How Soft Geometry Created An Amazing Design Partnership
The furniture designers share their story.
It's never easy finding your professional and creative match. While you might look for a collaborator that has the exact tastes and background as you, often times, the phrase "opposites attract" rings true. That was the case for Utharaa Zacharias and Palaash Chaudhary. The San-Jose based partnership recently started up their furniture brand soft-geometry after becoming collaborators in art school. While the pair initially didn't think of working together, a creative spark led them down the path to developing new innovative pieces that we can't stop obsessing over.
With backgrounds in product, industrial, and furniture design, the duo mesh their love of texture and geometry to create unique shapes that at once feel livable and like pieces of art. So in the spirit of Coming Together Month, we asked the designers to share how their partnership and their work came to be.
Lonny: How did each of you first become interested in furniture and design?
Utharaa Zacharias: My parents are both architects running their own design practices. I grew up watching my mom work madly into the night, building little scale models of hotel rooms complete with tiny furniture and went to school every day driving past a bridge that my dad designed. It made an impression on me that they worked so rigorously, seemed to love what they were doing, and never ever complained – who wouldn’t want that?!
Furniture specifically I fell in love with because of the scale. It was not as overwhelming as architecture but still big enough that it related with space. It is a very human scale that is really interesting to work within.
Palaash Chaudhary: I think my interest in design was a natural successor to a childhood that I spent breaking things and fixing them! I was very fidgety and always did things with my hands, built things, and destroyed them. I got into some trouble, but mostly it was a lot of fun! That is what I thought design was at 16 and it is still the essence of what I do now. I love designing all sorts of products and accessories, but furniture in particular is an incredible medium to explore form, material, and craft.
When did you meet? Did you immediately feel a creative connection?
UZ: We met in college. We were both getting our undergraduate degrees in product design and it was not at all an immediate connection! We both worked very very differently and separately and probably thought of each other to be not-very-cool, until a desperate end-of-semester moment where Palaash was behind on a paper that was due and I was behind on a shop project. He proposed that I help with his paper and he would help me with my shop work — and we got it done. We are not entirely sure what it was about that incident that clicked, but it has been seven years since then and we have worked on everything from school projects, to grad school applications, to freelance work, to taxes together – and it has always just worked!
When did you decide to start a design partnership together?
UZ and PC: We ended up going to grad school together at Savannah College of Art and Design — with Palaash going for Industrial Design and Utharaa going for Furniture Design — and had the grad school experience of our dreams. We were stubborn in wanting to explore every project together and were able to consistently hit a stride where we pushed each other, and our individual projects became more successful, exciting, and fun because of our collaboration. A few months before graduation in 2017, we both knew we had to work together — it would have been weird if we didn’t!
How would you define your work’s aesthetic?
UZ and PC: ‘soft-geometry’ is perhaps the best description for our aesthetic! We always start with forms that are strict geometries that are simple and graphic, and go for this perfect ‘awkward modern’ that we relate and identify with. Within this framework, we like to play with materials and processes that are intriguing, exciting, sometimes questionable, often hand-worked, old, or new. We like to think of this as softness — less defined, but more diverse, interesting, and layered.
Was it challenging starting up your company after graduating?
UZ and PC: Yes — because it is incredibly scary and we constantly wonder if we know what we are doing, where we are headed, and if everything will be okay. And No — because it is too early to tell and we feel incredibly lucky to have ‘started,’ to be taking one step at a time, and to be figuring this all out together. In a sense, the hard parts and the good parts all serve as great drivers and motivators for us to look ahead.
What is it like designing as a pair? Do you have a particular creative process?
UZ and PC: At the concept stage, we start with an idea that is just a few lines. Usually we have one notebook that we pull back and forth for about an hour session of “what if this” or “what if that” until we are at a point where we arrive together at something that we are both equally excited by. It is an exhilarating dialogue and it usually works because can honestly tell each other “that’s a shit idea” if we thought it! Outside of the concept and idea, we tag team through different areas of the making, packaging, writing, photography, social media, and so on.
How would you like to see soft-geometry grow in years to come?
UZ and PC: Our goals this year are to design and build a new collection around a material that we have not yet tried, to have a selection of our products available for online order on our website, to collaborate with local art and design retailers in the Bay Area, and to figure out shipping!
Long term, we hope to set up a studio and gallery in India which becomes a shared space for collaborations with artisan communities to design and craft components for our product. It would be incredible to create a program that combines mass-manufactured components and indigenous handcrafted components into products of a new modern vernacular. We want soft-geometry to always be exploring, inventive, a little uncomfortable, and a lot fun.