One award-winning armchair is not enough to brand a whole sector as distinctive

  • 2012-03-28
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

OUTLANDISH: This award-winning sofa ‘Ops!’ takes couch-surfing to new levels.

KLAIPEDA - If you are whimpering about the tininess of Lithuania and, therefore, its few opportunities to cause ripples internationally, then the success story of Sedes Regia, an interior design studio, might evoke a good portion of envy in you. The studio’s outlandish swaying armchair “Ops!”, showcased at the international furniture and design exhibition in Singapore this month, landed its young and wacky designers the top prize for a piece of living room furniture.

No deals yet, but getting there
Other pieces of furniture exhibited at the Lithuanian pavilion have also drawn the design-savvy eyes of the design exhibition visitors. “We are of interest to this region not only for being a little-known country somewhere in Europe, but also for having designers and producers of exceptional design, European-style furniture and interior elements,” Indre Zakarauskaite, an export department assistant at public company Enterprising Lithuania, and a participant of the show, said.

Although the Lithuanian exposition was intermittently swarmed with lots of visitors and interior design buyers from all over the world, deals weren’t struck. But that doesn’t dismay the creative designers.
“Obviously, it is not enough to come here just one time and expect numerous contracts to be signed. Continuity and permanent preparation for next year’s exhibition matters a lot in order to catch up with the ideas; we are planning to continue our work and come back to Asia next year,” says Egle Opeikiene, a curator of the pavilion at the exhibition.
Nauris Kalinauskas, a well-known designer and art director at design studio Contraforma, says “There are hundreds” of designers in Lithuania, or those who tend to call themselves designers. “Many of them are engaged in design studies in the hopes to create furniture and other interior items. However, only very few succeed,” says Kalinauskas.

Focus on exclusivity
Having started design studio Contraforma a dozen years ago, he keeps off serial production conveyor belts and focuses on exclusivity, which has spurred long-term success. “We don’t produce anything you could count in the hundreds or thousands. Only exceptional items, counted in the dozens, which fit only in a certain setting,” the designer noted to The Baltic Times.

The studio designers have reaped a wide array of international acknowledgments, but the studio head admits the local market is probably the most “challenging.” Not only because of the size of compatriots’ wallets, but because of their way of thinking and approach to interiors.
“There are enough rich people out there who can pay for an exclusive interior, but many of them, as a rule, do not care a lot about their living room environment. Even fewer grasp the gist of progressive esthetics and support Lithuanian production,” the studio owner emphasizes. “The only way to get into such homes is through architects and home designers.”

Most of the Contraforma production is sold abroad. “Ninety-five percent, to be exact,” says Kalinauskas. He says a few flourishing and a handful of budding interior design studios are not enough to speak of for a distinctive school of Lithuanian interior design.

No deep-rooted interior design traditions
“I dare say that Lithuania doesn’t have deep-rooted traditions of living room interior design. Quite recently, a hundred years ago, the only expression of local design was a grayish log hut in a village and a single Western-style manor equipped with a typical philistine interior, whose common characteristic would be inherited old pieces of furniture. In more recent times, just 20 years ago, a traditional Lithuanian living room interior looked like this: wallpaper with flowery ornaments, surely not of Lithuanian origin, a single sofa-bed covered with a Polish covering. And only in isolated cases could you find some Lithuanian-made items,” says Vytautas Kibildis, a design professor at Vilnius Art Academy.
He adds: “I reckon we can’t speak of an exclusive Lithuanian style. We don’t have anything like the British and French interior exclusivity, abundant with interior details and royal elegance.”

The professor says Lithuania, as a state, is still very young and is still developing its interior signature. Over 20 years, he says, the Lithuanian interior has evolved, providing wide design options. “An abundance of styles and types of furniture are available. However, the abundance is often confusing,” Kibildis noted to

Giving an example, he refers to the styles of furniture, that, just a few years ago, even in the West, could be depicted with several expressions. “Saying period or modern style would have sufficed. Nowadays you are more likely to hear the terms of traditional and modern styles, but the latter has many definitive variations, like Danish or organic. The peculiarities between them are so slight that even interior experts can be caught off guard when asked to name them, let alone the average John,” the professor says.

More practice is necessary
Indre Sunklodiene, an interior designer, says that the apprenticeship of Lithuanian designers is at traditional design producers, Vilnius Art Academy and several design colleges, which lag behind similar schools abroad. “The biggest problem is the schools do not usually provide practical training or skills. Our students who go for studies abroad in the framework of the Erasmus program always stress that foreign design schools emphasize practical issues - students are assigned to projects to get ‘inside’ knowledge. Sure, such an approach helps to enter a competitive market,” Sunklodiene told The Baltic Times.

