Russia-born and British educated, Yuna Megre founded her Moscow-based boutique design company, Megre Interiors, in 2008. A decade and more than 46 hospitality projects later, the firm is flourishing, with ambitions to expands its international focus. Here, Yuna explains why she felt such a pull towards the hospitality design sector specifically, how her analytical brain comes into play through her designs, and why she has no plans for large-scale growth of her team …
What do you feel is the single most important thing that people should know about you, or your work?
I am way too business oriented for an interior designer. I think it comes from my background and analytical brain. I have to understand, to really get deep into the DNA of the business, the project and the client before I design.
“I am way too business oriented for an interior designer. I think it comes from my background and analytical brain. I have to understand, to really get deep into the DNA of the business, the project and the client before I design”
I believe it is the only way to design spaces that truly reflect the needs of my clients. That said, of course I get as giddy over a swatch of fabric, like a child at Christmas.
Could you talk a little about your professional background, and what led you to found Megre Interiors in 2008?
I was born in Russia, but from the age of 14 was educated in the UK. After attending boarding school, I acquired a BSC in Business Administration from the oldest Business School in Europe at Cardiff University, where I also served as the Vice President of Cardiff University Business Society.
During that period I completed multiple internships at business consulting, law, marketing and advertising corporations to gain a feel for the corporate world and went on to work at Saatchi & Saatchi. It is where I truly developed an appreciation for the art of visual communication, brand identity and concept development, which have greatly influenced my work as an interior designer. It is during my time at Saatchi that I realised that interior design was more than an interest or hobby, but a passion that I would devote myself too.
Thus, with little creative background or portfolio, I applied to one of the most prestigious design schools in the world. To this day, I believe that it was my sheer determination and conviction that persuaded the admissions counsellor who interviewed me for a 500 people per spot program to take a chance on me, for which I am eternally grateful.
My time at University of Arts London, Chelsea College, not only provided me the tools and introduction into the profession but, most importantly, cemented my vision for design thinking and conceptual development and how it transcends all disciplines. It is through this multidisciplinary approach that truly great concepts and thus interiors, are developed.
It is also there that I understood that public spaces and namely hospitality spaces intrigued me the most. There was something about the complexity of it, the dynamic nature, the unpredictability, the ability to influence the minds and emotions of different people every day and make them happier, that appealed to me. Plus it was more in line with my marketing and advertising background than the private sector.
After completing my studies I returned to Moscow and worked as a freelance decorator for a chain of restaurants for three months, after which I was offered my first project. It was a restaurant and bar in St Petersburg and to complete it I collaborated with my friend, who was an architect. That is how my first company was born. We worked together for almost two years, completing 12 projects with a tiny team of four, before parting ways and conceiving two separate companies.
This is how Megre Interiors was born two years after entering the profession. Thus, I have never worked for anyone in the industry and everything I have ever done in creativity, in approach, in procedures – has been through my own analysis, trial and error.
I did not, and we still do not do things “as they are done,” we always question the norm, we find the optimal, most effective way of doing, both for us and our clients. I believe that it has been one of our strongest differences throughout the years. As it is only through questioning we can truly push boundaries, truly create.
What has been your proudest moment or most memorable project as a designer, thus far?
Honestly, it is always the last project. I put so much of my heart and soul into each one that I love them all dearly, but the brightest emotion is the most recent one. I feel bliss seeing how people interact with spaces that I design, how they influence them and change their mood. How someone can be stressed and tense walking into my restaurant, but they take a seat and 10 minutes later, their whole disposition changes. Obviously, our interior is only one factor of many creating that magic, but being a part of that is what drives me.
What, for you, is the most enjoyable aspect of designing hospitality interiors?
It’s about making people feel welcome, and ultimately loved. It sounds corny and far fetched, but it truly is. Creating environments in which people congregate, communicate, in which friendships evolve, families are born, businesses are made – is a beautiful thing. Creating spaces in which we make people feel at home while they are away from their home, in which we excite their senses and provoke emotion. That is what hospitality is to me.
“Creating environments in which people congregate, communicate, in which friendships evolve, families are born, businesses are made – is a beautiful thing”
From the work perspective, what attracts me are the people who work in the industry, the way they work and interact. The way that everyone has a common goal of creating a magnificent restaurant/bar/hotel/lounge, and we do our best to come in synergy and create a wonderful new entity for people to enjoy. It is what makes a project.
There is no point in my work if we don’t have a passionate restaurateur and chef in the project. It would be a “stillbirth,” lifeless, with no atmosphere, no soul. How many times have you been to a place, and it seems everything is there, the trendy chairs, the cute chandeliers, the fancy plates, but it feels empty, fake and lifeless? I am sure plenty of examples come to mind. Thus, it is crucial to me to work with people who I have a common ground with. I never take on a project with a Client or concept that “doesn’t fit right”.
