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Studio Visit: Aliki Kirmitsi

The London-based set designer on her process, inspiration and letting ideas have lives of their own

by Emily Millett
on 20 January 2014
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There is a tangibly refined and almost childlike simplicity about Cyprus-born, London-based set designer Aliki Kirmitsi’s images. Her goal—when approaching any project—is to, "create a space that is balanced and carries an element of surprise, weaving stories of space through the visual medium.” Quick to shy away from mess or unorganized chaos on her sets, in life Kirmitsi is a quintessentially fun-loving, happy-go-lucky free spirit. Always up for an adventure: Be it climbing through windows of abandoned buildings, to shooting in forests under the pouring rain. We met up with the artist who will stop at nothing to get the perfect image.

Brought up in a family composed of an actor, a painter, a fashion designer, a writer, a mechanical engineer and a “very crafty grandmother,” Kirmitsi was always destined for a career in the creative realm. After studying spatial design in London, she went on to work as an art director for film and TV, before finding her niche as a freelance set designer; conceiving and overseeing the implementation of large and small-scale sets, created for photography and film shoots.

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Describing her early experiences as “a great learning period and the basis of my training on how to view space through a lens,” Kirmitsi claims to have maintained a similar approach to her work as her focus moved from film to print. “In film no object or character casually appears in the story or set. For everything there is a reason of being. I try as much as possible to keep to that in my sets today,” she explains. “I want things and their placement within a space to make sense. I feel that they each have a character to play in the set—it is just a matter of finding it. At times the result is very structured and at other times, a bit less structured.”

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Boasting a wide and varied client list which includes brands like Sony, Vodaphone and Coca Cola as well as print publications such as Elle, The Sunday Times and The Guardian, Kirmitsi's spacial design projects have also seen her creating the concepts for the interiors of hotels, restaurants and cafés, and overseeing the photography for a craft book. “I have been mostly lucky, having had lovely clients that have allowed me a lot of creative freedom,” says Kirmitsi. The best patrons are those with a sense of humor and fun, she says, who know what they want but are flexible enough to allow breathing space for artistic license. “It always depends on the relationship between client and designer,” explains Kirmitsi. “I get the brief and sometimes images will instantly flash into my head; in this way the set gets born in seconds. At other times my mind might go blank. I have learned not to let that worry me. I give ‘it’ some space to breathe and it will grow.”

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With anything from sounds, words, colors or shadows forming the simple triggers that can then flourish into ideas, it is this surrender to the organic and natural flow of her creativity that gives her work a serene sense of balanced harmony. And Kirmitsi maintains a character and quirky quality that is uniquely her own. "In the process of making it, [the set] comes to life. The set has a life of its own. Aspects of it change and things just need to go where they are supposed to. I am but the hand that carries them."

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Citing the likes of geometric abstract art pioneer Kazimir Malevich, to photographer Carl Kleiner amongst her inspirations, Kirmitsi consciously uses her external influences and interests to help her develop and evolve as an artist. “When something is of interest to you, then you will grow from it. My work evolves parallel to my inspiration stimulants; initially I would draw inspiration from the industry, therefore my work was based on what was out there. These days I get inspired by sculpture and art; a lot of 1920s paintings—also raw materials and at times philosophy.”

Emanating the laid-back quietude that accompanies many a passionate creator, seemingly so at peace in the innate knowledge that they are doing what they love, Kirmitsi has a very different image of herself in the future: Selling spicy lentil soup from a food van at the beach. “There are days when I feel that I am getting paid to play [with] Lego," she tells CH. “I love the constant flux of people, spaces, inspiration and learning moments. But happiness comes in salt water and if I could be anywhere right now, it would be my favorite surf spot back home riding with my friends.”

Images courtesy of Aliki Kirmitsi

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