“It’s not like we arbitrarily decide to design living rooms open to the garden because people watch less TV nowadays. It’s the needs that determine the project. We try to listen to the customer” – say Przemysław Nowak and Lech Moczulski, owners of the Mili Młodzi Ludzie studio, with whom we talk about Polish interior design and more. 


Marcin Szczelina: When did you first think of opening a studio together?

Lech Moczulski: Around the time we started to question the way designers function. We thought it was possible to do amazing things without big money. We had imagination and passion, so we figured that this would get us going.

Przemysław Nowak: Initially we worked for the same company, but Lech changed his job and began drawing plan view layouts for a developer. One day a customer asked Lech if he could do the same thing privately. As he had a lot on his plate, he sent her over to me. This is how we started: a little chit-chat, one client here, another client there. At some point we decided that we were so poor we had nothing to lose. To use a sports metaphor: we attacked from the back row. It was 2012 – I was still doing my internship at Ultra.


Why did you choose the name Mili Młodzi Ludzie (Polish for ‘nice young people’)?

PN: There’s this song by Wojtek Bąkowski called “Miły młody człowiek” (“A Nice Young Man”).

LM: To me it’s a bit of an empty phrase. I liked how it was tongue in cheek – those who knew the context would understand it was a joke, and if someone took it seriously it would still work in our favour.

PN: So we thought at the time. It seemed to us that establishing something called an “architectural studio” was too serious. You know, there’s this idea of an architect wearing a black turtleneck and rambling about how good architecture is basically using a lot of grey… We were tired of it after we’d graduated and wanted to have a name that wouldn’t urge us to stand at attention as if we were in the army or something. Design doesn’t have to be like that.

LM: We wanted to bridge the distance between our clients and us – and also between each other. When we started, we had literally no idea about running a studio. We didn’t really think about business.

PN: What clearly was a mistake was learning every single thing first-hand. Neither of us had previously worked in any big studio. We were 27 or 28 years old and it seemed to us there was nothing to wait for.

LM: I was even younger than that. An opportunity arose, so we took it and rode a wave.


How did you start? Did you work from home or go big and rent an office?

PN: At first, we worked in our own living room. Then we moved to the opposite side of the street, where the developer Lech worked for had an apartment that was difficult to sell.

LM: In the meantime, we also worked in the beautiful Villa Historica that was meticulously renovated under the supervision of a conservator. When the investor finished the shell and core work, we moved into the empty, unfinished interior with our desks.

PN: We have a garage-based business model.



Do you remember the first project you did together?

LM: I think we did our first work as Mili Młodzi Ludzie for a competition. Remember?

PN: We opened the studio because we were commissioned to design some one-bedroom apartments. However, it took a while before they were done and we could document our work. In the meantime, we took all the jobs we could. From what I remember, the first apartment we designed together was for Piotr.


When did you first feel that you gained recognition?

PN: One day – it was January, but I can’t remember the year – our work was first published on Designboom. When you’re at university you keep looking at all these publications and thinking that if you end up in Designboom, it means you’ve accomplished something. This made us realise that perhaps we’re not so bad after all.


How long did it take you to believe in yourself?

LM: That’s still an ongoing process. Desingboom wasn’t a turning point; I’d rather say it was a validation of our skills. We had thought that being featured on a page like this was a huge accomplishment, but once we were it didn’t matter so much to us anymore.

PN: We set ourselves new goals all the time. For instance, in the beginning we struggled with a negative attitude. We had a coach train us and at some point he told us to stop expressing so much negativity and say something positive for a change. From then on, we’ve introduced more structure to our process. We understood that it wasn’t merely doodling and scrupulousness was necessary. We started to think about workflow differently and decided to implement procedures. We still sometimes have issues related to self-doubt, though. 


Which project was especially important to you?

PN: I’d go with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Oslo. We got to design and travel.

LM: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did market research and chose our studio. I think we did well. It’s really not common for everyone – the designers, executors, and investors – to be satisfied at each and every stage of the project. That was a wonderland, really.


