Piotr Kalinowski Interview: Redesigning ourselves with every project

Redesigning ourselves with every project

Piotr Kalinowski, the owner of a young and fresh studio MIXD, shares with us his 5 ingredients of success and discusses the significance of following your own path without taking shortcuts.



Piotr, please tell me a few words about yourself and your company, MIXD.

Piotr Kalinowski: My name is Piotr Kalinowski. I am the CEO and co-founder of the company MIXD from Wrocław, Poland. We design interior experiences in hospitality, workplace, offices and retail. We are a company that understands that interior design and experience design should work together.

Why is that different from the competition? Because we think that interior design is not enough for today’s world. That’s why we started to rethink the strategy behind the design and came up with an idea that, since the design itself has been copied over and over and designs are made similar to each other, MIXD doesn’t want to follow this path. So we have developed a process and also an idea that we actually need to focus on experience first, which means we need to put some questions first before we do the actual interior design. That’s why we say we design interior experiences because we want to focus on what people feel, on what people recognize, how they share interior spaces, and how they actually use the space – this is our driver for interior design. So first of all, we start with very heavy research work and after that we do it through design. We do not confuse those things. Experience is the most important thing about our work.


Intive office Wrocław, by MIXD, photo: Studio Pion, Mariola Żołądź Photography


What MIXD design strategy is all about?

In MIXD we are bored with interior design that is repetitive so we want to make every project different. We want to redesign ourselves with every project. We want to discover the unique style and unique story behind a specific location, a specific client. So that’s why we research and that’s why we try to break the status quo of design and interior design. That’s why we want to inspire others to choose us for their project. And that’s why we hire people to work with us not for us.

When we started the MIXD Studio we wanted to create something different. That’s why we have created Five Pillars of design.

The first one is disruption. We were inspired by TBWA marketing  company – they have developed a strategy called disruption and it starts with questioning everything you know. What it does, is leading you to a valuable uniqueness and unique product. Disruption breaks things into parts and you can actually see them very clearly and you can make decisions based on that.

The second one, connected to disruption, is the process. Our process is called design cycles, and it’s based on agile methodology. Before I started the company, everyone was saying that it doesn’t work in interior design. I was travelling to New York, and I visited the company called Kickstarter – they showed me around their office and they told me some things and I wanted to know more about agile. They told me that I was the first person that asked how agile could work with interior design. They advised me just to try it and I was really taken by a methodology based on the idea that you can work in a flexible way, you can put your clients and their goals first, and also that you should be creating effective documentation. The documentation is not a work of art and it doesn’t need to be spread in endless fields of work – you need to effectively cut what is not important. So the effectiveness creates more space and more time for you.

You won’t be able to design different things if you base your work on a visionary approach. If you’re a visionary – all right, you can be a visionary! But you need to let people in on your vision and that’s what the process is for – it’s a tool to let people in on the vision so they can work with you.

And also the story is very important to make good projects. Everything today is a story – if you create a unique story, if you discover the story from the client perspective for example in hospitality, in their work, in their location or in your idea or your vision of the location, something very engaging, then you can create a Netflix story for your own project. Basically, if you can do a series of videos about your project and tell interesting things about it, the project will be good. It will be because you put life into it and created something that is timeless. If you do something that is just a copy of the pictures from Pinterest and because you wanted to make it quickly, the project won’t last long. It won’t be valuable. But if it has the layering inside: you have the second meaning and the third meaning and all the details also contain the meaning, the project will be timeless. It’s so simple and so difficult.

The fourth element, authenticity, is quite crucial, because when it lies within yourself, it brings a unique value. If you want to be yourself and find your own path and your own vision for a project, and even your entire company, and if you want to win the competition, you want to ask yourself important questions. You need to be authentic. If you are authentic people will discover you and it’s very important and quite hard to maintain. It is a lot of work behind that is not connected with your design. You need to be very self-aware and open and have the guts to say it out loud to your client or maybe to yourself even, and then follow it. But if you are an authentic person, if you live your life the way you want to live, things will happen and you will discover a lot of things.

