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Success stories / The colourful characters behind Studio ROOF

The colourful characters behind Studio ROOF

Published on 1 May 2021 Share

Studio ROOF - The Story Behind - Maison&Objet - illustration © Sarah Bouillaud

Romy and Ilya are eternal children. Their vibrant creations sprinkle walls with imagination and fun.

In Amsterdam, the windows of Studio ROOF look out over a quiet little square with a pretty fountain and bicycles parked at the foot of old buildings in the Dutch capital’s typical brickwork. Romy has repainted the walls in pale pink and Klein blue. It is in this warm and rather bohemian atmosphere that the seven members of her team design and sell the playful multi-coloured characters that will brighten the walls of their customers’ homes. Sixteen years ago, Romy and her husband Ilya created a cardboard house for children, all in white, assembled by folding and fitting it together. Kids could paint anything they wanted on it and play inside it for hours. Imagination and play: the basic values that would become the pillars of their future business were already evident in the couple’s first creation. 

At the time, Romy was working in communications and Ilya was an architect. They had met a few years previously, when Romy travelled from the Netherlands to Moscow to study Russian literature and fell for the architecture student’s Slavic charms. The quirky little house, Casa Cabana, started as no more than an impromptu experiment but it wasn’t long before the media embraced it and made it a viral sensation. The couple then created Kidsonroof, selling cardboard objects which children could build by themselves, in their own way, to develop their creativity. 

Ilya creates the designs, while Romy adds bright and subtle colours. They are both inspired by an imagined nature, inhabited by shimmering exotic birds, beetles, butterflies and flowers. Their raw material, cardboard, allows endless possibilities. The initial concept was designed for children (Romy and Ilya have three). Over time, the couple broadened their range to include decor items for the entire home and Kidsonroof became Studio ROOF. “There is no age limit on imagination or playfulness,” says Romy, “They are the key to life.” Nowadays, their catalogue includes huge leaves to adorn tables and walls, jungle animals, stylish ethnic masks in contemporary colours, mobiles, exotic fishes and stylised seaweed. 

“We want to be as eco-friendly as possible.”

Ilya and Romy own a little holiday cabin in the south of France with no running water or electricity; they particularly enjoy bathing in the area’s wild waterfalls. “Ilya is Russian and spent his childhood holidays in remote dachas. He is afraid of nothing!” laughs Romy. As they take their inspiration from nature, they also give back generously. Every creation is made from recycled cardboard and coloured with plant-based inks by fully certified printers. They support the Dutch charity Trees for All, which has planted five million trees to date, and restored 32 forests worldwide. “We want to be as eco-friendly as possible,” says Romy. She supports the NGO Karm Marg, which provides education to young children and teenagers in India. The couple prefer to travel by train but if they have to fly, they pay for carbon offsets – essential when they fly to international trade shows in Asia and the US. They are also regulars at Maison&Objet Paris, which they attend twice a year. “We can’t wait to go back. I really miss the atmosphere,” says Romy, “and the contact with our customers and the other exhibitors from all over the world, some of whom have become friends. It’s always a special time when we go out to eat together in Paris and talk about our experiences and support each other.”

Romy speaks French and has formed special relationships with local distributors. “The French are particularly open to poetry,” she says. Their little stand, originally covering only six square metres, has certainly grown. For them, success came instantly. Their products are now sold worldwide and are especially popular in museum gift shops. One day, Pascale Mussard, then artistic co-director of the Hermès label, came looking for them in Amsterdam. She invited them to be part of her petit h collection of unique pieces made from offcuts and remainders of exclusive materials used in Hermès workshops. Together, they have designed chandeliers in crocodile and snake leather, horses and deer in saddle stitched leather, and birds made from pieces of porcelain, attached by a cord made from silk, normally used for ties. Like Romy and Ilya, the major international luxury brand realised that imagination and playfulness are not limited by either age or borders. 

By Caroline Tossan
Illustration ©Sarah Bouillaud

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