The world stopped for a moment because of the pandemic. Now things are shifting. Do you think design is going to change?


PN: No. I don’t think it should; I’m speaking for myself here, maybe Lech has a different opinion. What you’re talking about is called “corona drifting”. The pandemic, which most likely will last for roughly two years, shouldn’t change the general rules of design. The situation did give rise to preying, though – I’ve seen projects of some glass spheres that were allegedly protecting their user from the virus… But I guess such things have always happened and they don’t have any major impact on design. They might introduce some new technical solutions, but they won’t change much on the whole.

LM: There’s good and bad to everything. When people got locked in their homes because of COVID, they started to contemplate the things surrounding them. I think people could grow more design-aware and pay more attention to the objects they touch and own. I’m wondering whether this is going to make people think about their well-being more and realise that a 20 sq. m apartment is not the best space for living. Who knows, perhaps the micro-apartments market will crash – under these circumstances such properties are simply unsanitary.

PN: Studio apartments have changed the hospitality industry more drastically than the real estate market – they’ve become an alternative to hotel rooms. I think that as soon as the pandemic is over, people will start getting on planes and booking studios while traveling. Maybe public space that is particularly densely populated will be divided or separated in some way, but all in all I don’t think the pandemic will drastically change how public space is designed, especially in Poland, where there’s virtually no planning on a higher level.

LM: There are some positives, though. For instance, six months of decreased fossil fuels use is beneficial to the climate.


Have your clients changed their priorities?

LM: Hard to say – we work for different people all the time and we ourselves have changed, too. Nowadays I like stuff different to what I used to appreciate in the past. Today, individual clients tend to need space for working remotely, that’s for sure. We try to be eco-conscious and suggest sustainable solutions. “We don’t have money, so let’s buy something temporary, then get rid of it and buy something new” – this is the approach we try to oppose.

PN: Everything changes all the time, and so do we and our clients. There’s one thing that’s stable, though: what’s most important is the plan view layout. It’s our basis for the design as such, but also a tool to plan the actual human interaction with and within the space. For instance, a kitchen island allows people to stand in front of each other while cooking, which makes talking easier. You need to take these matters into account when you’re preparing the layout. Internet content makes people want to live in an aesthetically pleasing space. I think they don’t always understand that convenience is just as important – and these two things don’t always go hand in hand.

LM: Some seem to confuse interior design and scenography… 

PN: This is why the plan view layout is so crucial. It contains all the information on what the apartment is going to look like, but also how it’s going to function. Some rules don’t change. It’s not like we arbitrarily decide to design living rooms open to the garden because people watch less TV nowadays. It’s the needs that determine the project. We try to listen to the customer – first we examine what they want, and only later do we design.


What about your ideals? Do you have to give up on them?

PN: We never suggest anything that would go against the customer’s will, but if we have a solution that we believe to be better than the one they prefer, we fight for it. However, if a customer says: “This option would be more comfortable for me”, I don’t oppose them. It’s really pointless to get dramatic over a drawer. People are different and you can’t design without taking their specific needs into account. Obviously, there are some ergonomic parameters, but you can’t forget about human habits. The first thing we ask our clients is: “When you wake up, do you go to the bathroom or to the kitchen first?”. It gives us an immense amount of information that we then translate into the layout. 

LM: You can be a childish idealist or you can be a mature idealist. I think that we still hold most of our ideals, but we’re no longer naive and inexperienced. Now I know the consequences of moving a wall and seek compromise.


You have an office in Poznań and a branch in Warsaw. Right now you’re working on the design of Cukrownia Żnin hotel. This large project seems like a breakthrough.

PN: I don’t think of it as a breakthrough; it’s more of a consequence of the fact that we frequently worked in difficult spaces. We were invited to co-operate because our projects demonstrate that we have experience with pre-existing, old structures. We feel confident about our skill, so this project is a natural next step.

LM: What’s new is the terms of the cooperation. We collaborate with other parties. I like it a lot, it’s refreshing and offers a new perspective. You have someone who’ll tell you what’s safe and what’s risky.

