Meet the Minds – Yuna Megre

June 27, 2018
Yuna Merge

Born and raised in Russia, Yuna Megre, founder of Moscow- and Los Angeles-based interior design firm Megre Interiors, has developed not only an appreciation for a more colorful world, but also a knack to take hospitality concepts to new heights—sometimes quite literally. Employing both her business savvy and her design eye, Megre has led her firm to prominence for daring to “pair the unpairable and combine the unimaginable.” Here, she discusses how her home and travels shaped her design perspective, opening a new office in LA, and finding inspiration from the world around her.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Ever since I was a little girl my favorite toys were Lego [blocks] and any building sets. I didn’t play with Barbies as a role playing game, I created homes for them inside cabinets and cupboards, made furniture with foam, wood, and Play-Doh. Creativity was always a loved hobby in our home, but not something to look at as career path.

I first went to business school and loved it. I am very analytical, and I love understanding how things work and coming up with ways to solve problems. By the time I graduated I was longing for a creative environment, so I went into the most creative industry I could think of—advertising. I began interning and then working for Saatchi & Saatchi both in London and in Russia. It was during this time, I began to fall in love with interior design at a conscious level. My parents were building a house and I became obsessed with the process and realized that this is something I want to do. It was very scary, but I applied to the highly coveted program at Chelsea College at the University of Arts London and despite a very limited portfolio, got it.

What are some of your first memories of design?
The first time I fell in love with [design] is when I went to England. You see, post-Perestroika Russia, in which I grew up, was not a visually pleasing place then. But England, with its whimsical, highly decorative, cozy, and warm interiors was just magic to a 12-year-old girl. It was the first time I saw beauty, not in the scale or grandeur of museums and historic buildings, but in people’s homes, even if modest. It delighted me how they treasured their grandma’s cabinet and loved vintage finds, where as Russians just throw everything old out and always wanted something new. It opened my eyes to the way that beauty and comfort and aesthetic has to be integral in our lives, and that we should appreciate our past as well as look forward to our future.

Did where you grew up influence your career path? 
It did, greatly. The post-Soviet period in Russia was not exactly a place where one would consider a creative path as a means of having a sustainable lifestyle. And even more so, interior design as a profession did not really exist. Everything was done by architects. Going to school and university in England put me in an environment that allowed me to explore my creative side, to study art, to see places and spaces and be inspired. On the other hand, once I grew up and returned to Moscow after design school, there was a budding interior design market that allowed me to take an unconventional career path.

What were some of your earliest jobs as a designer?
After a two-month gig as a freelance interior decorator for a restaurant chain and falling in love with the hospitality business, I started my first company with an architect friend who had only residential interior experience. It was madness. I was 23 and she was only a couple of years older. We worked 20-hour days for a year and learned everything on our feet. After a year and a half, I created Megre Interiors. That was 10 years ago in May.

What contributed to your success?
The fact that I had no idea how everything was supposed to be done because I had no one to learn after and copy.I tried and tested, I came up with ways of doing things, I brought my corporate experience and business school knowledge to the creative process, I analyzed and organized the way I saw fit. It allowed us to become one of the most sought-after hospitality design firms in Russia within four years of operation. I still use that approach to everything I do—all my projects, all the new things we undertake. Presume you know nothing, learn everything, doubt it, test it, make it better.

Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
The brightest stars of last year for us were two projects: Ruski and Rybtorg. They could not be more different if they tried to. Ruski [in Moscow] is a magnificent 20,000-square-foot high-end restaurant, which currently holds the title of the highest restaurant in Europe. Rybtorg [also in Moscow] is a tiny 1,100-square-foot fish shop and raw bar. One had a large budget, a huge collaborative team, adequate timeframe, and the other, none of the above. But what makes them a favorite pair of mine is that we achieved great success and international acclaim with both cases. Apart from that, we completed another 10 restaurants last year, decorated two hotels in Georgia, four stores, and went into full-swing construction on an airport lounge for MasterCard. The lounge will open later this year, and will be our second for the brand. We are also currently completing construction on a boutique hotel. This year, we have also started work on several international locales including Dubai for the Mari Vanna brand (a Russian-themed concept already present in New York, London, Baku, Moscow, St. Petersburg).

What are you looking forward to now that you’ve opened an office in LA?
I have been splitting my time between Moscow and Los Angeles since my daughter was born here almost five years ago. I love living in both Europe and the U.S. because it gives me such an international outlook on the industry. Plus, it keeps me on the go. The LA office is a satellite office, with all the hustle and bustle of designing, prototyping, detailing happening  in the main Moscow office, which I am happy to say doubled in size last month when we moved into our new space.

What are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
I would say people. Things are predictable but people are not. So it’s a challenge to understand your team, your clients, your target audience. That is what design is to me, it is not curtains, chairs, tables—it is people. It is creating spaces that influence them, that tell a story, that make them feel a certain way.

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? 
If a have to single out one I would say Zaha Hadid for everything she embodied both in her work and in her story. For a designer, it will have to be Kelly Wearstler. I am in awe of the way she sees this world, the way she feels texture and color and form so complex, so deeply, so differently.

What would be your dream project and why?
I am very into my hotel work right now. I love learning, testing, questioning dogmas and norms. I have done it for 10 years in restaurant design, but here I am, as Steve Jobs said ‘hungry and foolish.’ It drives me to learn, test, and question everything in this industry. Plus, I feel it is on the verge of a change where old formats are let go and a new industry will emerge.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Elon Musk.

Where would you eat and what would you be having?
A beer and some simple food.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
Any profession where you are met with a problem and you have to work out how to get it done and create a new way, a better way, to build something, to bring something into the world.