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Inspiration sometimes comes from unexpected places. Two young Israeli designers, Michal Gherman and Hila Ben-Yaakov, found it in Milan.
"We always knew we would come back home and begin designing here in Israel," says Ben-Yaakov, "but studying and working abroad was an amazing life experience that gave us a chance to learn a huge amount and take in another culture."
Carefully opening an elegant black portfolio with a myriad of designs, Gherman explains that it took a lot of courage to leave Ascola-Meimad College of Design in Tel Aviv, and it was a major challenge to apply for design schools in Italy because of the language and distance.
"We had a teacher who had studied in Italy, and that helped us make the decision to leave Tel Aviv in the middle of our degrees and move to Italy," says Gherman, whose alabaster skin and dark ringlets make her look far younger than her twenty-nine years. One year ahead of Ben-Yaakov in her studies, she was the first of the pair to leave for Italy in 2001.
"I don't know if I can say I always wanted to be a designer, but art and history were a big part of my childhood and I always liked furniture," says Gherman, who lived in Omer until the age of eighteen, when she moved to Tel Aviv to serve in the army and then went on to enroll in the Ascola-Meimad College of Design. Gherman's maternal grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor and opened an art gallery in Germany before making aliya, introduced her to art.
"When I was growing up, my grandfather used to show me the paintings he had brought with him and discuss art with me, and my Mom teaches history at Ben-Gurion University, so these were big influences in my life," says Gherman.
After finishing her masters at the Scuola Politecnica di Design (SPD), Gherman worked for one year as an intern at Paolo Deganello's Architecture & Design studio in Milan. "I remember studying his work as a student in Israel, so to be in his studio a few years later learning directly from him was very exciting," she says.
Ben-Yaakov, who also studied in Milan, enrolled at the No sis Academia Italiana di Creativit e Design and the Instituto Europeo di Design. She worked with the Artplay Factory studio in conjunction with artistdesigner Angela Ardisson making hand-made items and designing interior spaces.
"During my time at the Artplay Factory studio, I worked on interior and product design projects for the GREVI store in Florence and the Henry Beguelin store in New York," says Ben-Yaakov. "It was a good experience and the first time I had to put into practice what I had learned in school and turn ideas into reality."
BY 2004, the pair had both completed their masters degrees and returned to Israel. They decided to start a freelance design business together, and today they conceptualize, produce and sell their work all over Israel and abroad.
"First and foremost, we are friends. We trust each other and we are willing to learn from each other too," says Ben-Yaakov, "all of which is critical to both our business collaborations and our friendship."
Unwilling to limit their style by giving it a label, Gherman and Ben-Yaakov say they like minimalism and simplicity but each product accents different genres. As two examples of joint ventures, they point to the chic, contemporary chairs they designed for the Shachor ve Lavan store in Israel and some interior cushions decorated with insects.
"The cushions have a blanket inside one compartment that can be pulled out through a hole in the center or stored inside, and we chose the insect theme because we liked the idea of bringing animals that normally remain outside and putting them inside," says Gherman.
The ironic twist of having large flies on the sofa illustrates what Ben-Yaakov means when she says that giving daily objects a twist can emphasize their diversity.
"We are never allowed to forget that people are using the objects we design, so they have to be both functional and interesting," says Gherman, who adds that the importance of the smallest details should never be underestimated.
This spring, the design duo attended a furniture expo in Milan, and they hope to expand their international work and participate in more exhibitions in the future.
Aside from learning Italian, their years in Italy provided an invaluable learning experience that gave them a desire to discover the world in order to broaden their horizons at home.
"It's very important for designers to explore other places," says Gherman. "It opens up endless possibilities and keeps life interesting."
For more information, contact Michal Gherman and Hila Ben-Yaakov at firstname.lastname@example.org.