Natalia Bolshakova: you need to dream more boldly

Natalia Bolshakova is the founder and director of the Bolshakova Interiors studio, regional director of the Society of British and International Design (SBID) in Ukraine, winner of the SBID International Design Awards, European Property Awards - one of the most successful Ukrainian interior designers. We asked her about dreams that have come to fruition, ones yet to be realised and about her ambitious plans for the year. We also touched on how a successful business can be combined with her social life and about the absence of idols in the sphere of design. We talked to Natalia in her studio.

PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: What did a radiophysicist dream about? How did your dreams change when you became an interior designer? What are you dreaming now?

Natalya Bolshakova: I definitely never dreamed of becoming a famous interior designer. This is an ongoing process, and I still have no idea how it ends(laughs). My plans and further development would otherwise be plain boring. At the moment, in the light of recent events, my ultimate dream is to have health and peace, and love of course! All of this I think of as parts in an engine, providing the strength needed to drive all my plans and achievements.


In my professional field, I remember myself 5 years ago and my feelings after meeting with colleagues from overseas whom, for some reason we always think are, in some way,better than us. Of course, it would be too bold of me to argue that we are in any way superior. You just need to comprehend that we are fundamentally the same, we have similar opportunities. Children in the west seem more comfortable with this concept.As a result, they feel freer to achieve their ambitions in life. In Ukraine, even though ostensibly having the same opportunities, for some reason we are afraid to take them or follow our dreams.

P.M.: Today, this self-depreciation persists?

N.B.: Oh yes, and this is despite the fact that we communicate with foreign colleagues, we see examples of their work every day. Even within our profession, many have such an inferiority complex, even though the majority are aspiring people with specific skills and ambitions. In other words, you need to dream more boldly! that is probably my main message. Do you want to fly into space - just fly!

P.M.: And how daringly do you dream today? And what is your courage based on?

N.B.: I do not know whether it is possible to disclose all the plans. I have dreams about my company (Bolshakova Interiors) and regarding SBID UKRAINE - this is also a very important project for me. My dream is that my company will accumulate colossal experience in the field of interiors and related business. There are a lot of components. Of course, you have to produce, let's say, beautiful projects that are accessible and comprehensible to the whole world, in the broadest meaning. It should also be a finely tuned process with skilled management, the entire internal system must work without fail. Indeed, in interior design, the only unpredictable part is the creative component of a sketch or drawing at the very beginning of work on the project. That's it! As soon as the concept is agreed, as soon as the connection with the client is established, the rest of the work is a well rehearsed list of actions related to each part of the project. All this can be planned and put into the projected time frame - people, costs, and so on. Here is the dream - to bring this process to fruition and of course perfection. We are still in the middle of our journey.

P.M.: And are customer reactions always 100% predictable?

N.B.: No, of course not. However, there is a certain logic here, the harder we work, the more predictable the reaction. We need to act like a psychologist - to tune in to the client, understand his thinking, determine what may be close to him, and what, on the contrary, should not be offered. I think everyone faces it. Also, very often, designers give themselves clear boundaries: either they work in private design or in commercial design. Some go into subject design, others into art. It should be remembered that the moment of contact with the client is difficult for many of us.

P.M.: And how about this?

N.B.: We are good ! (laughs)! We really turned into a really proficient company. All the employees have been working with me for one or two years, and they are exactly what they should be, in my opinion, ideal employees. They probably see in me the leader they need. In the same way, for me, people who share our values and strive for development are important. I often say if a lecture at 8 am is too early for you, then you are not for us (laughs). This is our norm. If we want to achieve something extra, then we need to do things better than others, to strive to become better, to invest time and finances in development. I select the right master classes for my team, and together we learn, strengthen our skills and move forward.

P.M.: In 2012 you received the SBID award. And a little later they became the regional director of SBID.

