Few have been proponents of Ukrainian design and culture the way of Victoria Yakusha over more than the past decade. Rooted in her multi-disciplinarian experience is an intrinsic adoration of her native country. Expanding upon her namesake architectural and interior design firm established back in 2006, Yakusha developed the product design label, FAINA, and has since leveraged it as a vehicle for championing local craftsmanship, traditions and history. Each of these elements of the country became the cornerstone of product design, along with a penchant for primitive minimalism.
Since launching FAINA in 2014, the brand has become synonymous with rich and layered design disguised by its muted tones and seemingly straightforward aesthetic. Chunky sofas, sculptural chairs, vases inspired by facets of ancestral living, all part of the process of distilling the rich cultural tapestry of her home country with an affinity for nature to create the background of the collection. Implementing it with distinctive, original materials like the upcycled "ztista" (Ukrainian for 'made of dough'), each item is filled with intentionality and character, refusing to build upon superfluousness or the demands of a market to rather focus on what inherently feels authentically her own.
Here, Yakusha discusses her design philosophy, championing traditional Ukrainian craftsmanship, and what defines a well designed space.
Describe your Live Design philosophy.
Live design is rooted in earth – primal, spirited, sometimes wild, with living energy. Living energy is one the most empowering things for me. It comes through crafts, traditional materials, archetypal shapes and symbols that continue to "live" but find a new form. Live design expresses a connection to the earth.
"When you create without a brief, without the expectations of a client, you get to know yourself and your style. FAINA helped me understand who I am."
The ever-changing socio-political landscape of Ukraine was a major proponent of the FAINA design ethos. How has the last two years evolved and shifted this?
For me, nothing has changed globally. Everything started in 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and when Russia annexed Crimea. Over the last few years has it gained depth. Now my art is a form of resistance and an affirmation of Ukrainian heritage at the same time.
What is contemporary Ukrainian design and what role do you feel design will play within the future of Ukrainian culture?
Contemporary Ukrainian design is only at the beginning of its journey, but it's already self-sustaining. It stands out because of its sensuality, bravery, and the strong connection it has to the roots of Ukraine. I believe it will be a tool to drive culture and express our identity.
How did the work in your namesake multidisciplinary studio, Yakusha, inform your creative process within FAINA?
My background as an architect influenced the strong minimalist language of FAINA. I like to eliminate all the excess, to speak with pure, primitive shapes. In return, FAINA changed our architecture and interiors. When you create without a brief, without the expectations of a client, you get to know yourself and your style. FAINA helped me understand who I am.
In interiors, I began to gravitate towards textures, raw natural materials. I started to learn more about our history, ancient crafts – they found a presence in my designs. Designing both interiors and furniture, you perceive the space as one. It's more about going in depth.
In 2021, Victoria Yakusha's "Istetyka" interior became the first Ukrainian project to win Dezeen Awards
Traditional Ukrainian culture – from materials and craft techniques to household patterns – is cleverly threaded within each of your designs. How do you balance the traditional with the contemporary in an effective yet relevant way?
I think the essence of my style is this subtle contrast – a combination of laconic architectural vision with real, rich, live, and authentic Ukrainian heritage. It creates a natural balance of past and present. Our Antwerp gallery is a very authentic place, located in a 500-year-old-building, and I designed a stainless steel shelf for the first room to get the balance of old and new. There's a special beauty in it.
What traditions have you felt most passionate about sustaining and championing?
Lizhnykarstvo and black-smoked ceramics. Lizhnykarstvo is a traditional Ukrainian wool-weaving technique integrated in the FAINA tapestry line. It's very hard work. Our artisans still use an ancient loom to make each tapestry, and the live process depends on the cycles of nature. Wool is washed in the river, and when the water freezes, it stops all the production. Black-smoked ceramics appeal to me with their rawness and authenticity. We're planning to release a special project to sustain this technique.
"My background as an architect influenced the strong minimalist language of FAINA. I like to eliminate all the excess, to speak with pure, primitive shapes."
FAINA has become a vehicle for informing the global market about traditional Ukrainian culture and ensuring its legacy. How has this role been manifested currently and how do you see it evolving in the future?
When I started FAINA, I wanted to tell the world about Ukrainian culture – its sincerity and authenticity – and that remains our mission even now. We're passing on history. We try to show that authentic things can be stylish, to reveal the beauty of traditional crafts, to show how heritage and contemporary design can intersect. Many people tell us that they learned more about Ukraine through FAINA and at that moment you realise what all this is for.
What, ultimately, do you hope each FAINA patron derives from your collections?
A product with very powerful energy. Living, authentic, timeless in its essence. Each object slightly differs because of the hand-crafted process, so what you get is very unique.
When FAINA was started, we allowed ourselves not to follow trends or the demands of the market. We allowed ourselves to be us. I remember people kept telling us that we are different. We see and perceive in our own way. For me, it was and remains a mark of courage. People who choose FAINA choose authenticity and sincerity. They allow themselves to be themselves.
Meet the Founder
My country house in Ukraine located in the Dnipro region where I used to spend my childhood summers. The atmosphere there is very real.
Source of inspiration
The Ukrainian people. Especially people connected to nature and creation – artisans, agronomists, ordinary people living in the villages. Their eyes light up. All the cultural colour is in this and it's such a strong energy of love and life.
Favourite piece of architecture
I love the works of Tadao Ando.
Signature of a well designed space
Laconic aesthetics. I dislike excessiveness in any manifestation, but love the feeling when each object seems to be meant for the space, and if you take it out, the composition falls apart. When well designed, there's an interaction between the space and objects. The void also plays an important role and serves as a functional element of the space.
Favourite part of the design process
The conceptual part, when the idea emerges.