How Utharaa L Zacharias And Palaash Chaudhary Of Soft-Geometry Find A Peculiar Beauty In Basic Shapes
For 25-year olds, Utharaa L Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary of Soft-Geometry the beauty of design lies in its pure simplicity.
After having studied product design from National Institute of Fashion and Technology (NIFT), New Delhi in 2014, Utharaa and Palaash were batch mates again at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and studied furniture and industrial design, respectively, in 2017.
Having spent so much time together, the individuals took their complimentary sensibilities forward as a duo to start their label of objects and furniture composed of primary shapes, made with care and christened thoughtfully — with names like tiggy, bernie and summer-winter — as though they’re beings themselves.
While still at SCAD, Palaash also worked on a bonus packaging assignment, where he sketched the outline of a bowtie, crafted from a hand-carved wooden frame joined beautifully and hand-stitched with a cotton neck strap. This was the conception of the small yet simple Mitre Bowties.
We catch up with the designers right before their debut at WantedDesign Manhattan’s Launch Pad — a platform for independent designers to grow — to know more about Soft-Geometry and its ideology.
On the idea of naming their label… “We started collaborating on projects about six years ago, in design school. There was something easy about our partnership. We unconsciously and slowly progressed to doing almost all of our school work together, even consulted each other’s work when we were employed at different studios, and purposefully collaborated on everything since.
When we finally decided to ‘start’, we laughed about how we have together arrived and agreed on every object we have designed, but could not agree on a name! So, we asked ourselves, how, when, and where we intersect; and ‘Soft-Geometry’ was the answer. It represents a balance that is unique and crucial to our aesthetics, forms, and material choices and hints at a confluence of philosophies that can often seem separate. It describes us and our coalition.”
On what inspires their aesthetic… “We share a great love for pure geometric form, and begin every idea by translating it into an oversimplified sketch of a line, arch or circle. This is not based on ideals of minimalism, but because we find a peculiar beauty and often a quiet sense of humour in these basic shapes, that we have come to understand and enjoy.
Like ‘geometry’, ‘soft’ manifests in our material, colour, texture and process choices; but softness is also a feeling and a principle; it is directly drawn from how we see ourselves as people. We are shy, sometimes quiet, painfully awkward and very often, nervous. We also hope that we can say of ourselves that we are kind, eager, earnest and that we care deeply about what we do. We relate personally to softness, and it follows through to the objects we design and make.”
On how their design is an extension of themselves… “There is an ocean of things that we live with that are too often indifferent, cold and boring. As designers who will be adding even more things into this world, we see a unique responsibility in making objects that are unabashedly imagined, carefully curated and crafted with time and love to be refreshingly new and – soft. We like having at least parts of objects that are entirely hand-made by us. No one may know it or remember it, but we believe what happens behind the scenes, inevitably translates into the fibre of what an object becomes, which is why intimacy, slowness, time and process are so important to the idea of softness.”
On why being ‘slow’ matters… “There are incredible tools and fantastic opportunities in mass manufacturing. However, we feel a lack of imagination has meant that the capabilities of mass manufacturing are reduced to creating products that are a list of specs running on a production line.
We see the possibility of design as a bridge that brings together what can be efficient, precisely and safely manufactured in a factory, with what is artisanal, skilled and hand-worked. Imagine a world where artisans and designers elevate the value of mass-manufactured products to be unique and singular; and where mass manufacturing supports the incredible talents of artisans and designers.”
On the names of their designs… “This may sound ridiculous at first, but we imagine creating products is often like a forever friendship. Every object we design goes through a long and eventful life, from when it is a few lines on a paper to models and bigger models and full-scale prototypes and finally a ‘product’. Through this time there are great, happy, euphoric, moments, there are periods of dullness, there are learning curves and sometimes, heartbreak. The names of our products are usually based on something that happened along the way – an idea or an incident that stuck with us and which we remember the object by; like the nicknames you give your best friends.”
An object that’s close to each of them and why… “Palaash: The /ean shelf – it was a complete lesson in simplicity, clever detail and in communicating an idea and product through a video where the shelf assembles itself – it was challenging, fun and what we think is a good design.
Utharaa: Tiggy the coffee table – she is cute, smart, functional, taught us welding and sparked in us a forever love for arches.”
On Mitre Bowties… “Palaash started the web-shop Mitre bowties when we were still in grad school at SCAD. What started as a classroom project slowly turned into a neat accessory that perfectly encompassed sharp graphic sensibility, precise craftsmanship and fertile ground for material exploration.
‘Mitre’ traditionally refers to a 45-degree angled wood joint. Each of our bowties has a mitre joint on every corner. Since the bowtie is, in essence, a line composition, it’s proportions and appeal are largely dictated by the precise angles created by these four handcrafted Mitre joints.”
On the materials used to create Mitre bowties… “There was not actually ever a decision to use wood or fabric. It was about the form, the graphic and how they informed the material choice. Wood, especially woods of different species, with unique colours, grain and patterns was a great first step into exploring these bowties. It also brought forth the idea of using real joinery techniques on a miniature scale to ‘build’ a bowtie. Working on these wood bowties, chiselling half-lap joints and carefully assembling them, was almost meditative.
Now Mitre is available in more materials and colours — in pastel cast resins and clear transparent acrylics — something for every day, dinner and dress!”
On other work, they admire… “We admire so many great artists and designers from across history who have grown modern design to what it is today, that it is difficult to list them. We are inspired by the restraint and perfection of Dieter Rams, and equally inspired by the wild experiment and colour of an Ettore Sottsass in the Memphis Group. There is never a dearth of material to be inspired from.
More recently, we came across a quote by designer Rasmus B Flex, ‘Art with function – Design without’, that stuck with us.”
On what they do outside of work… “We are inspired by education, especially in art and design. We have been so lucky to have been mentored by brilliant, wonderful teachers and to have worked alongside immense talent in the student community at SCAD. The relationships and lessons learned continue to drive us and guide us in the work we do and choices we make both as designers and as human beings. We hope we can foster and promote a culture around encouraging young people to learn about and be sensitive to art, if not to all become artists.
We also love tending and sometimes talking to house plants, board games with friends and family, drives to the ocean, shopping at thrift stores, cooking (Palaash) and eating (Utharaa) and laughing to the 90s sitcom Friends on repeat. At a time of stifling over-stimulation, these routines keep us happy, sane and refreshed, and allow us space in our heads for new ideas.”
On their plans for the future… “Our most exciting current project is our upcoming launch of the S/W collection at Wanted Design, New York during New York Design Week. So that’s what you should keep a lookout for. We will be showing three products that explore and illustrate the influence of materials on product personality. It’s a great platform for designers and we are nervous and pumped to be a part of it!
You can vote for us here – https://www.wanteddesignnyc.com/wd2018/manhattan/launch-pad/
We have big dreams for the future! Starting with website introductions of a small but charming Ellsworth collection, building on our ideas and work for Soft-Geometry, and slowly but surely setting up a studio and workshop in India.”
On the contemporaries, they look up to… “We are fortunate to be among a changing global workforce that is driven by heart and conviction in doing the things they love and things that will make a difference to the world; as opposed to being driven by paychecks, climbing ladders or blind ambition. We are inspired and perhaps naively hopeful that our contemporaries and we are moving towards a world that is softer.”