoria strongly believes in authentic and honest design and aims to make Ukrainian craftsmanship recognisable all over the world. We spoke to Victoria to discuss minimalism as a philosophy, what it was like to discover ancient crafts through local artisans, and her view on the current Ukrainian design landscape.

Ukrainian design is guided not just with functionality, but also with dreams, emotions, and feelings. We are not as minimalist as the Scandinavians and not as emotional as the Italians. We sit in the middle.

Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Andriy Bezuglov
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Andriy Bezuglov
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Andriy Bezuglov

Minimalism in recent years has been viewed as a design and lifestyle trend, which we would strongly argue against, but there are many creators who treat it as such. What is your perception of minimalism as a concept and as a design principle?

Minimalism is a philosophy and lifestyle, not a trend. Talking about minimalism as a temporary design trend is not serious. Home is something that one would consider as long term, for many, many years, sometimes leaving it for next generations. So minimalist design and architecture should be a lifetime choice, not a trend.

Even if you as a designer convince a collecting-minded person to create a minimalist interior, after some time you would see in their home mounting numbers of porcelain figures, vases, and kitchen accessories. It’s a matter of feeling—whether minimalism is your thing or not. But it cannot be treated as a wave or a trend.

I came to realise the concept of minimalism after almost 15 years of practicing and searching for what I really appreciate in design and architecture, and what gives meaning to my work. I am still in a process of crystallisation of this design philosophy and with each new project I see it more and more clearly. I call it “live design” or “live minimalism”. It consists of two important “ingredients”; the first is a living spirit of the interior or design piece, a story behind it, and an emotional connection to its owner. The other is a clean, minimalist approach, which has no place for useless details.

I believe that a home should be an organic continuation of a person. Living minimalist design should awaken your senses on different levels—touch, sight, sound, smell—due to its rich texture, familiarity, simple shapes, and calm and natural tones. Your home is a place where you can be yourself. There is no reason to be pretentious.

As an interior designer, there will often be a challenge to find a good balance between aesthetics and ornamentation. What is your approach to create a space that offers enough character without adding what unnecessary details? And what is the significance of composition?

Everything begins with a function. In fact, function is very aesthetic, if it is well considered. I am always excited when we design a project from a blank page. Creating a minimalist interior should be started from the architectural planning. For me, it means to think in advance about all the elements, such as load-bearing walls with unusual finishes, which could be seen as decorative elements by themselves.

Ornamentation is about creating an accent in the interior, adding individuality. It would never form the basis. I prefer to work with volumes, plan functional details, and design a space, where even the game of light and shadow on different surfaces would create such aesthetics, that you wouldn’t need any decoration.

The composition is a well thought-out volumetric and spatial design, a combination of different surfaces, that must have balance and harmony. When you set up objects which would counterbalance each other. For example, a horizontal surface is balanced by a vertical one. Rough texture is balanced by smoothness.

Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Koen Van Damme
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Koen Van Damme
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Koen Van Damme

Where does your love and appreciation of natural materials and craftsmanship stem from? And are there any particular craft techniques you’re fond of?

I discovered the passion for craft, when I started to design furniture—the FAINA collection. It was in my DNA, inside me all this time, but never found its way out, until 2014. Then I started discovering unique craft techniques, opening the power of it, the roots and connection to nature.

When I started to discover crafts during my expeditions to Ukrainian villages, museums of folk art, meetings with craft masters, I realised the whole power of knowledge about the materials, respectful usage of natural resources that were encapsulated in crafts by so many generations. I decided to transform them into modern design, to “give them a voice” and try to integrate crafts into contemporary design projects.

Our grandfathers knew all about natural cycles, their lives were closely linked to the changing seasons and fertility of the earth, they were looking for a way to be beneficial to nature, not just exploit its resources. I believe in a huge value and practical meaning of this knowledge for mankind’s future.

In my projects, I am using a lot of rare local craft techniques, we work with clay in furniture and architecture, we study how to mix different materials and what meaning they had to people centuries ago. For example, clay is believed to be a healing, warming, and living material, wool must be processed in mountain rivers, and while weaving carpets, masters always sing ancient songs, do not go to work when they are unhappy, because it is believed to be transmitted into the rugs. All of these details are important and influence my projects in design.

Ukrainian crafts are so important to me, because there are not many people left in this area, who still preserve the knowledge of our ancestors, making objects the same way it was hundreds of years ago. Therefore, I see the need to support them, helping to develop their craftsmanship practices. Craft is an important part of our traditions and our collective memory. We cannot afford for them to be lost forever.

What does slow living mean to you? How can slowing down affect the way we see, treat, and experience our homes?

This is a difficult question. I am not sure that I am experiencing slow living in my life right now. It was, definitely, during quarantine. All of us slowed down, experienced very slow lifestyles with limited freedom. But as for normal days, as a part of my character, I need things to be done quickly. Slow living is simply not for me, but I do understand and appreciate it.

Slow living is when you enjoy every piece of your home, every minute, every detail. When it is important to live here and now, be surrounded with your own rituals and habits, calmly accepting all the changes of the exterior environment. But I am a pro-active person, I need constant change. This gives me a “drive” and energy.