N.B.: Yes, this achievement was also a very important point in my career. My partner Yulia Danilova received a regional representation in 2015. This is a significant, interesting project about development, the formation of quality standards, bringing the design industry to the international field of business, investing our experience in our country, in our industry and youth development. It is actually very rewarding. I think that in any field people should be working in the same way. That is, journalists should invest their own experience in journalists, designers - in designers, carpenters - in carpenters, builders - in builders. It helps to develop each industry.

P.M.: Now it’s customary to talk about the social impact of any profession. In architecture, this is how a building affects the urban space, how it improves the city, facilitates the life of its inhabitants. And in interior design? The stage at which you received SBID representative status how was your business impacting on society?

N.B.: Naturally, we do a lot for the development of the younger generation. We set ourselves an ambitious task - to move aspects of the educational system towards a direct connection with the real profession, addressing the real needs of the industry. I believe this is happening.Currently, our competitive tasks are included in the programmes of 23 Ukrainian universities. It is also important to understand that these tasks are real cases, absolutely up-to-date and coordinated with Britain. Our tasks are formulated as real projects for designers: you need to create a concept for a space, with specific requirements and a predefined budget. As part of the training, we give a series of educational workshops, together with our partners, for example, on heating systems, on automation, on various materials and technologies.


I want to note that since last year we have included Universal Design in the educational process. I think there is more than enough social impact. This is a new area for Ukraine that needs to be developed. We acquaint students with the underlying principles. Generally, in this sector it is necessary to reach everyone, not only the young. We can at least try to communicate the concept that universality is necessary in public spaces, in contrast with the sphere of private interiors where it is generally taboo!


One of the mega-positive moments is the internship of the winners of our Get me 2 the Top contest in the UK. Imagine how difficult it was to get them a work visa! Everyone said: you will not succeed, change the prize, send the winners on a tour ...

P.M.: But did it work?

N.B.: Yes. The internship winners are sent to the architectural bureau Jestico + Whiles, one of the largest in Britain. The company implements projects around the world. So our Alina (Alina Pipoyan - a graduate of the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, the winner of the Get me 2 the Top competition in 2018 - Editor's note.) Is now working in the Jestico + Whiles team on a hotel in Switzerland. This involves working at a very high level and it is pleasing that for the second year in a row the British bureau are taking our finalists. Clearly,they are very happy with our guys.

P.M.: And what is special about us - Ukrainian designers, architects, industrial designers - what can we give to Britain and the West as a whole, what do you think?

N.B.: Why are they interesting for us? I would say that everyone who wants to be there is very ambitious. It is always interesting to communicate with those who have a point of view, 100% different from yours. Since we have our own history, our own background, our own development path, our ideas are uniquely different from their ideas. We provide an opportunity to carry out cultural exchange, which is beneficial for both parties.


We have a high number of self-taught people, as a direct result of the absence of a functional educational system, which in turn has helped form true professionals. All those who achieve something are faced with the need to complete their education, relearn, and so on. If our educational system were more structured, we would have produced more qualified professionals.

P.M.: And what are you inspired by? What basically encourages you to work?

N.B.: I tried to analyze this and it turned out to be quite strange. When, suppose, I have a project, I need to sit down and be inspired! I visit some places, even those not related to design, exhibitions, communicate with people, look at any helpful information, visual clues and so on. When the real challenge presents itself, it all comes together. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it is best to disconnect. Every day, except Monday, when we have planners, I try not to come to the office at all until 2 o'clock. I put the phone on airplane mode. And only then can I work on a project. Because I devote my time to creativity.

P.M.: If we talk about creativity, are there good designers in Ukraine, do you think?

N.B.: I see quite good precedents. I really like what Katya Sokolova, Pavel Vetrov, Victoria Yakusha and many young guys are doing, and I don’t remember all of them now. True, I did not buy anything from them. I know that they are developing, advancing and in demand. But, you know, when I get to the exhibition in Milan or in Paris,I see such a huge amount of products, which, it seems to me, expecting them to stand out against this background is simply unrealistic. It only means that I still have a lot to learn in subject design. I wish all talented people great success and victories!

