Rooms Studio, an interior design and collection design practice founded in 2007 by Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia, creates a new visual language for contemporary Georgian design. Janberidze and Toloraia, who launched Rooms Studio after graduating from the Tbilisi Academy of Arts, focus their efforts on objects that combine their native Georgian heritage with contemporary aesthetics, working with large-scale sculptural forms and mixed textural materials.
Their Georgian inclination plays into many of their design objects, including pieces such as the heavy marble “Supra Coffee Table” – a reference to the Georgian tradition of “supra”, the large feasts that are an important part of regional culture. These parties, which last for hours and involve many dishes, are marked by lots of wine, with a male “toastmaster” giving speeches intermittently throughout the meal.
Interest in preserving Georgian culture is evident not only in Rooms’ use of traditional craftsmanship, but also in working with other Georgian artists. Due to Tbilisi’s relatively small size and lack of business orientation in the arts, the creative scene is quite supportive. Artists collaborate regularly, and Rooms is no exception – during the pandemic, their ‘Distant Symphony’ exhibition at Emma Scully Gallery in New York featured a collection of pieces made in isolation, speaking to the domestic intimacy of home. and places of solitude. Alongside their pieces, the duo have called on Georgian artists Shotiko Aptsiauri, Salome Chigilashvili and Mariana Chkonia to create collaborative works that speak both of a shared heritage and an effort to shine a light on Georgian creative talent on an international platform.
Their latest exhibition at the Frank Elbaz Gallery in Paris, which ran from February 5 to March 19, 2022, was presented with Georgian photographer Ketuta Alexi Meskhishvili. Titled “The Wet Material,” the exhibition contrasted gargantuan, minimalist furniture made from simplistic materials such as aluminum and wood, alongside Meskhishvili’s fluid, colorful, and abstract photographic works. The design processes came together in dialogue with their collaborative piece, “In the Ether”, a free-standing floor lamp that blends Meskhishvili’s blue conceptual forms with Rooms’ functional design.
Known for ambitious projects like the interior design of the eponymous hotels Rooms in Tbilisi, Khazbegi and Kokhta, a modernist ski lodge in the Bakuriani region, the design duo approach each project from a place of intuition. Each of the hotels designed by the rooms has a character of its own, with a carefully crafted aesthetic that nods to the origin story of each location, filled with hidden gems evoking tradition and craftsmanship. “It comes from our inner worlds,” the duo say, noting a desire to follow those instincts. For Rooms Hotel Kokhta, the use of massive wood and stone objects, contrasted with soft touches such as ethnic rugs and Georgian artefacts, lends itself to a concept they describe as “poetic brutalism”. This duality of East and West, as well as brutality and femininity, is a common theme throughout their work.
Janberidze and Toloraia’s Georgian heritage guides their entire creative process and vision, from content to context. Creating a modern vernacular of Georgian visual design became their defining credo, even guiding the materials and colors they use. “Living in the mix of European and Asian cultures has a huge impact on our work,” they say.
In this sense, Rooms is keen to establish itself within its own unique Georgian identity. With recent events in Ukraine hitting close range, Janberidze and Toloraia make it clear that Georgia is not (and does not want to be) part of Russia. Although close, many people confuse the traditions of the two countries. “Our cultures and even the language we speak are completely different,” they say. In solidarity with Ukraine and its fight for freedom, the duo urge the public to show their support on social media and by reposting important news. Their advice: “There are lots of donations you can choose from, but a more direct way to help people is through Airbnb.”
For one of Georgia’s most in-demand design studios, the projects won’t be slowing down any time soon. Next up for rooms are a few residential projects in Georgia; a hotel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a restaurant in Milan. When I ask them how they balance the myriad of opportunities, Janberidze and Toloraia ruminate for a moment. “Each project is a new challenge and an opportunity for a new experience. The journey you go through is important to us,” they say.
While they settled in a city that is still in the process of being settled, the absence of a ruling class allows an as-yet-undefined creative community to flourish. The fluid nature of Tbilisi facilitates their creative process. “You are more detached from the collective influences of the world and therefore feel freer,” they say.