Yakusha Design interior design
Yakusha Design interior design
Yakusha Design interior design

When you design an interior, how do you want people to feel when they experience that space?

I would like them to feel harmony, comfort, and life. That it is a place where they can be themselves. Feel relaxed without any “masks” and social roles. To feel their home as a continuation of their personality.

Is Ukraine developing its own standard of design? How does it compare to other European countries? And how would you define it generally, in terms of attitude, aesthetics, and community?

I would describe Ukrainian design as one with more naivety, directness, literality, a bit of romanticism, and lots of courage. It is design guided not just with functionality, but also with dreams, emotions, and feelings. We are not as minimalist as the Scandinavians and not as emotional as the Italians. I would say, that we are in the middle, in fact, we are geographically also between them.

In Ukrainian design one would meet more decoration than in other European countries. It comes from our ancestors, all our grandmothers in Ukrainian villages would paint houses with flowers, fairy-tale creatures, and inexistent trees. We enjoy living in beautiful colourful spaces, we are not overly pragmatic in design. This is what we can bring to European design as a historical part of it—our uniqueness in this naive vision for design.

Ukrainian design is on the stage of establishment now. There are different waves—some, like us, are looking for inspiration at our roots and traditions. Some—cosmopolites—are inspired by global movements and changes, and others are inspired by Bauhaus, Malevich, etc.

It is an interesting fact, that most of the national design markets started with a mass product and only after created a niche of collectible, unique design. In our case, we do not have a mass market, sufficient production facilities, materials, and education. But we jumped directly to collectible design, when everyone creates unique collections of furniture, lightning, and decor with their own artistic vision, not thinking in terms of mass production and sales.

Yakusha Design interior design
Yakusha Design interior design

The Design Expedition to Ukraine “Land Inspires” is a fascinating insight into the life of artisans and traditional methods of design with a great respect to nature. What did you learn and take away from that experience?

It gave me an important insight about the universal power of language of feelings. Regardless of the country of origin, the language they speak, their age, and life experience, all the participants of our expedition have experienced the same things during this trip. When you touch something real, you feel it directly with your heart.

The flow of energy, openness, and kindness that we experienced during our craft workshops, following century-old traditions, and communicating with these people in the Ukrainian mountains, who still have a very simple but honest lifestyle, was unforgettable. It doesn’t need any translation. To touch real things is very valuable nowadays. And we have it here in Ukraine. Come and feel it for yourself.

What role does education play in the future of modern design?

It plays a key role, and also for the environment. In modern design education plays an important role in terms of visual experience, understanding of global movements, general erudition, knowledge of styles, materials, patterns, and history. Young designers must have all of this knowledge, to “stand on the shoulders of giants” in order to create something new and meaningful.

Since Yakusha Design and FAINA merged to create a single multidisciplinary design studio, has there been a shift in the types of projects you’re being commissioned to do? What area of design are you personally more drawn to?

Before FAINA, in YD we developed minimalist interiors and architecture. It was understandable, laconic, contemporary design. With the introduction of FAINA in our practice, we started to work more with different textures, added traditional details, and techniques to our interiors. FAINA brought more life to our spaces. We started to feel the importance of the natural materials. I can say, that the merge added new values to architecture and interior design, but did not change our existing direction.

Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Mikey Estrada
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Mikey Estrada
Yakusha Design interior design
Photo: Mikey Estrada

Your interior design work for Ya Vsesvit has a beautiful mix of tones, textures, and materials. What was the inspiration?

The inspiration was actually quite simple. We wanted to transform all functions into decorative elements (the brick wall, clay mixed surface, rock table etc.), implement Ukrainian authenticity, and our craft techniques to minimalist contemporary design. Ya Vsesvit is an example of turning function into decoration and balancing contrasting elements, such as crafted wool tapestry next to industrial stainless steel panels, strong rock and flexible wood, warm textile and cold concrete.

As many people are spending more time in their homes, it is more important than ever to create a tranquil space. And for those who have children, it can be a constant battle to create a calm and peaceful environment. As someone who has a large family, how do you manage to maintain a minimalist space that works for everyone in the home?

It is true. But in my family kids are educated to clean the mess after themselves at the end of the day from a very early age. We allow them to play everywhere, do almost anything; whether creating a hut of chairs and blankets, or “climb the mountain” of stairs and shelves. But to be ready to put it back in order when the game is over. These rules work organically in our family of six, where everyone has their own responsibilities and obligations.

I don’t believe we have unnecessary stuff in our home, therefore the cleaning process is easy and fast. It’s a question of education and habits. My kids are accustomed to minimal aesthetics and harmony of the space. I even saw them a few times cleaning up at the home of our friends, as they start to feel discomfort when seeing clutter and disorder.

Outside of the YD studio, how do you like to spend your time? What is your sense of escapism?

I love nature, it helps me to relax and think deeply on my own. But this happens rarely, as we always travel with the whole family, which includes four kids. I feel calmness next to the sea, any water in fact. Every time I have a chance to swim, I do it, regardless the time of the year and temperature of the water.

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