PN: There’s one part of the project that doesn’t require us to do creative work; we have an executive role instead. Then there’s another part that has been designed solely by us. We work in much bigger teams, but we’re not against any wall – our previous experiences have helped us tremendously. It’s a big undertaking, but the chief objective isn’t different from the one we usually have: the main theme of the entire building has to be prevalent, yet you also need to pay attention to detail. This edifice – a former sugar refinery – is quite distinct, because it never functioned ceaselessly. Sugar beet processing would start in late August and end in December. This is why the building had very particular features. It had also been modified several times in the 130 years of its existence.


Most people associate Mili Młodzi Ludzie with interior design. Don’t you feel limited by this label?

LM: We have some experiences that do put a label on us, but this could change in a few months or years.

PN: Perhaps this is true, but the consistency that we’ve already mentioned also means that we’ve never been focused on flashy visualisations and making an impression. We think that what we do now is a natural step forward. When we’re done, we’ll probably photograph the effects and people will see we do other things, too. We’re pretty relaxed about it, though.


Are you saying you’re ready to enter uncharted territory and have new competitors?

LM: I don’t think in terms of ‘competition’. But if we do end up with another label, it’s no big deal.


Where do you see yourselves in a couple years? Do you have any dreams?

LM: I hope our focus, experience, and value fall on fertile ground. In other words: I wouldn’t like to fritter away our talent and invest energy into persuading someone to accept solutions they don’t really want. I’d like to have clients who’re ready for what we’re ready for.

PN: I’m totally into the physics of construction at the moment. I’d like to use this knowledge in our current projects. I myself plan to buy real estate by the river Vistula. As I’m not filthy rich, I want to build with trash – namely construction waste.


Do you dream of a world where expensive sofas are no longer a thing?

PN: If you mean valuing quality and durability above brand, at this point we openly tell clients that our task isn’t to pick a sofa for them, because anybody could do that. I know countless examples of spaces that are simply mind-blowing even though there’s literally no expensive furniture there. Recently one such project, namely Brandlhuber’s Anti-Villa in Potsdam, made a huge impression on me. The idea that expensive equals better is fading away.


However, in Poland Dorota Szelągowska and Tomasz Pągowski [Polish TV personalities known for their overnight renovations] remain symbols of interior design. We believe that a good designer is going to completely transform a house in 24 hours.

LM: Yeah, and Zenek Martyniuk [Poland’s most popular disco-polo singer] is considered an excellent vocalist. It’s a popular taste, that’s that. 


Well, but we do have more awareness when it comes to music – everybody knows Brodka and Penderecki. Still, good architecture remains somewhat more niche.

PN: You can’t create neither culture nor architecture without a background. Artists have it a bit easier as their process is faster. When it comes to architecture, creating the necessary background takes a lot of time – you need to educate the architects and the society, people should grow accustomed to well-designed space. I think that in Polish architecture the period between the 1990s and 2010 is particularly problematic. The purchasing power in Poland put us at a disadvantage – anything would go at that time. The market is a great problem of Polish architecture. It produces and therefore has to sell – it seems people often succumb to this logic. An architect’s task isn’t to create an incredible vision, but to take care of the absolutely elementary need to survive. The roof you design shouldn’t leak – and the fact that it might also look good is secondary. We don’t have many examples of well-designed spaces, so we don’t know that we can live better. Renato Rizzi, the Venice-based Italian architect, gave a lecture during his visit to Poland. He talked about the importance of the particular way the roof in Shakespearean theatre opens. An architecture student said that such a roof would leak. Even people who study architecture – the humanities of civil engineering – ask questions typical of construction workers. To design something modest, presentable, functional, appropriate, and aesthetical – this has been a really difficult task in Poland for a long time. Many architectural blunders were erected in our country – the more blunders you see, the more you get used to them and accept them. And some technologies and technical solutions had only been introduced in Poland in the 21st century, so there’s a lot to catch up on.

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