F5: Palaash Chaudhary on Space Age Design, Quirky French Music + More
Indian designer Palaash Chaudhary is co-founder of soft-geometry alongside his wife, Utharaa Zacharias. Their San Francisco-based studio practice is focused on making collectible furniture, lighting, and objects centered around softness and hand-making. It’s all inspired by the craft traditions and object culture found in their hometowns in India.
Palaash’s collegiate trajectory is unexpectedly thanks to a suggestion from his brother. “I’ve always been curious about nature, and as a kid that curiosity led me to an intense desire to see the inside of things,” he began. “I remember breaking open the TV remote, attempting to climb up my parents’ safe to uncover its secrets, dismantling my bike, climbing a telephone pole to see what happened if I pulled on the wires, breaking a brand new watch just to get into the dial… As you can imagine, I got in a lot of trouble for breaking these “expensive” things. So, for my own sake, I had to develop a skill to fix and build back all the things I broke. After graduating high school, my brother suggested I study product design, given my passion for breaking and building things, and it made a lot of sense! He was right, breaking and building are what I do best, even today.”
But before finishing up his undergrad studies in New Dehli and moving to the United States to pursue his Masters in Industrial Design from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), it started coming together for Palaash. “I was doing research for a project and came across a chair called “9.5 degree chair” designed by Rasmus B. Fex. It looks like a minimalist chair that is leaning, but the seat is parallel to the ground. It is an illusion, it makes you stare and get lost in its lines. In the accompanying article the designer explained his philosophy, ‘Art with function, Design without.’ That chair and that philosophy left a lasting impression on me, and today I almost exclusively work within that blurry space between art, design, craft, sculpture, autobiography, and history. It pushed me towards finding meaning and purpose to the process and the objects we make beyond archetypes and functionality.”
Shortly after Palaash graduated with his masters, he and Utharaa opened the doors to soft-geometry in 2018. In 2023, they were named in Wallpaper Magazine’s USA 300 List among the names to know in creative America, and in 2022, Chaudhary was named in Forbes India’s 30 under 30 special mentions list.
These days, Palaash is still full of ideas – and unlike some creatives, he acts on each one right away in order to preserve it. “You have to invest something into it, in order to come back to it. Whenever possible, I like to ‘try’ the idea right away, or make a mockup that I will see again and again reminding me to work on it. I don’t think it works if I write it down somewhere, urgency is so important for an idea to live another day.
I once listened to a Gaetano Pesce interview where he was asked ‘What’s your unfinished project?,’ and he said ‘I don’t have any, if I want to do something, in two hours it’s done.’ I really aspire to this zero-unfinished list, though of course I am far from it.”
Today, we’re happy to have Palaash Chaudhary join us for Friday Five!
1. Space Age Chairs by Joe Colombo + Vico Magistretti
I like a lot of space age designs. To me, it feels reminiscent of the aesthetic I grew up with in India – the colors, curves, a type of softness, and brightness combined – which I love. We bought both of these chairs off of Craigslist, thrilled to snag pieces by designers like Magistretti and Colombo. They have been in our studio since, and I find myself spending a lot of time working on these chairs, especially the Colombo with its square cutout. I’ve grown fond of the idea of me sitting on the work of these Italian greats while creating my own pieces.
I had a photo of Augustina Bottoni’s Calici Milanesi’s glassware saved on my Instagram for a long time. They seemed so delicate and yet the lines on them were architectural, I can’t quite explain why but I looked at that image a lot. Almost two years later, I decided to buy a set, and it is one of my most prized possessions. They are almost too beautiful to be used, but every now and then we’ll make a drink and sit with them at the end of a day in the studio and it elevates everything.
3. The Olivetti Showroom in Venice Designed by Carlos Scarpa
I visited the showroom during the Art Biennale in 2022, while they were exhibiting the work of Lucio Fontana and Anthony Gormely. The architecture of the showroom was really simple, an eastern type of minimal almost temple-like design. Scarpa’s almost floating staircase, the colored mosaic floor, and the wooden screen windows were masterful. It made for a slowly revealing exhibition displaying sketches and sculptures by Fontana and Gormely, interspersed with iconic typewriters from Olivetti. Despite being the smallest exhibition I visited during the Biennale, it’s the one that has stayed with me the longest.
4. Kochi, Kerala
I’ve been discovering more and more of Kochi, where my wife is from, every time we travel back home to India. The whole city is interspersed with backwaters, and people who live by the water have small canoes called vallams. The day before our wedding, we spent a day on these boats going around a lagoon lined with coconut trees and it was one of the most beautiful days. The art biennale in Fort Kochi, the really grounded architecture of old temples and palaces, the incredible food, and the long monsoon – it’s just a really special place.
5. Polo & Pan
Maybe more than half the music I listen to is by French duo Polo & Pan. They bring a really interesting folk-like quality to electro house music that somehow works both as groovy dance music and meditative work music. I’m also really drawn to the delicate creativity and humor in their videos – so it was both visual and sound. For my first Covid birthday, it was just the both of us in our apartment – we had two speakers on with Polo & Pan and danced for five hours. The next year, we were at their concert in Oakland and it was, well, electric! They are just a 100 all round.