P.M.: Nevertheless, every year exhibitions try to surprise, and often designers manage to do it.

N.B.: This is achieved by those manufacturers that have already become giants. If we are talking about a beautiful product - this is one thing. If we talk about opportunities to earn money from it, for everyone in the chain from the designer to the consumer, this is a completely different question. In every industry,it seems to me that you need to sell so much, to have such a wide market so that there is a profit! I do not understand the numbers. Actually, I don’t see any point in releasing individual collection and, for some reason they talk about design exclusively as creativity!


Italians have a long history and traditions in the field of design. Often, the third generation of the family develops some kind of technology. We do not have this in principle. All the rest is tuning, optimization and provisioning. Suppose you want a massive order, you should be able to implement it in the required amount and stable quality. By the way, this is the problem of many talented guys: there are a lot of orders, but nobody understands how to scale. How to ensure consistent quality, how to find a customer, how to pack, how to deliver, how to deliver on time and properly serve the customer? We have achieved it all by ourselves. And as for our foreign colleagues - imagine - this is after only 5 years!


Let's look at another example - what we call the luxury market. Yes, it is exclusive, not for everyone. We are well aware of brands that produce a premium product in larger numbers whilst maintaining stability and high quality without losing reputation. This is true of companies like Hermes, Loro Piana - they have huge volumes.

P.M.: Actually, that's why they occupy such a niche.

N.B.: Of course. It is necessary to understand that mass production should not be associated with loss of quality. We have a common myth that if you increase the volume, you cease to be exclusive. I think you need fine tuning - and everything works.

P.M.: And what about the work on the interiors of your clients? Do you dictate the need to follow trends or are you ready to compromise their understanding of beauty and design?

N.B.: You know, in life and in work, the most important thing is to be honest. Any interior is special and unique. In many ways, because it is a collaboration of the client’s desires and experience, the designer’s vision. I always say frankly what I like and what I don’t. Of course, to offend a client is unacceptable and so if I perceive that some of his decisions are not good ones, then I will simply look for the right arguments. In the end, this is my speciality, and the client generally realises this. Understanding the effectiveness of certain methods, I can always find an argument or offer a choice. Of course, in general, I think that customers who come to us are happy people (laughs).

P.M.: Let's talk about contests. Are they important at all for the interior designer and for you personally?

N.B.: Very important. I think they help cheer up. You need to participate, you need to choose the most difficult ones and participate. If you win - fine, then well done. If you don’t win, that’s good too, you learn from failure, so there’s a lot of work to do.

P.M.: Do you take this into account as an assessment of your work?

N.B.: Of course, this is an estimate. With regards to the evaluation of the industry, it is important that totally independent experts are responsible. That is, they have never seen you, only your work. Therefore, of course, invaluable.

P.M.: But are you talking about foreign contests now? And the Ukrainian?

N.B.: I do not take part in contests in Ukraine, everyone knows each other. It has no intrinsic value.

P.M.: And Western competitions? In which you would like to participate, in which participated? What are reputable for you?

N.B.: SBID International Design Awards, of course. This year we entered the shortlist in the most difficult category, which is already a great achievement. The basic requirements were residential properties where the project excedes $ 1,000,000. This category includes incredibly beautiful objects at the top end of the market.


In general, this year 18 projects reached the finals from Ukraine - this is a great achievement and testament to the work of the SBID Ukraine team. We are doing very well internationally. Vanessa Brady, President of SBID, said during our meeting at a conference in London: “You have no problems with creativity - this is understandable.


However, it seems that you lack the knowledge to make the ventures more profitable ”


We are also going to other contests this year, and I will let you know how they go.

P.M.: Can you comment on what Vanessa said when she mentioned using creativity in a more financially rewarding way?