Having graduated from Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, she says she didn’t feel “in her tracks;” therefore, she went to a fellow architect and asked him to let her work with his interior projects. “I am still involved with them, and the practice has been my biggest school,” the designer says.

Despite the criticism of the local design schools, she notes the situation is improving “little by little” as Lithuanian designers are starting to stand up against foreign interior designers and their work. “This is due to the large availability of information on the subject. Besides, customers are getting braver and more often ask for extraordinary design solutions. However, there are still many designers out there who are involved in producing conveyor-belt type projects. Nevertheless, this year’s competition Year 2011 Interior has shown that the number of high-level design professionals is steadily rising,” Sunklodiene says.

Asked to name her “average client,” she points to a “medium income” person. “And, of course, there are numbers of customers who want to have their living room interiors ‘nice and cheap.’ There are also plenty of people who want a standardized design decision, like painting their walls yellow. Upon hearing tawdry requests, I always feel like giving a small unobtrusive design lesson – preaching quality and aesthetic interiors,” the designer said.

Sunklodiene describes competition in the market as “high.” She claims the comparably inexpensive prices that she offers and “personal approach to each project” has helped her to stand out in the market. “Unlike others, I am not hooked on the same style. I can take on basically any style, from classic to cold minimalism. Besides, I work on a range of very different premises – from stores, restaurants to lofts, houses and offices, trying to leave my own personal imprint on them,” she says.

Women knock at door more often
Agne Zabaite, owner of design studio Adesign, says national design schools fall a little behind those in the West. “However, due to the rapidly developing IT and globalization, the lag is dwindling. Maybe because of the financial constraints Lithuanians encounter we see less extreme, futuristic and all kinds of crazed-up interior designers and their solutions. Most of the designers are trying to follow the footprints of their Western colleagues, conforming to practicality and price,” Zabaite told The Baltic Times.

She says that women and young families with incomes larger than the average knock at her studio door most often. “Both owners of private houses, and apartments in the process of fitting out, apply,” the designer says.

After the real estate bubble burst, she says the biggest problem is not competition in the market, but a shortage of clients. “The interior design sector suffers from the same crisis aftermath as the construction market – fewer clients, as the core segment of them, young people planning to own their own home, have emigrated,” she says.
Irena Marma-Scepkauskaite, another interior designer, says it is an “exaggeratation” to speak of a separate Lithuanian design school. “We don’t have such a large market. Nor so many financially able customers, who would agree to pay for all of a designer’s ideas. Getting and adapting international ideas for the needs of locals prevails,” Marma-Scepkauskaite pointed out to The Baltic Times.

Asked about the average Lithuanian interior order, she sees it, as a rule, combining functionality and simplicity and “earthy” colors. “If we were to snoop in on homes, we’d see a mix of modernity and classic. However, a basic classic is boring to many and ‘pure’ modernity is too sterile for many. My experience allows me to work both with a classic style and futurism, and the made–up pop style,” the designer notes.

In order to figure out what style is best for her client, she provides free-of-charge consultations and drawings and is usually engaged in full personal supervision of the work. The bulk of her clients are home owners.
Jelena Bisikirskiene, an interior designer, disagrees with her peers that national design schools lag others. “They are doing well and provide students with a lot of practical work,” Bisikirskiene noted to The Baltic Times. When it comes to the prevailing design trends in Lithuania, she says most compatriots seek soft and warm colors. “Many such clients explain they want to feel better with nasty weather outside,” the designer says. She adds: “Many clients seeking my services do so in attempts to cozy up their often Soviet-style apartments, with small or narrow and long rooms, in which regular furniture sometimes don’t fit,” the designer says.

Published book on Vilnius home interiors
For Eugenijus Skerstonas, a scientist at Social Sciences, the interior of Vilnius residences has been of scientific interest. Over a span of several years, he has visited over one hundred Vilnius homes and put out the book “Private Vilnius. Interiors.” The author claims that numerous political upheavals, economic hardship and wars have not given enough time for the formation of a distinctive Lithuanian interior design.

“Since birth, Westerners live in quite a different environment, usually rich in a local interior style. Most of the time, homes are passed along from one generation to another. That is not the case due to the history of most Vilnius homes,” Skerstonas notes.

When visiting Vilnius dwellers’ homes and apartments, he was astonished to find valuable frescoes from past centuries in some of them. “Some home owners, to my surprise, didn’t give a thought on them until recently,” the scientist notes.
Some interiors, he stresses, haven’t changed at all over a span of 30 or 40 years. “Either those owners don’t have enough money for renovation, or don’t heed their environment much,” the author notes. He concludes: “Though times have changed, many older generation Vilnius residents do not care much about their interiors.”

He notes that for many Vilnius home owners, such details in the interior, like religious and national items, have a precious value, more than the interior itself. “This is really distinctive in comparison with Westerners,” infers the scientist.