“What happened to Soviet style apartments after Perestroika” clearly won the contest of topics. In one word – what happened was “EuroRemont” – “Western kind of renovation”. Let’s see why I have put these words in quotes and what do they mean.
For too long, basically for 70 years of Soviet time, Soviet citizens did not have much choice in interior design. Not having a choice was not a good thing, because absence of choice led to deficit of interior design skills and fantasy. At the same time, we know now that too much choice (The Paradox of Choice – a great book btw) does not lead to happiness. Having one clear idea how to blend in and stand out with several hard-to-get, but possible-to-get items (such as stenka), made life easier. And now what? How do I stand out in the modern time via my home interior? How do I choose wallpaper, tiles, furniture, lamps etc.? How can I make sure it all looks good?
At first, there were not so many interior design magazines, and there were not professional interior designers. So, the inspiration came from movies and TV series. And it did form a certain style, which was called EuroRemont – Western Renovation. What was it like? First of all – white walls, preferably painted white walls.
One can argue that people just were tired from the ornaments of the Soviet style wallpaper and wanted to start their life from a clean slate. That may be one of the drivers. But the main driver was in Brazilian soap operas – such as Slave Izaura and in the beloved Santa Barbara soap opera.
Popularity of the first soap operas was beyond imaginable. There were no crimes reported on the streets of Moscow during the time of new episode broadcasts. Gangsters are also people, and they wanted to know how the saga develops, will Cruz and Eden marry, will Izaura get free from her sleazy boss etc. And all the villas and fazendas from these TV series had white walls, so white walls immediately became the standard of a modern Russian interior design. That is quite funny – in warmer countries white walls serve their purpose – it is too hot, so you do not want your walls to absorb any heat. Here in Russia it is almost always cold. I bet that if we had Jeeves&Wooster TV series on TV at that time – we would’ve opted for the colonial British design with dark green walls and wooden panels instead. But it was what it was.
In addition to white walls, villas and houses of California, Mexico and South America countries often have light-colored furniture or really bright furniture, especially sofas. In the movies sometimes couches are made of white leather. White leather couches have become incredibly popular. James Bond movies also often had leather couches and armchairs, which only supported the idea. Also, Bond’s style included a lot of technical gadgets – TV sets which emerged from the walls, as well as aquariums and other “luxury items”.
That was the time, when a) home entertainment (video players) was on the rise and b) restaurant business did not emerge yet. So people mostly entertained guests at home and having a white living room with a white leather sofa, modern “home theater” and some unusual interior design items (such as an aquarium or an unusual lights in the ceiling) was super cool.
You would suspect that the white walls, modern gadgets and furniture would lead us to a minimalist interior design – sleek, modern and stylish. But you forget two things: a) we are in between Europe and Asia and we have a penchant for a truly Asian luxury – gold, carpets, ornaments and b) we have had Tsar dynasties and still could see how Tsars lived in the numerous palaces, especially nearby St’Petersburg.
People who started to earn money wanted to incorporate part of that luxury in their interiors. Most of the time the result was a bit bizarre – a typical “EuroRemont” apartment of the post-Perestroika time had white walls, gadgets and some modern furniture. But it could also include Persian carpets on the floor (and walls), lots of elaborate decorations and even furniture à la Ludvig the 15th – chairs with the gold-plated curved legs and armrests. “Expensive and rich” – that was the motto.
One of the most frequent issues was a lack of space. Typical Soviet apartments did not get any bigger after Perestroika, so people had to deal with spaces ranging from 33 square meters to a maximum of 70-80 square meters. As we know from the earlier posts – Soviet apartments were designed so that they accommodate as many family members as possible – sometimes several generations. So, even if one person was buying a relatively large apartment for his/her own use, it was still divided in small rooms. That did not fit the “movie-style living” of large open spaces.
Answer to that was often simple – just break the unnecessary walls. Quite often that was the wrong answer – since some walls do serve their purpose of holding the house. There were a lot of curiosities – when large jacuzzi fell down onto the floor to the apartment below. (jacuzzi was another element of “luxury life”).
Of course, such a huge market niche could not stay free for long. In the beginning of 2000s, magazines and designers mushroomed and flourished. I have some interior design magazines of that time – some of their advice was useful and professional, but a lot of them were far from perfect. Same thing – for interior designers. Not many designers had professional education and experience – they often wanted to create nice unusual projects for their portfolios rather than create living spaces, where it would be comfortable to live. Often such projects included elaborate decoration, cascades of lights, hanging from the ceiling, mixture of styles, too much glass and other non-warm materials. But still it was good to have designers and magazines – it was a big help for people.
It really depends on the family and their taste, but I would say that things are more or less normal now. Interior design magazines and TV shows, designers, IKEA stores and worldwide travel did make a positive impact. Also, interiors of public places (cafes and such) gave people ideas. A lot of residential interiors are still eclectic, but at least they reflect the taste of owners. It is ok to have an eclectic space if the owners feel comfortable in it. I personally am happy that people can now have any interior design they like.
Now it is more about the cost. Renovations are very expensive since most of the materials are imported. But even an average income city family can do something in their apartment to make it cozier. It takes some time to develop good taste for interior design or any kind of design. I hope that people will experiment as much as they can and enjoy that.
Next post will be about carpets – why Russians love them, why some Russians have carpets not only at the floor, but also at walls, what do carpets mean as status symbols etc.
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.