N.B.: Structural and project management, financial literacy. We do not know how to formulate contracts correctly, do not understand our rights, do not understand client rights. These questions arise in any business, and we are no exception. If you want to set up a business, be comprehensively ready. A beautifully drawn project is no use unless it comes to fruition!

P.M.: What is the role of the state in the field of interior design? Do you need a stronger presence? How does it regulate the relationship between the designer and his client? Does it regulate the industry at all?

N.B.: I do not feel supported by the state. We develop and shape our world ourselves. Where exactly state support is needed is in the area of protecting the industry from the “gray” market. I am sure that suppliers are the first to suffer, architects and designers are the second to suffer, because they are losing time because of customer behaviour. If the market was regulated and strictly regulated, then the whole chain would work and be more profitable. Moreover the client would be calm in matters of service, and the architect - in dealing with contractors.


Better conditions are also necessary to retain qualified specialists in the construction industry in Ukraine. Many left, unfortunately. We can draw anything, but who will build it? But here, as much as 50% success!


Also, almost all SBID Ukraine projects need state support. While we are building everything ourselves, we hope that we will soon meet with the right representatives of government structures, people as enthusiastic about their work, as we are.

P.M.: We talked about work. Let's talk about rest. How do you recover?

N.B.: I recover through communication with my family. I would say that I prefer to spend time with my relatives,without strangers. We have a lot of great and interesting communication with the team, with customers, and with contractors. Everyone needs to be energised (laughs)I am always on the move. I can’t have enough communication with the family and our children are at such a magical age, when they consider you almost a god! They are already so interesting!

P.M.: Would you like them to follow in your footsteps in the profession?

N.B.: If they followed in my footsteps, I could certainly guide them and help. But if they see themselves differently and are happy in some other area - let it be. After all, the main thing is that they find the very profession ... I think we definitely need to provide them with basic training, give them the opportunity to find and develop themselves. I believe that creative professions will always be their area . Our work itself, the process of creating architecture and design, of course, will change, but its essence will remain the same. You just have to develop this predisposition in yourself, apply your creativity. One of my daughters is clearly a creative girl and so focussed. The second is just an explosion of emotions. Her predisposition is communication. Because she is such a person - is able to grab the attention of everyone around her. This is her natural trait. My husband and I are different.

P.M.: Did you create your own home interior?

N.B.: Yes, and we live in an apartment that I did 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my first daughter. And now I am working on a project of my own house.

P.M.: What are your favorite brands in your home?

N.B.: The house is designed in a modern style. There is, of course, be Poliform, there is Lualdi, Poltrona Frau, Minotti. Here is a group of favourite brands.

P.M.: And the kitchen?

NB: Kitchen - Poliform. But part of it will be done according to a special sketch which involves complicated construction, you always want something non-standard!

P.M.: Do you have a favourite chair?

N.B.: No. Comfortable yes, but the perfect chair not yet.

P.M.: And what happened with the sofa?

N.B.: I want to try the new Bellport from Poliform. I will try it out and see how it feels.

P.M.: Do you have design icons whose work you follow?

N.B.: I follow some designers. India Madavi is very creative. It is interesting to follow the work of Jean-Marie Massot - I like his products, they are so elegant. Emmanuel Gallina - very elegant, soft-shaped products. The Impressive Carlo Colombo line for Giorgetti, Atelier, Campana and the collection of Marcel Wanders Objets Nomades for Louis Vuitton.

P.M.: How wide is your range in interior design? What will you never design?

N.B.: I do not like littered spaces. Great art - to create an interior that does not tire and does not become obsolete.

P.M.: And the last question. Do you have goals that you want to achieve in 2019?

N.B.: I want to work in five markets of the world - in France, Britain, Asia, States and Ukraine. That is, to tailor the work of the team so that we are internationally flexible. We are already on this path and work in France with foreign clients. And of course, move forward!!

The interview was taken by Konstantin Kovshevatsky, chief editor of PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA.
See the full interview at: https://pragmatika.media/natalja-bolshakova-nuzhno-mechtat-smelee/