Rooms Studio, an interior design and collectable design practice founded in 2007 by Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia, is creating a new visual language for contemporary Georgian design. Janberidze and Toloraia, who started Rooms Studio after graduating from the Tbilisi Academy of Arts, focus their efforts on objects that combine their native Georgian heritage with a contemporary aesthetic, working with large-scale sculptural forms and mixed-media textural materials.
Their Georgian inclination plays into many of their design objects, including pieces such as the weighty marble “Supra Coffee Table”—a reference to the Georgian tradition of “supra,” the large feasts that are a significant part of the regional culture. These feasts, which last hours and involve many courses of food, are marked by lots of wine, with a male “toastmaster” giving speeches intermittently throughout the meal.
An interest in preserving Georgian culture appears not just in Rooms’s use of traditional craftsmanship, but also in working with other Georgian artists. Because of Tbilisi’s relatively small size and lack of commercial orientation in the arts, the creative scene is quite supportive. Artists regularly collaborate, and Rooms is no exception—during the pandemic, their exhibition “Distant Symphony” at Emma Scully gallery in New York featured a collection of pieces made while in isolation, speaking to the domestic intimacy of the home and places of solitude. Alongside their pieces, the duo tapped Georgian artists Shotiko Aptsiauri, Salome Chigilashvili, and Mariana Chkonia to create collaborative works that spoke both to a shared heritage and an effort to spotlight Georgian creative talent on an international platform.
Their latest exhibition at 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 show contrasted minimalist, gargantuan furniture pieces 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 standing lamp post that blends Meskhishvili’s blue conceptual forms with Rooms’s functional design.
Known for ambitious projects like the interior design of the eponymous Rooms Hotels in Tbilisi, Khazbegi, and Kokhta, a modernist ski lodge in the Bakuriani region, the design duo approaches each project from a place of intuition. Each of the Rooms-designed hotels has a character all its own, with a thoughtfully designed aesthetic that nods to each location’s origin story, filled with hidden treasures speaking to tradition and craftsmanship. “It comes from our inner worlds,” the duo says, noting a desire to follow these instincts. For Rooms Hotel Kokhta, the use of massive wood and stone objects, contrasted with soft touches such as ethnic rugs and Georgian artifacts, lends itself to a concept they describe as “poetic brutalism.” This duality of East and West—along with 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 an ultimately modern vernacular of Georgian visual design has become 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 that sense, Rooms is eager to establish themselves within their own unique Georgian identity. With the recent events in Ukraine hitting close to home, Janberidze and Toloraia make it clear that Georgia is not (and doesn’t want to be) part of Russia. While close in proximity, many people conflate the two countries’ traditions. “Our cultures and even the language we speak are completely different,” they say. Standing in solidarity with Ukraine and its fight for freedom, the duo urges audiences to show support on social media and by reposting important news. Their advice: “There are lots of donations you can choose, but a more direct way of helping people is via Airbnb.”
Rooms Studio furniture. Photos by Adrianna Glaviano.
For one of Georgia’s most in-demand design studios, the projects won’t slow down anytime soon. Up next for Rooms are a few residential projects in Georgia; a hotel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a restaurant in Milan. When I ask how they balance the myriad opportunities, Janberidze and Toloraia ruminate for a moment. “Each project is a new challenge and an opportunity for new experience. The journey you go through is important to us,” they say.
While they’ve established themselves in a city that’s still establishing itself, the lack of a ruling class allows for a creative community that has yet to be defined to blossom. Tbilisi’s fluid nature aids their creative process. “You are more detached from the collective influences of the world and therefore you feel more free,” they say.