Interview with Victoria Yakusha
Bringing her Ukrainian roots back to life in a line of earthy and minimalist home décor, this designer connects her aesthetic heritage to contemporary living.
When your designs span such a breadth of materials, products, and uses, what’s the essence that unites them?
All of the materials we use as well as all the techniques, shapes, and different textures of our pieces are all inspired by our cultural roots. In my work, I regularly study Ukrainian history, the lifestyle of our ancestors, the beliefs and legends that formed their understanding of the Universe and our place within it. At some point, I realized what an enormous power is hidden in that knowledge. I decided to give a voice to our “evaporating” cultural roots in my designs to remind ourselves of who we are and to tell our story to others.
You draw inspiration and wisdom from a culture unfamiliar to many in the world, can you describe some of the essential elements that connect your designs to your heritage?
First, the materials that we use literally come from our land—earth, clay, wood, and wool. We use only organic, natural materials produced in Ukraine and made with respect to nature. Some of them are entirely handmade. Secondly, I would say that it is the simple shape and traditional texture of our design pieces. You can see it in the round corners and softness of the upholstered furniture and the natural beauty of imperfection in our organic line, which reminds me of the roughness of our traditional décor. We even use horse hair in one of our pieces called the Buhay vase, which is exactly what Ukrainian cossacks used centuries ago for a folk musical instrument. Every detail shows a bit of Ukrainian culture, and every design piece in our FAINA collection shares a story from our past.
How does a minimalist aesthetic allow the philosophy behind a design to come through?
In order to get to the essence in anything, you have to get rid of all the excess. A minimalist approach is the best “tool” to do this. I always liked the minimalist aesthetic. However, I found a way to add my own touch to it—I call it “live minimalism.” It is not about a stylistic wrapper or a visual look; it refers to inner feelings, to your true self. It is the place you are most comfortable in. You will never fake the feeling of being in such a place. Live minimalism is based on natural materials and alive, unprocessed textures—true, authentic, close to nature.
Were you raised with an appreciation of Ukrainian and Slavic traditions, or is that something you sought out yourself?
I was raised in an environment where people were forced to forget who we are. The Ukrainian language and films were forbidden, our traditions and the work of the most talented artists were destroyed. It was a period of Soviet propaganda that was designed to create faceless, submissive people. But since Ukraine gained independence in 1991, things started to change step-by-step. Some heroic people even died protecting our heritage. Thanks to them, we still have artifacts, unburned books, and records that tell us about our roots. I feel grateful to now be a part of transforming Ukrainian culture, being able to rethink and reinterpret the past into a future by combining century-old traditions and crafts with a sustainable approach and contemporary looks.
What is the relationship in your life and in your work between traditional wisdom and contemporary knowledge?
The best way to illustrate this relationship is to tell you about my design of our ZTISTA chair (ztista in Ukrainian means “made of dough”). The chair is made of recycled metal, cellulose, wood chips, and clay. I collaborated with Ukrainian artisans who use a century-old craft technique called valkuvannia—a rolling process that involves the coating of a solid surface with a mixture of straw, hay, and natural clay. So I am using local craft techniques and natural materials for a sustainable design approach that emphasizes the importance of our cultural roots and the harmony between nature and people in which we existed not such a long time ago. I am trying to create a long-lasting design that could one day be found at the home of your grandkids.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers from other regions of the world who share your goal of connecting modern designs with their traditional cultures?
It doesn’t matter where you are from and how you start your journey. Always be honest to yourself, follow your unique path, never try to copy the success of someone else, and you will get to your dream sooner or later. Just never give up on it. Our cultural roots will always define who we are; try to learn how to listen to that inner voice, be curious and hungry for traditional knowledge, and you will find a way to represent your culture in the modern design.