The final significant element is nostalgia, a process which creates good memories from the past so that you can use it in your projects as well. Nowadays the 90’s & 80’s are a great source of inspiration, containing things that aren’t online yet – people scan images from old newspapers and put it online on Instagram because they seem fresh. People remember things, and through that process they transform it at the same time, which makes it a creative activity. People like to discover those nostalgic things, so using those elements in projects is very engaging. That’s why people smile when they see cassettes or old iMacs and PCs, or some kind of old music from the 80’s – people discover this right now, but in time they will discover things that were super important for them in 2000-2010 and maybe even three weeks ago.

Those are five ingredients. If you combine them, you have MIXD.


Resort Hotel, concept by MIXD


You mentioned that your design process differs from the standard one. Could you describe it?

In MIXD we have developed our own design process, which is based on an agile methodology of being flexible, putting your client first and preparing effective design documentation.

What makes it different from the other practices? We usually build experience design first. So that’s the first phase of the design. It’s not the concept work. It’s an experience work. So we build a foundation for every other design decision and that’s different. We want to paint the big picture first and we have time for that and we must reserve time for that. Nowadays design needs to be quick and needs to be effective. It’s not those times that you have three years for design. You need to be flexible as the clients have their own goals. So we need to go along with them.

The second phase is the concept project but we build it connected to the experience design. And also we do it in cycles. And that’s why we have called the process design cycles. Why cycles? Because agile methodology says that you need to improve the documentation, the design and the concept with every cycle, and you go from general schemes into the details.

Then you consult it after each sprint, which is every two or three weeks. So after two or three weeks we show the work to our client. Maybe it’s not the finished project. Maybe it’s some kind of movie or a bunch of images. Sometimes it’s just a conversation, but the client always gives his feedback and we make sure that we listen and learn a lot of information from it – the client needs to have this feeling that he’s the co-author of this project.

Again, you need to be authentic to handle the feedback of the client. It’s not that you cannot argue with him or say that your opinion is different, but if you let him, he can give you valuable feedback and he can tell you so many important things that you won’t discover by yourself. And this is very important to know, especially for young designers, that the client is not your enemy and agile is saying that. As I mentioned, the methodology originates from the IT world, where you do software work, so it needs to work but it needs to work fast. So if you let your client in, he will give you great value and if you can discover it, if you can listen to it, you can bring it to the project and transform it into the design because you are a design specialist, you know how to design things. That’s your profession, not his. He wants to have the work done.

Ibis Styles, Sarajevo by MIXD, photo: Studio Pion


And then, after every sprint, we do even more detailed work. This approach results in the fact that when we finish the design, it is almost always accepted by the client. Interior designers usually work according to certain schemes where they work by themselves on everything and then show the final product to the client. And the clients often say that that’s not what they wanted. Nowadays clients are very creative, for instance baristas. Everyone has instagram now, pictures and so they often have their own visions of their own homes, their own hotels, workplaces. So in the process you want to take into consideration that they have their own vision and dreams, and you need to bring it to life using your own craft experience. That’s your job. They are not people without any vision. Sometimes it happens, but usually it’s like – I have this idea how to make it happen. What’s yours? And you need a process to be clashed with that. And this is a concept work and after that there’s a design documentation schematic design, but also you have the cycles and you act in some kind of phases.You don’t deliver everything, you don’t throw everything at the client and expect that he will be okay with it. You need to deliver some parts and get feedback, and then some more parts and feedback. You also need to be transparent with the client, tell him what you do, when will you deliver the next step.


What the studies didn’t teach you?

I finished five years of studies of architecture – mostly building, not interior design. My studies weren’t that good – I mentioned that a lot in my other interviews..

