Sometimes a project takes a village. Sometimes all it takes is one good idea in Blijdorp.
Maarten Boomker and Sharvin Ramjan have been experimenting and redecorating their current apartment since they moved in in 2019. It took a global pandemic, however, for them to start @HappyVillageInterior, their gorgeously colour-saturated Instagram interior account with big plans.
But before the blog and the website and the lifestyle brand (more on that later), there was just Maarten and Sharvin. Both working in creative industries, they take great delight in the constantly-developing canvas that is their home in Rotterdam.
The leap from enthusiastic decorators to Instagram was a relatively simple progression.
“We like our house,” shrugs Sharvin, “so we thought we’d share it with Instagram”.
The platform shaped their work: “Instagram really just inspires our creativity, and encourages us to push our experimental boundaries”.
They admit this creativity “does mean we get bored quickly”. When I speak to them, their living room boasts a glorious, think Monica-and-Rachel’s-apartment purple that is only two weeks old.
Before that, it was brown, a neutral for the winter months that just didn’t stick- “neutral’s not for us”, Sharvin laughs, “we’re not neutral people”, that in turn replaced a jewel-toned red that features in many of their early posts.
The pace of their creativity is breathtaking- they tell me that even just one year on, they look back at their early posts and think their house looks “just, like, so empty!”
They tell me it was difficult to find the right colour- Maarten describes their search for “something bright, something fresh”. The Happy pair exist on a specularly accelerated timescale: they shamefacedly admit choosing their purple shade was a difficult process in the same breath as they say the entire process only took a week.
This feeling of broad scale, of running even before they can walk, permeates much of their conversation. Their Instagram is scarcely a year old, and they’re considering websites, a physical store, and discussing the ethical ramifications of selling merchandise.
Even their design philosophy “comes and goes”, as Maarten puts it. “Everything needs to fit, have its place”, but beyond that, it proves a difficult lightning for them to bottle. After much thought, Sharvin decides it’s “bright colours, plants, full but balanced”.
This is their first project together in their four-year relationship- and decorating one’s own home can hardly be the easiest place to start. That being said, working in tandem has proved very useful, not least because “one of us can spot the thing that’s missing”.
Maarten describes himself as needing minimalist, “clean” spaces, whilst Sharvin is more of a maximalist. This translates into a space that is “full”-a word both of them return to frequently throughout the interview- without feeling cluttered or overwhelmed.
This idea of a carefully controlled space leads us almost by accident at their curatorial choices. For the Happy Village, their choice of four pieces were made largely independently, and yet still find a way to be interlinked.
Both A La Mode and Disguise speak to the eccentricity of Happy Village, the colourfulness and playfulness inherent in their designs. Sharvin says of A La Mode it is the “classic setting” that attracted him. The same could be said of Disguise, with both images featuring traditional settings with figures very much at odds with their surroundings (an idea not dissimilar to Happy Village’s own design philosophy).
From the in-your-face to the faceless, both Lifeguards and Found feature figures with their back to the camera. Entertainingly, Sharvin is simultaneously convincing me of his Found choice over the phone as he is convincing Maarten in the room- after listening to his justification, Maarten is graciously willing to concede that it was a good choice.
For Sharvin (and now also Maarten), it was the “mystery” of the image that drew him in, describing it as “idyllic, but also mysterious and dramatic”. The cinematic aspect (the film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is enthusiastically name dropped by both interview-ee and -er) is mirrored for the duo in Lifeguards, where Maarten takes the lead.
Color is once again important for him, but in a more subdued manner: the grey contrasts with the pastels and the gradient of the sky. The contrasts of colour work together with the contrasts of harsh sand and soft textile.
And, to take it deeper, both the duo mention the idea of “fitting into the norm”. The presence of women in headscarves in Lifeguards, and the concept of male longing in Found, both feed very much into their desire to fight against media stereotypes.
As with their entire design process, their curatorial choices are very much a joint endeavour. As to what’s next for the duo? I hear concept store, I hear website, I infer global design domination. Whatever shape it takes, don’t expect it to be neutral.