How would you describe the identity or ethos Megre Interiors has built over the past 10 years?
We are a boutique firm. Always have been, always will be. I have no ambition or interest in growing into a big design company, as it is essential for me to have the intimacy we have with our clients and our projects. And of course with my team. We are a team of 20, but most of the people have been with me for over five years. We know each other, understand each other, complement each other’s strength. And it is through putting our talents and heads together we achieve great results and efficiency. We share a common passion, a vision and a prudence in our work.
Our philosophy is simple. We believe that “we are designed by what we have designed.” That everything that we create in life influences people and influences us. And then we all influence the next wave of creating. It is a cyclical process. Thus, we have an innate responsibility to this world to do good, to bring comfort, to bring positivity. Our goal is to redefine hospitality, to push the norms and standards, to question the status quo, in the name of just that … hospitality. Wholehearted, true, hospitality.
On the practical level what is crucial to me is being a reliable partner for my clients. That means keeping all promises, delivering on them and being very structured and organised. Chaos in development and construction is the biggest money pit. By making sure we are efficient, that our documents are super detailed and spot on, that our communications are structures and open, we help our client optimise their processes and thus save money. This way, we can have enough for that better fabric, for that nicer supplier.
What are your framing ambitions for the firm going forwards?
We have been a leading player in our home market for many years, as well as completing a number of international projects. Now, we aim to focus more on that. To push ourselves to working in multiple cultures, contexts and fields. Though it is always interesting to understand and feel the psyche of your local consumer, it is most intriguing to understand someone from a different world so to speak, and to such a level, that you create something they love.
What do you feel will be the key issues and challenges affecting the hospitality design industry in the coming years?
Well, I could tell you what everyone else will – technology, globalisation, increase in trend change momentum, economic volatility, redistribution of wealth and influence, social networks etc etc. We all know that. But I feel the biggest shift will be in authenticity. A paradox, but the more instantly gratified, spoilt and fake the world is getting, the more authenticity becomes important. And hospitality is at the forefront of that.
“In human history, we have never congregated this much outside of homes, never travelled as much, never done both for the reasons we do now. The world is changing. And so will hospitality and all it embodies”
It is no longer enough to be a collection of good food, good chairs and good plates. You need to be something, be about something, care about something as a concept, a brand and a business. You need to have a soul that people can connect with. And souls are not created by standards and norms, they are intricately knitted, they are individual. So our industry will need to redefine itself, to be more. We have to. Because the more connected this world becomes, the more important we are as an industry. In human history, we have never congregated this much outside of homes, never travelled as much, never done both for the reasons we do now. The world is changing. And so will hospitality and all it embodies.
Could you talk a little about the hospitality design scene in Russia?
First of all, compared to many countries the industry is very young. However, the pace with which it has developed, and continues to develop is incredible. In 20 years we went from archaical to forefront. There are even several Russian restaurants in the world top 100 ratings, and the level of quality both aesthetically and culinary is world class.
Most people who visit are shocked by this and the service. Of course this is mainly Moscow and St Petersburg, but the last five years we have seen an increasing number of decent projects in other cities and in small neighbouring republics.
The market is dominated by 3-4 large restaurant groups with the largest owning over 200 concepts. I am proud to say we work with all of them. And there are many young and exciting restaurateurs entering the market.
As for hotel industry, it is only recently that we have seen an increase in interest of developing great concepts, investing in quality and individuality. The market has always been dominated by large chains, and unfortunately I cannot say they have done themselves justice in this market. However, the enormous shortage both for rooms and quality is starting to shift the market.
What are you working on at the moment, and have you got any upcoming projects that you’re able to tell us about?
We have been working on a number of large project for the past year that take time. As our focus shifted toward the hotel industry, It has been a different dynamic for us as we are used to having an opening every few months. We have two hotels in developments right now, and one in construction. And of course we are still working on restaurants and bars and have a couple of exciting openings coming up. One of which, I am happy to say, is in Los Angeles, where I now reside half of my time. I love this city and am very excited about starting our work there.
What are your passions outside of the design world?
Hm, sleeping… I am joking, but as a mother and entrepreneur who lives in two countries and travels for work all the time, it is a luxury. I love food, I love the ocean, I love travelling and seeing new things. And for someone who could hold the title as “the least sporty person ever,” I am happy to say I have discovered yoga this year and have started to love working out for the first time. But most of all I love watching my little girl grow and rediscovering the world with her.