Co-founders of soft-geometry, furniture designers Utharaa Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary are working towards a gentle blend of handmade techniques with modern manufacturing processes
What brought the two of you together?
UZ: Palaash's determination that he would somehow get through college without ever writing a paper is what got us together! In 2011 we were both students in the Accessories Design department at NIFT, New Delhi and barely knew each other. We were very different kind of students - I was a classic nerd, worked alone and especially enjoyed research, theory and writing. He was a hands-on, try-everything, learn by doing experimentalist who worked in cool crowds that ended in parties.
He approached me one day with what I then thought to be the most brazen request - for me to write a paper for him. To me this was the kind of unethical rule breaking that I would never get myself into, but he convinced me that I would just be ‘helping’ him and that he would in turn help me with a shop project. I made it clear that he would have to do the research himself and that I would only help with the writing. What followed was us doing research together, him presenting his conclusions in the form of a comic strip, and me writing the accompanying narrative text. Having had the most fun anybody has ever had writing a paper, we were stupidly impressed with ourselves and committed to an unspoken agreement that we would work together on everything! Eight years and many school and work projects later, we are still convinced of our combined, imagined awesomeness!
How did ‘soft-geometry’ come about?
UZ: After many years of working together on each other’s projects, Palaash and I recognized that we were moving towards similar ideas of what we wanted to feel and experience as we design objects and also what we wanted the design audience to experience when they have, hold, touch or use a designed object. ‘soft-geometry’ was the closest we could come to putting this feeling into words - it marks a simplicity in form but says something deeper and layered. We both valued the idea of softness as an empathy between person and object, which denotes a malleable, evolving relationship. We started soft-geometry - a furniture design studio and design consultancy - in 2018. Soft-geometry is a silent intrigue, an antithesis to what is loud, perfect and shallow. The name hence serves as both a description and reminder of the feeling that inspired us to start.
How do you achieve softness, slowness and intimacy in your designs?
PC: There is a certain quality and feeling in our work that we only later called ‘softness’.
In that sense it is inherent in our style and a natural reflection of our philosophy and approach, not so much something we strive to achieve. Slowness and intimacy come from our firm belief that the love, labor, time and care with which an object is crafted matters. You can sense the story of an object even when it is not known or said. An apt example is our summer-winter (sw) cane side table that we stubbornly weave ourselves. It takes a minimum of 48 hours of weaving for each top and is really backbreaking work! However, to us, it marks how we learnt a beautiful craft and skill that we grew up seeing in India. With every strand pulled, it reinforces the art and science of how this very humble material transforms itself into an intricate and useful being, and every time we do it we learn enough to change it a little bit. It spurs thought, growth, skill and craft and you cannot do it without deep care and love - all of which become ingredients to what the object becomes.
Palaash, what took you from industrial design to furniture design?
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