Earlier this year, the residents of Milan were treated to an unusual sight: a group of young Russians, strolling through the streets sporting wooden beards. The group — industrial designers from Moscow and St Petersburg — had travelled to Italy for the Salone del Mobile furniture expo. Their Milanese outing wasn’t an art stunt or a political protest but simply publicity for their latest collection, Izba. Named after a type of traditional Russian hut, once a typical home for peasants, each of the nine designers was tasked with creating a contemporary object that reimagined a key feature of the izba.
For designer Yaroslav Misonzhnikov and curator Tatiana Kudryavtseva, the brains behind the idea, the collection was an opportunity to learn about Russia’s cultural past and to convey their newly-acquired knowledge to others in contemporary form. “A lot of things are being forgotten now,” said Kudryavtseva. “The rhythms and modes of life are changing. People have different values but we’re confident that Russia’s cultural heritage is brimming with a host of ideas — bright and brilliant in their simplicity — that can become an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary creatives, including industrial designers.”
The Calvert Journal brings you a selection of six designs from the Izba collection.
Beard by Alexander Kanygin
Beard, possibly the most light-hearted item in the collection, is the creation of Alexander Kanygin. Inspired by an early 20th-century photograph featuring a row of grave-looking bewhiskered men, Kanygin’s wooden beard is intended to epitomise Russia’s patriarchal culture and the archetypal Russian male. The St Petersburg native is known for the playfulness of his handcrafted furniture and toys — such as his bear-shaped coffee table — which have been exhibited at design fairs around the world.
Red Corner by Maxim Maximov
One of the most important features of the izba was the krasny ugol, or red corner, a place where the occupants would display icons depicting religious figures such as saints. Maxim Maximov has reworked this into a stylish red shelving unit, stripping the corner of its religious value and making it a place where other prized possessions can be kept instead. Maximov’s tongue-in-cheek designs include Woof-woof, a contemporary table lamp for “people who want to have a dog, but can’t” and Pointer, a metal ring and arrow to make sure you never lose essential but frequently misplaced objects such as keys and passports.
Svetets by Katerina Kopytina
No izba would have been complete without the svetets, a metal stand used to hold a slow-burning wooden taper that would illuminate the interior. Katerina Kopytina’s floor lamp — a wooden stem topped with a taper-shaped light — is a stylish and contemporary interpretation of the svetets. Although based in Moscow, Kopytina’s design roots are in Milan. Not only did she study product design at the Istituto Europeo di Design she later interned at the Matteo Ragni design studio and has also exhibited at Milan Design Week. In Russia, Kopytina is busy launching Light Bean, a series of pendant lamps.
Mermaids by Sveta Gerasimova
For her part, textile designer Sveta Gerasimova created a hand-printed fabric. Using a grey and golden palette, Gerasimova’s print depicts well-known tales from Slavic folklore complete with long-haired nymphs and woodland spirits. “In Milan, one visitor to our stand was delighted by my ‘wallpaper',” says Gerasimova. “I tried to explain that these were textiles, then thought, hmm, why not make some wallpaper as well?”
Treshchotka by Yaroslav Misonzhnikov
Izba co-founder Yaroslav Misonzhnikov’s rocking horse takes the treshchotka, a folk musical instrument, as its source of inspiration. Just like the treshchotka, which comprises a series of wooden boards that imitate clapping when shaken, the equine toy also emits a sound when rocked back and forth. Following its success, Misonzhnikov, who has exhibited his work at furniture fairs in Moscow, Stolkholm and Cologne, is now in the process of setting up a small-scale production line of designer wooden furniture.
Dowry by Maxim Scherbakov
Maxim Scherbakov’s project for Izba, a contemporary trousseau, is arguably the most ambitious. According to Russian tradition, the size of a woman’s dowry determined her status and therefore her popularity among potential suitors. A typical dowry consisted of featherbeds, pillows and linen stored in a chest in the hut. Scherbakov’s modular design allows for a storage unit as big or small as your living space. His other designs are similarly functional. His Kixbox unit, for example, although designed for shoes, was used as a bookshelf by a pop-up store in St Petersburg this summer.