Terrazzo is a material that brings back nostalgic and comforting childhood memories. It was often found as vibrant floors, walls, and kitchen slabs in our homes once upon a time. But little did we know that these lovely mosaic-like tiles could also be the answer to leading a more sustainable lifestyle. At IKKIVI Zine, we spoke with Soumak Mukhopadhyay, the creative mind behind our home decor label Jyamiti & Sea, about his passionate venture born during the Covid-19 lockdown revolving around the age-old technique of terrazzo.
The label name Jyamiti & Sea is so beautiful and one of a kind. We would love to know the story behind it and how the elements of nature inspire your work.
I am a Bengali from Kolkata, and 'Jyamiti' is the Bengali word for Geometry. In the brand name, the word stands for the geometry and engineering involved in our work. The 'Sea' in our name is our tribute to Goa. It also represents the fluidity, the abstractness, and the softness you will find in our designs. Together it represents a whimsical concept that aims to do away with the notion that cement is a dull, hard and cold substance.
Since your creative process deeply revolves around concrete and making elegant terrazzo home decor products and tabletops out of it, how did you decide to begin your journey using this material?
The journey started quite accidentally. I fancied a concrete planter my wife got home one day. I wanted to play around with the material and experimented with it a bit. I read about it, got my hands dirty, and found a few people who have worked on the material, and that is how our first few home decor pieces got created. Over time we started to make terrazzo tabletops and eventually got into terrazzo cast-in-situ flooring.
Most of us have had terrazzo flooring as a part of our homes in childhood. Do you have a personal story or connection with it as well? Does it remind you of any particular space that makes you feel nostalgic?
Like many of my generation, I grew up seeing what we knew as 'mosaic' floors. At that time, I had no idea that the correct term was actually 'terrazzo'. Terrazzo brings back to me the memories of my own home in Kolkata, the homes of my close relatives and friends. I have seen the terrazzo in my home from the first day of its usage, gulping down as much water as you threw on it, to its current state 30 years later. It is one material that not only withstands the test of time but also matures aesthetically. The nostalgia terrazzo evoked over time has evolved into a love for the material. Hence, its heavy usage in our work. Today, we are known largely because of our terrazzo work.
What does the process of making terrazzo look like? Are there other materials you are keen to explore in the near future?
Making terrazzo is a rather messy process, honestly. However, no one can deny that it's an interesting process. Personally, overcoming the limitations of concrete, particularly while making small home decor products, is something I find really interesting. One cannot work with cement unless one understands its limitations. One has to adapt the designs accordingly. In a way, it's a rather unforgiving material, in my experience. The leeway for errors is less. Mistakes made in the initial parts of the process are difficult to fix later.
Overall the process is: - mixing of the materials in the intended proportions -casting - curing is probably the most underrated part of the process, but one of the most important ones - polishing - sealing
As of now, I want to keep Jyamiti & Sea a strictly concrete/terrazzo brand. Yes, we work with some other materials at times, but they are just supporting materials in the overall design. I intend to keep it that way.
Can you share with us the modern ways your business revives the age-old practice of using terrazzo and how people respond to it? How does using it feel different now?
There are a lot of building materials one can find today. I often see people comparing between materials and, at times, also expecting the qualities of one in the other. Personally, I always try to explain that it's not a very good approach while selecting materials and that one should embrace the characteristics of the material while choosing, we do at times try to compensate. One of the most common examples is the usage of sealants to make terrazzo and concrete, water and stain resistant. Also, while it is difficult to make concrete crack-proof, we try to ensure that we do whatever we can to prevent its occurrence or keep it to a minimum.
As I mentioned, the terrazzo floor in my home in Kolkata would absorb the water immediately for the first few months. Over time it has naturally become water and stain resistant through years of mopping. However, today, sealants make terrazzo liquid and stain resistant from day one itself. Also, I see terrazzo making a big comeback now as a premium material. Interestingly, because this common floor material was used very little during the last several years, it is not so easy to find artisans who can make a good terrazzo floor.
The other aspect you see today is the experimentation happening with terrazzo. We got to see floors and walls made with terrazzo in our childhood. However, its usage as table tops or countertops or even as a home decor material was not something I remember seeing in my childhood. The use of different sizes of stones, materials like glass chips, and so on also were not very common in the terrazzo I remember from my childhood days.
Being an IT engineer turned professional photographer, how do your visual perspective and aesthetics help you make custom and contemporary designs?
I suppose I always had a strong sense of aesthetics. It made my switch from an IT professional to a professional photographer easier. My work in photography helped me to understand how colour and contrast work towards creating visual appeal. It is something I try to practise in my work today extensively. Also, my photography skills have helped me to present my work in a more visually appealing way. Even today, my social media posts are not just about terrazzo but also photography.
What, according to you, makes using terrazzo a sustainable practice in your business? How is it a better alternative over other materials?
We can have a good debate on whether terrazzo is a sustainable material, to begin with. I always try to look at it from its longevity point of view. If one uses things made with terrazzo over a really long period of time (that is really possible), there is definitely 'sustainability' to it. Terrazzo and concrete can outlast many other materials by a large margin. In the end, there are a lot of building materials that are available today that are sustainable. So, maybe we need to look at each material from an end-to-end perspective rather than just focusing on particular sustainability aspects.
As a business that started in lockdown, how has it shaped since then, and what’s in store for Jyamiti & Sea in the future?
Honestly, when I started Jyamiti & Sea during the first wave of Covid-19, I just intended to create unique home decor products. I am always grateful for the excitement and trust my first set of clients placed in me. They saw us through the initial days when I was most unsure about the future of what I started. They gave me hope and confidence to take the subsequent steps that led us to where we are today. They have been with us throughout my journey, and I am always grateful for their goodwill. I deeply value it.
Today, I am very optimistic about the journey ahead. We want to keep doing good and exciting work and establish ourselves firmly as experts in our field. Going forward, we want to innovate and show our clients more possibilities of this timeless material.
Do we want to be a big brand someday? Yes, of course. However, most likely not in size. Probably more as an honest brand, as a brand that is able to look after and enrich the lives of our artisans, and as a brand that is respected for the work we do. There is a long ground to cover, but we will get there. I believe our intentions are in the right place, and that should matter, shouldn't it?
Interviewer and Writer PRERNA MALHOTRA
Layout and Graphic Design VEDHIKA HV
Editor RHEA GUPTE
IKKIVI Zine is a property of IKKIVI by Founder NIVI MURTHY