‘The recession has been good for me,’ says Afroditi Krassa, pointing out that it is allowing the kind of start-up restaurant projects that she specialises in to see the light of day. ‘Leases have come down quite a lot, and landlords have to be more flexible – they have to be. Before, clients would beg landlords – now it is the other way around.’
The ebullient Anglo-Greek designer has carved out an unexpected niche for herself off the back of the work she did for sushi chain Itsu, establishing its high street presence in 2005 with fresh interiors and innovative packaging.
While Krassa is no longer creative director of Itsu, she remains on good terms with its founder Julian Metcalfe. The phone has, meanwhile, been ringing ever since she left, with clients developing other fast-food and restaurant projects hoping that Krassa could provide a similarly distinctive design solution for their own businesses.
So successful has it been that Krassa is now splitting her consultancy in two. Protocol will be dedicated to commercial interior design, leaving her original studio (still operating under her name in south west London) to continue with her first love – product design – on projects such as her Hidden Agenda light now in production with Ligne Roset, and two other projects in the offing for a major Italian furniture manufacturer and a Belgian lighting company.
Protocol, on the other hand, will be a one-stop shop for commercial interiors, offering everything from branding and strategy to the final fit-out. The idea is to attract smaller clients so that Krassa has creative freedom, and can work holistically and strategically. ‘I’m not interested in doing a little bit of shelving for a big company like Marks & Spencer,’ she says.
‘At some point I will get round to doing the branding for Protocol myself. You know how it is – the shoemaker’s children never wear shoes,’ she jokes. Her distinctive name, she admits, has been a boon, functioning almost as a memorable brand on its own. Born in London to Greek parents, Aphrodite was misspelled as Afroditi on the birth certificate and somehow stuck, even when she returned to northern Greece for the rest of her childhood.
She came back to study at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London, and worked at Priestman Goode and Seymour Powell (where she was involved in the creation of the Bioform bra), before opting for the Design Products MA at the Royal College of Art under Ron Arad and bravely setting up on her own on graduation in 2000. Krassa sees herself as an industrial designer of the old-fashioned sort, as proud to produce something for the Argos catalogue as for anything else, bringing the ‘totalising’ and problem-solving approach of industrial design to bear on interiors briefs. Yet there’s also a distinct sense of humour evident in her work (such as the Bad Hair Day light, with statically charged hanging yarn), something that she’s keen, however, to differentiate from the ‘visual pun’ approach typical of some Dutch design.
Her bête noire is the conservatism of furniture manufacturers and their reluctance to consider new technologies and ways of engaging with sustainability, as in the case of a long-standing project of hers to create solar-powered furniture. ‘If it takes off, I will be totally amazed,’ she says.
Two projects that are, however, approaching completion are both interiors. Zazà isa Neapolitan ice-cream company that is looking to establish itself in the UK selling Italian gelato, freshly made on the premises every day or even to order while you wait, using novel, compact technology. Krassa has tweaked the branding and developed a parlour concept that will allow for kiosks in various shopping centres across the country, starting with west London’s Westfield shopping centre in February.
And opening in May, in London’s Covent Garden, Dishoom will be an ambitious (510m2) attempt to introduce the concept of an Indian to cafés London. Conceived as an all-day relaxed space, aimed as much at students as at business people, it takes its inspiration from the Irani cafés of Mumbai, whose gentle Persian charms and relaxed, Art Deco atmospheres are slowly becoming a thing of the past. ‘Dishoom’, by the way, is a Bollywood term, an expression a bit like ‘Pow!’ or ‘Bam!’, which also encapsulates the optimistic energy of Krassa herself.