Online | Interiors

Concrete & Clay

Kyiv, Ukraine

At Ukrainian restaurant Istetyka, architect Victoria Yakusha draws on her country's unique craft traditions to soften a minimalist approach

Ukrainian design is somewhat in the spotlight at the moment, having emerged from 2014’s Revolution of Dignity with a distinct voice and the ability to fuse the avant-garde with the approachable. Architect and interior designer Victoria Yakusha says that, after the revolution, “we finally felt our power – the power of cultural heritage of our country – and just became more open.”

Yakusha set up her eponymous architecture and interior design company in 2006, and her latest restaurant project in Kyiv reflects a style that she calls “live minimalism”, achieving a sense of authenticity through a pared-back approach that lets the food do the talking, combined with the warmth and soul of hand-crafted pieces. Istetyka – the name is a portmanteau of the Ukrainian words for ‘eating’ and ‘aesthetics’ – specialises in healthy fast food, with its owners wanting to elevate ready-to-eat meals into something more enjoyable and ritualistic. “We eliminated the excess and gave guests the ability to focus on what’s important here and now – food,” says Yakusha.

The space consists of three areas: a main dining area, a narrower secondary dining space, and a glass- and porcelain-fronted kitchen counter. Walls are made from raw concrete or bumpy clay plasterwork, their uneven surfaces contrasting with smooth porcelain and steel.

Yakusha’s product design sister company, Faina, has supplied many of the pieces that fill these spaces. They include the Ztista tables, whose bases are made from a mixture of clay, recycled paper and other natural materials, a method that Yakusha developed based on the Ukrainian valkuvannia technique for building the walls of traditional dwellings. Faina’s Kumanec vases sit on the tables, while macramé lighting fixtures hang elegantly over them.

“Returning to [my] roots is always empowering for me. For a long time, I did it unconsciously: it had been mine and my clients’ story that I told through design,” says Yakusha. “With time, it became a signature approach for both Yakusha Studio and Faina. It is our way to venerate and pass on the story: for example, the Kumanec vases recall the form of a traditional Ukrainian festive vessel, which is familiar to me from childhood.”

In the second dining space, round concrete tables are accompanied by rectangular poufs made from recycled plastic – the strict repeating geometry being pleasing in a different way to the more organic approach taken in the main dining space. Circular lamps in the same material as the Ztista tables stud the walls.

Through her work, Yakusha is supporting crafts that are in some cases dying out. “We feel our responsibility to support local artisans,” she says. “For many of them, the craft is a family tradition, and unique knowledge is almost closed for everyone besides the family of craftsmen. The objects made by these people bring a very special energy to space.

“Ukrainian design is very sincere and authentic. We always put a soul into what we do.”