Holga Gallega & Andrea Invierno
ChairYourLife is a creative design and crafts studio established in Valencia, Spain, and run by interior designer Holga Gallega and photographer Andrea Invierno. With both of their families coming from furniture and design backgrounds, Holga and Andrea have been immersed in a creative atmosphere since they were little.
Inspired by sustainability and sourcing their materials from local suppliers, ChairYourLife create bespoke design objects and also offer a wide range of services to their clients, from graphic and interior design to photography and furniture upcycling.
Photos by Carmen Gray
Could you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how did you guys meet?
Andrea: We both studied at the same school, the Escuela de Arte y Superior de Diseño de Valencia. Holga is one year older than me and she studied Interior Design, whilst I studied Fine Art Photography. We weren’t friends back then although we had some friends in common and briefly met a few times.
Holga: A couple of years ago I was working as a freelance designer and also helping at my father’s design studio – design has always played an important role in my life since I was little.
Andrea: Back then I had just come back to Valencia after spending some time in France where I was studying the last year of my photography degree, although I also spent some time studying contemporary art and modules related to set design. During this period of our lives we were both working on our own projects whilst doing some commissioned work to survive. I joined a furniture restoration course and another one in cinematography, and Holga was taking a course in visual merchandising at the same time.
Holga: Our boyfriends knew each other since they were little and they were playing in the same band so we started seeing each other more often. One night we all met at one of our boyfriends’ birthday and after a couple of drinks Andrea told me that she was obsessed with chairs and that we should start a project together. I liked the idea and that’s how we started working on our first chair, Bogart. It’s been over a year and we’re still working together.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
Holga: I always thought I would be working for someone else at a design studio and after gaining some experience I would start my own business but that hasn’t been the case. We started ChairYourLife as a “game” – our only intention was to design a chair together and submit it to a competition. After designing this chair we saw that the project had been well received and it started to become something more serious that was taking more of our free time. Although we never thought about starting our own business being so young, we couldn’t be happier right now.
Andrea: To be honest, I had never thought about starting my own business but, at the same time, I was never happy with the idea of working for someone else my whole life. I guess this kind of things happen without even realizing it and there are moments when you have to decide if you want to go ahead – when we won the prize with our first chair it was one of those moments. It may sound weird but I didn’t realise I was running my own business until quite recently. My boyfriend and uncle have always been supportive and also sincere, sharing their own opinion about what I was doing.
We don’t want to sound stereotypical talking about the current economic situation in Spain but it’s impossible not to do so. Besides, it is one of those moments I mentioned before. We try to stay positive and I’ve noticed how much social relationships have grown due to this situation. Design, art and architecture are closer than ever and there are new projects and businesses emerging thanks to a collaborative approach between people. I think the original business concept has changed and although some values remain the same, you can make it grow in different ways and using different resources. When we walk on the streets of our city we realise that it is more alive than ever before and people are applying their creative knowledge to survive. We’re glad the Arts & Crafts movement is making a comeback and we love how this is helping businesses.
Do you think business skills should be taught as part of art and design training? What has been the most challenging part of starting ChairYourLife?
Holga: I think it would need to be an indispensable part of your degree – not only learn about the technical and creative process but also know what to do when you leave university.
Andrea: I think it is important to learn some basic knowledge in order not to feel lost when you finish your degree, and it’s even more important to be taught that you might need to use that knowledge in the future. At the same time, I also think that you learn more from your own experience.
Holga: The most difficult part has been the administration side of the business. We didn’t know much and it took us a while to learn about it and get used to it.
What comes first – the materials or the design idea?
Andrea: When we design a new piece, we first consider the idea, function and shape. During the creation process we always keep materials in mind because we like to work with organic materials which are easy to work by hand. Idea and materials go hand by hand.
How do you choose your materials?
Holga: We like to work with traditional and natural materials. We choose the ones that fit better our design idea – we usually go for wood because we feel comfortable working with it and we like its versatility, although we also manufacture products using cotton and cardboard for example.
Andrea: We always buy our materials from local providers. We like to support local businesses and the service we receive from them, and we also think that you can’t compare shopping at a business which has been opened for over 40 years to buying your materials from a chain store. In small businesses you always find people with great expertise and lovely stories to learn from, that’s something we really value.
What part of the making process excites you the most?
Holga: The creative process is the most exciting part, the moment when you are creating something new in your head or on paper and it starts to take shape, it is really fun! Working on a piece is also really rewarding because you’re able to see the physical result and your turning your ideas into something real just with your hands.
Andrea: I like when I have an idea and I test it to see if it can work. I don’t usually sketch as Holga and other designers do, that’s why she’s mainly in charge of the technical side and I just write down my ideas in a notebook and maybe draw a simple sketch, but I like to try it directly and that’s what excites me the most.
How do you work together? Who is responsible for what in your team?
Holga: We always have breakfast together before work once or twice a week so we can catch up about the things we need to do, find new projects, split tasks or talk about improvements. Most of the time breakfast turns into lunch or just a 5-minute break at our studio because our daily work takes over without even realising it! That’s when we know we need to stop and try to talk about all those things we had agreed on!
Andrea: We’re both in charge of the creative side of the business – depending on the project, it’s one of us who takes the lead. Holga is in charge of the interior design projects and I’m responsible for all the photography and visual tasks.
From all the pieces you’ve created so far, which is your favourite and why?
Holga: We both agree that our favourite piece is Bogart, because it was our first project together and we won a competition with it. The process was really intense, as soon as we found out we were finalists we had to send the prototype, which was funded by the competition. It was great to see one of our ideas turned into something real, it was an incredible experience.
Valencia has a great design tradition, how does the city influence your work?
Andrea: There’s a big design and craftsmanship tradition in Valencia in ceramics, wood and furniture, and there are also really good professionals. The designers and artists based here are very involved and are always organising exhibitions, workshops, markets or any other type of similar events. Thanks to them and people who value good design we can keep this tradition alive.
Holga: My father has been a big influence on my work. He’s also a designer, mainly working with furniture and he has always been involved with the design community of the city, taking part and working in the ADCV (Comunidad Valenciana Society of Designers) and the IDF (Institute of Design and Manufacture). I’ve been part of this world since I was little.
Andrea: My grandfather is a woodworker and he was the president of the woodworkers’ guild here in Valencia. He used to have his own business and a very big workshop. My family has always been involved with this industry and I’ve grown up with it.
Holga: Most of our friends and the people around us are also involved with the arts. At the end, the people surrounding you are who influence you the most.
Where you do you see ChairYourLife in a couple of years time?
Andrea: We don’t really like to think about the future or, at least, the very distant future. We prefer to think about the moment we’re living right now and the good things that are happening to us, enjoying and learning from them.