In 1881 interior designer Louis Tiffany stood in his stained glass window factory and surveyed all the discarded pieces of coloured glass that lay strewn on the floor. He wondered briefly what to do with it, when he suddenly had an aha moment. Instead of throwing these pieces of glass out, what if he used them to create lampshades? What followed was art in the form of priceless lamps that were miniature versions of Tiffany’s exquisite stained glass windows.
Louis was the younger brother of Charles Tiffany, the legendary founder of the jewellery firm Tiffany. While his older sibling was revolutionalising the way Americans look at jewellery, Louis didn’t realise it at the time but he had changed the fate of the common lamp forever. He elevated its status from something that was merely functional to that of a coveted object that fine art collectors are still willing to wage wars for.
Closer home, the Goa-based Yahel Chirinian, 35 and Doris Zacheres, 36, are following in the path that Louis blazed by creating lamps from glass, wood, ceramics, rubber, mirrors and digital prints that are equally unique art statements.
Chirinian was born in Provence in the theatre capital of France, Avignon, and Zacheres comes from the Black Forest region in Germany. They set up their design studio in Goa seven years ago after falling in love with its serenity.
The two women almost seem like foils for each other. Chirinian was raised in an extremely artistic family on a staple diet of art, Satyajit Ray films and theatre. She has a crown of dark spring curls, which fly onto her face constantly as she gesticulates wildly in English that has a tendency to trail off into French. Her vibrant eyes, the colour of moss, turn instinctively to her partner as she gropes for the right word, failing which she dives into her handbag mid-sentence to produce a microscopic French to English dictionary.
Zacheres is as still as Chirinian is animated. Her family consists of engineers and technicians and her own background is in engineering. She wears her straight blonde hair short and it cups her chin gently as her frank green eyes lock into yours. She’s athletic and has a tranquil, soothing personality. And as she is a lot more fluent in English, she completes many of Chirinian’s sentences.
"Doris is all that I am not,” laughs Chirinian. “I am a factory of ideas, she grounds me and helps me to concentrate. She takes my ideas and produces the final product."
The two met in Paris where Zacheres was working with an interior design and architectural firm that specialised in ecological décor and design. Chirinian was with Chanel at the time and has a resume sprinkled with employers like Cerruti, Armani and Ralph Lauren. She attended the Louvre School’s program in Paris for sculpture and conceptual art and went on to study conceptual art in Tokyo. From this stint in Japan comes Chirinian’s deep-rooted reverence for Japanese design, especially Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. “I am also very influenced by Pina Bausch, who does contemporary dance. These people are geniuses and I feed off their work,” she says.
The duo takes lighting very seriously and Chirinian says, “Lights are the most important thing in the house. Different lighting brings out different emotions.” Adds Zacheres, “We want to create an experience for the homeowner. When they get home stressed, they should be able to luxuriate, dream and reenergise themselves in their environment.” It is equally important to them that the lights in a home are objets d’art—startlingly unique—yet reflect the personality of the people who live in the home.
This is one reason they use a lot of mirrors. “Mirror lamps are non-static. I call them scenic tableaus as they reflect the life around them,” Chirinian explains seriously. “We also use a lot of bark, wood and trees,” pointing to four hollowed out dark wood tree trunks with slits on its surface that reveal glass crystals with lights twinkling from within. They use no chemicals, preferring instead to use linseed oil to protect the bark’s natural iridescent glaze.
Their clients are based all over the world but are mainly in India, Milan, Paris and Los Angles. While some clients pick up ready-made lamps, many of them commission lamps with a design brief. Recently, one of their clients in the US asked them to create something for the garden of her beachfront home in Malibu. “Her brief was a lamp that was dazzling, yet sophisticated and feminine,” smiles Zacheres.
What evolved was a five-foot figure of a woman they have christened Vegetal Eve, carved out of wood in a dress plastered liberally with tiny pieces of mirror and glass. Her neck and arms stretch into what look like branches but is really a candelabra with holders so that scented candles can be placed on it. It requires no electricity.
The partners have found a haven in Goa that they share with their five cats and five dogs and have just embarked on creating furniture as well. Their home is attached to their studio and while Chirinian is up all night humming Cuban jazz while designing, Zacheres wakes up early to let in the carpenters, determine what materials would be best suited for the design and to supervise its execution.
“It’s a peaceful life. We love India and miss it when we travel. Goa is fantastic and is truly inspiring,” Chirinian says. Zacheres too, loves the country because she finds that she’s much more alive here: “You experience emotion daily in India. We’re totally integrated into the culture here. It’s what gives us the space for creativity.”