Elena Shlenkina needs no introduction: her name is well known not only in Russia, but also abroad. For more than 25 years, she has been developing the culture of Italian furniture in Russia, knows everything about high brands, and conducts training seminars and master classes for designers. In Nizhny Novgorod, she actively collaborates with the interior salon “Calypso”. We talked with Elena about why Russian people love Italian furniture so much, about trends, and how to develop a sense of beauty:


February, 2024

– What do you think is the strength of Italian designers?

The ability to endlessly surprise; apparently an innate ability to find new forms of beauty. Often unexpected.

– Name a trend in interior design that particularly inspires you right now.

Rethinking the classics. Before our eyes, it is being reinvented with some modernization of forms and the use of new and atypical materials.

– It is believed that taste, a sense of beauty, can and should be developed. Do you agree with this thesis? How can you improve your taste? Books, films, exhibitions? What can you recommend?

I completely agree. Books with films and exhibitions will also help, and most of all, a close person or an authoritative mentor with developed taste, who can, without pressure, taking into account the personality of the “student,” instill in him their canons of perception. But the main thing is your own desire and motivation; without them you won’t learn anything.

– You stood at the origins and were one of the first who began to introduce Russians to Italian furniture. What was the most difficult thing at the first stage? And now?

It was difficult to learn to speak the same language with foreign partners, and we are not talking about speaking Italian. At that time, the worldviews and approaches to business practice were too different. Now the main challenge is the high cultural and business erudition of Russians and, as a consequence, their exactingness. But the more interesting it is to work, the exactingness tones you up.

– How will the Russian premium furniture market develop further? Your forecast.

Now there is a powerful formation of our own design architecture for furniture production, Russia and Belarus have united and are developing. I think we will surprise and delight!

– Are there new names and brands appearing in Italy today? Are you tracking this process? Are you working with young Italian manufacturers to update your supplier pool?

New names appear constantly, but mostly among designers. Now is still not the most favorable time to launch new production facilities in Italy. Our partners react very sensitively to new names and ideas in design; there is no talk of ideological or assortment stagnation.

– Are new salons opening in Russia, or is the niche tightly occupied by those who have been doing this for a long time? Tell us a little about your collaboration with Calypso.

And new salons are opening, and previously little-known ones are gaining weight and coming to the fore, but the “veterans”, for the most part, have not disappeared: they continue to work and diversify their activities. New bold and lively design studios are emerging, and it is especially interesting to work with them.

Calypso is a historical client for us, we have been working with the Calypso salon for more than twenty years, brands open and close, and our long professional work, which has grown into friendship, remains. Together we have nothing to do with anything and the sea is knee-deep!

– What do you think is the most important event in the world of interior design of the year? And why?

– What do you personally expect from the Milan Salone del Mobile this year?

The answer, I think, is predictable: Milan furniture salon. Other exhibition venues are, with all due respect, an echo of Milan plus some regional flavor. It is at the Salon that new ideas, trends, names, materials and technologies are presented to the professional public for the first time.

This year I expect new names, bold ideas, revolutionary turns and ambitious plans from our partners and their colleagues.

– You travel a lot both around the world and in Russia. Share your observations; a certain picture has probably formed over 25 years. For example, are there any differences in approaches to interior design, say, between Nizhny Novgorod residents and Muscovites? Or, for example, the residents of Siberia, maybe they have their own needs and vision? Or maybe you have a favorite city, where all the projects being created are simply ideal and touch your soul? What are these projects, what is their highlight?

Sharp geographical contrasts in interior projects have long been smoothed out: internal Russian “globalization” in the good sense of the word has had an effect. There is no need to talk about the “provincial” or “metropolitan” nature of the interiors; there are talented design studios and showrooms, enlightened, demanding buyers everywhere. And interesting projects come from everywhere, including the most exciting ones – those where the authors, within the framework of a single concept, manage to harmoniously combine styles that seem incompatible at first glance; competently intersperse carefully thought out extraordinary accents. I would not like to single out any city, I can only say: among the generators of such exciting projects, Nizhny Novgorod is among the first.

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