What I did not learn in college and my studies? I did not learn how to work in groups. They also didn’t teach me how to start my own company as an architect, which is very important. Usually architects are also project managers. They need to have the business skills but there’s no topic about business in our studies. So I needed to figure out those things by myself, but the most important thing was the curiosity for design, curiosity for work. The studies and the teachers weren’t passionate enough to show me that architecture is a cool thing to do. How to become a good architect, how to be yourself, how to believe in your projects, what’s the process – nobody teaches you that. Usually, when you start to design things in the first or second year your designs are very bad. Really bad! That is because you cannot design everything well in the first year. And if they are bad, those teachers should show that actually it’s a process of learning and they need to be bad, because you learn from your mistakes. That’s the usual process. But during the studies you just receive this opinion that it’s bad and it’s over – nobody discusses it with you and even if it’s good there’s still no discussion. There’s a lack of discussion of projects and problems of young architects. It’s not preparing for future work or for future doubts. So studies only teach certain craft aspects which nowadays can be found on the internet because they do not teach you the process, they do not teach you the business skills, presentation skills.


What was the biggest lesson that you got from the cooperation with Marlena Wolnik?

During my studies I travelled to Ireland. I went to Dublin to work as an architect and I was hired by a company and put into the team of Marlena Wolnik. She is a famous Polish architect who co-founded KWK Promes with Robert Konieczny – a very heavily awarded studio.I was hired as her intern, her assistant in the Dublin studio. And this was the first time after three years of college that I discovered that architecture can be fun! She showed me that you can work because you like to. I was observing her working and she was having fun.

There was something very special in her craft – she was doing contextual architecture. Nowadays it’s quite usual – young practices always throw those small sketches showing where the sun goes, and how you could cut this element of the building, and you can rotate it. And this is genius. But the process of looking for a right solution, for the context of architecture – she had this included in every project. I haven’t heard about it before so she told me that actually looking for the right solution in the project is a matter of process. The context and in the interior design I have translated into the process of agile approach, the story, the authenticity, disruption and everything else, but the fact that architecture is looking for the concepts of sun location, situation, slope, everything – that was so important. For me there’s something behind it and she was having fun with it. Later, I came back to study in the fourth year. And since then I had only good grades on the design courses because I was using this process. My teachers were very impressed but they didn’t know that actually I was learning something outside of the studies.


Foodstacja, Wrocław by MIXD, photo: Studio Pion, Mariola Żołądź Photography


Are architecture competitions a good way to start your career?

 They are a good idea as a learning process for doing our designs right after the studies, or during the studies. First of all you do interesting designs. Second thing, you can fail miserably in the process and learn.You need constructive feedback, whether it comes from the judges or your friend. Ask them, what would they do differently. Verify what projects have won and why, so you can compare your work to the competition and you can see different approaches. Competitions are also a fun thing to do in a team, so you can learn teamwork.


Do you remember your first competition?

Oh, I remember very well. My first official competition was during the first year of MA studies and I failed miserably. My father was a certified architect at the time so he invited me to do concept design for the Modern Art Museum. I did a lot of concepts, but he told me that they were too experimental so we did something very safe. The safe project wasn’t very bad but it wasn’t good either. Still, we submitted it for the competition and it didn’t win anything. However, I remember the stress, the heavy hours that we put into it. I remember the questions that I needed to answer. I had to handle my stress, my work and had to ask myself questions and make decisions on time so I got the sense of the process that you do every day in the work.


What benefits do the competitions bring?

You can win money (laugh). It sounds silly but for the first time you can make some money off architecture, which is not as easy as it seems. Secondly, you can win something much more valuable – you can win recognition. You can win an internship in a practice to work with someone else. You may gain a good project for your portfolio, which may come handy when you will be applying for jobs. In the interview your future supervisor will ask you questions about it, and that gives you a chance to say something interesting about your work, your process, your vision, your authenticity. You can build on that if you have nothing else. Also, competition is usually more interesting than your classes.


Is it worth opening your own studio right after the studies or should you first try to work for someone else?

When I finished the studies I asked myself a question: should I start my own company or should I work for someone else? And I asked my mentor at this time, Marlena Wolnik, this question because she was a successful architect. She told me something that I will remember my whole life: “You will be making mistakes because you’re not experienced. If you can handle the responsibility that comes with them and take account for them, go with your own company. If you want to make mistakes on someone else’s credit, i.e. your boss, someone’s company, just go and learn under someone.”



