World design magazines say Ukrainian design to be a world trend-setter Ukrainian designer and architect Sergey Makhno together with his Sergey Makhno Architects studio are becoming very popular in the world by changing the interior design trends. The studio has implemented about 600 projects in 17 countries. It received 67 awards, among which there are: Best Interior Design apartment, SBID (The Society of British and International Design), Art Space, Red Dot Design Award, The International Property Awards, The Architecture MasterPrize, and others.
The studio works in three directions: architecture, interior design, and object design. All the objects designed by the studio have their names, they help the owner of a house to find their personal space and create harmony. Sergey reckons that the interior is not just about buying furniture, the interior is about life with imagination. Sergey Makhno Architects supports the concept of recycling, Wabi-Sabi philosophy, and Ukrainian traditions. It lets them create items which are called trends by western experts.
Opinion talked to Sergey Makhno about his obsession with the Japanese culture, about “soul” and name of objects, about keeping and respecting Ukrainian traditions in the contemporary design.
When did you decide to get into design?
As far back as I can remember I have always wanted to create something. But I didn’t get it from the beginning what exactly I want to create. I started to paint, I was one of the first graffiti artists in the city of Kharkiv. Then, my friend’s father offered me to decorate his coffee shop. I elaborated an idea, concept of the café, design, furniture, and décor. It was that moment when I first felt what it is like to translate your ideas into reality. So that’s how it started.
How has the traditional Ukrainian culture influenced your work?
The Ukrainian culture is my work, actually. I have been keen on Ukrainian traditions since I was a child. I still remember my granny’s clay jugs I drank milk from in the village. My first collection was comprised of old jugs which I collected in the yard and washed. As for the style we work in, I call it a contemporary Ukrainian style. I have always believed that this is a peculiarity which will make Ukrainian design special in the world, that people will be interested in that. Today, more and more design magazines say that Ukrainian design is expected to be a trend-setter.
What project became a real challenge for you?
We are rarely engaged in projects which contain no challenges. A design project for the DTEK Company – the biggest investor in the energy industry of Ukraine – was named the DTEK Academy and turned out to be a challenge during the realisation. We had to do the design of premises of 3 square meters for 6 months. Even I, being an optimist, didn’t really believe we would cope.
Recently, we have also had this challenge – we participated in the Isaloni 2019 exhibition. We had our stand with own made lights. We had little time for preparation but many tasks.
My challenge lies in building a house for me, making it comfortable for my family with not giving up on my desires and preferences.
Sometimes projects last so long that the main challenge is just to be patient to finish it.
You say that we can speak with objects…
The modern market is so variable that people lose the value of objects. How can a vase not lose its value if you know there are thousands of the same items out there? But if it is a hand-made project, created by one person for another, with a limited number of such objects, without identical items existing, then it has the soul.
The beauty of an object is inside. When we start to look at space from another point of view, see something more than just a place for sleeping, then we realise that we should be surrounded by living, true objects.
What is the main thing when you design objects? Beauty, harmony, functionality?
All together. Nobody needs a beautiful but inconvenient item, and nobody likes a convenient but ugly one.
There is an unspoken rule: every designer has to create their own beautiful and convenient chair. I haven’t created mine yet.
Please tell how you started to be into the Japanese culture, Wabi-Sabi philosophy which postulates you use when creating an interior design.
I got interested in Japan when I was a teenager doing karate. Since then, I’ve been studying this culture, I’ve been 5 times to Japan, and want to go there again.
There is no strict definition of Wabi-Sabi, it is translated as “modest simplicity”. It is a Japanese view on the beauty with elements of an aesthetic dessert beauty, the cult of natural forms, imperfect things and fickleness. The main principles of Wabi-Sabi include simplicity, absence of accident things, secondariness of the form, asymmetric location of decorative elements. The key thing is the beauty of hand-made items and the use of natural materials.
We also produce pottery according to the ceramic Raku technology. We love Raku for naturalness and beauty found in imperfection. And for a surprise. You never know what the result will be like. And this is magic.
Besides, we like an interesting renewal of metals technique, it is also an unexpected process. 50% of the result depends on a master, the rest is done by nature.
Japan influenced not only my work but for me as a personality.
Is it difficult to unite the Ukrainian and Japanese traditions?
Our cultures have much in common. For example, the ceramics tradition. Ukrainians, unfortunately, failed to save this tradition through years on the level the Japanese did. However, ceramics have always been present in Ukraine, and now, this tradition is being renewed.
We don’ have a goal to unite the Ukrainian and Japanese cultures. I’d say we rather distinguish the philosophy of beauty in the imperfect world and translate it through our life, traditions, feelings. That’s why when these traditions are joined, it seems organic.
The project of your apartment Wabi-Sabi Apartment won several contests. How did you come with the idea?
I created this apartment for my family: wife Vlada and three sons. At first, everybody cried: wife, mother, mother-in-law. But the patriarchate rules in our family, so I insisted on my vision and haven’t made a mistake. Now, everybody thinks the apartment is very comfortable. The photo of the designed apartment has been published in hundreds of design magazines; it has won several international contests.
This is a 2-floor-apartment which combines natural forces: ground as clay on the walls; air as the basis of space among objects and rooms; fire and water in symbolic decorative elements. There are also Bonsai trees and a small garden on the roof.
The walls are made in the technique used for traditional Ukrainian houses. Plaster was made of clay, horse manure, horse horsehair, and a mixture of sand and sawdust. The floor is wooden, furniture is made of ash-tree and oak, the ceiling in the living room has girders from an old cowshed. There are many contemporary art items – I am a collector. And ceramics which gives special warmth.
Each of your lamps has not only its history but also a name: Makivka Ice, Ochi, Sopilka, Prianyk small, Zerno, Zhuk, Grusha. Please tell how do you give names to objects?
Many of our lamps are hand-made ceramics items. For example, one of the new lamps is the table-lamp called OCHI. We created this lamp because every house needs kind, warm eyes (ochi in Ukrainian) to watch the house. And it is also a symbol that what we are doing – good and bad – is seen. The idea of the lamp came very easily, as it sometimes happens. I was driving to the office in the morning, and came up with a formula: a round head and eyes-bulbs. I sketch in the office, sent the draft to the ceramics studio and the first prototype was completed by the evening.
You follow the cultural heritage of master Vasyl Omelianenko and create zoomorphic ceramic sculptures which resemble art toys. What animals have you depicted in your objects?
Yes, we are continuing the tradition of the Ukrainian zoomorphic ceramics. Our new collections “Dido. The Carpathian Series” includes different animals: bears-water kings, lions-pots – timekeepers, sheep which symbolize fear and struggle against it. Each character has their temper, profession, hobbies, fate. It was a big family which was born in Kyiv and went to different parts of Ukraine.
In your opinion, does Ukraine have a thing similar to the Danish “hygge”?
The Ukrainian design is just being formed – it is the Ukrainian Contemporary. It includes minimalism, cosiness, natural materials, traditions, and modern art. This is a style we create and live in.
Why do you think objects with traditional Ukrainian elements are popular in the West?
It is kind of a breath of fresh air. It is something new, strange but thus interesting.
I am not thinking of what is popular now. I just do what I like and what is interesting for me. I travel much, see a lot, that’s why I feel what will be trendy soon. When you love what you do, you always perform better than just “good”.
Text by Olena Skalatska
Photos provided by Sergey Makhno