Foodstacja, Wrocław by MIXD, photo: Studio Pion, Mariola Żołądź Photography


How do you get new clients? As a quite new company on the market, you already work internationally. How to attract your first client?

MIXD is a young studio. This is our third year of work. We have already hired around 15 architects. And we run approximately 10 or dozen projects at the same time. How to get your first client is a very important question because it’s the toughest part. Yet, it’s a crucial part in starting your own company. I could go on and on about it!

First of all, you need to know what you want to do. You need to narrow down your clients. You cannot see yourself as an architect of everything. For example, for me it’s hotels – this is my priority. I also like to do offices and retail. So I focused on three elements. Of course, I was working before that in these fields. It wasn’t like I came straight from studies, although I believe it is possible.

Secondly – you need to work your ass off. You need to research: where your clients are located, who are the decision makers. You need to go into social media, you need to discover those guys. You need to know everything about the companies you want to work with. You need to do all the research about certain markets and then you will discover the people that are responsible for choosing the designers. It takes two weeks of work, maybe one month of research. You need to call, you need to get in touch, go to conferences, you need to approach them. You need to create some value behind yourself. You need to create your brand as well.


How does the presence of social media impact architecture and the way we design?

Social media’s impact on our lives and design is huge and, as I said already, when I started the company, I had this idea that I should use it somehow to help me with running the company. However, I didn’t expect that to be so effective. They say that social media accelerates your message. It’s not changing the world. It’s not changing anything. It’s just an empty pipe that is filled with people’s opinions and people’s stories but I put a little ingredient in it and it had a huge impact on our work and in our growth. And I think it was a great decision to have the social media presence from the very beginning and to use it very very often. People usually are shy or are not ready to use social media right. They just share pictures from their private life or pictures of their friends. And that’s fine. That’s okay. But if you run a business you can say things that are actually important to you, you can document your work, you can put out a lot of content and it will make people follow you and  follow your passion. That is if you have it of course! They see what you do and they want to be involved in it somehow. So social media is a major element of MIXD – we are a company that uses and will develop its social media further. We want to use it to share our ideas, our projects and our designs. We want to connect with new clients and friends.


In what way should the young architects use social media? How did the social media change the role of modern-world architects?

Young architects should jump on social media as soon as possible and use it as heavily as possible, in my opinion. They should showcase their work. They should showcase their approach, their story, their background or even their travel pics and their inspiration. They should show a narrative, a kind of story, not just a picture under a nice building they’ve just seen. It should be clear why you chose those pictures, what’s behind it. You want to show people what’s behind it! Why is it interesting for you? People want to know if they will see you and this professional perspective. They will want to follow you and want to engage with you if you’re good and if you will bring value to their lives. And it should be professional. I don’t share so much about my private life unless the private life connects with the professional bit. But I don’t show my every private moment. Young architects should decide what’s their strategy for social media but they definitely should use it.

Piotr Kalinowski

CEO and creative director of the MIXD studio from Wrocław. Interior designer, known for his work on hospitality spaces, offices and retail facilities. For many years, he has been designing interiors for brands such as Novotel, Mercure, Hilton, MGallery or ibis Styles, but also for boutique hotels and restaurants, and dynamic startups such as intive or Codelab. Together with his design team he has won the International Property Award 2016/2017, International Property Award 2019/2020, Silver Medal A’Design Award, Honorable Mention IDA Award, BIG SEE 2020 Award and other awards, honorable mentions and nominations; a finalist of the Hospitality Design Award 2020 competition. A speaker at many conferences related to the industry, interior and furnishing design, including Warsaw Home, Łódź Design Festival, 4 Design Days, Hotel Trends Poland & CEE, Hotel Meeting. An active Instagram user, where he reports on his travels, designer inspirations, shows interesting public interiors and the daily work of MIXD.





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Categories: Articles
Date: May 10, 2024