Radu Călin and Sebastian Mîndroiu, founders of the Romanian interior architecture firm PickTwo, started their company right after graduating from university, being one of the first in Romania to do professional interior architecture for commercial premises. The designers talked about how interior architecture has changed over the years, how technology and AI help make the life of interior architects easier, and which timeless truths of design remain true to this day.

You started your business in 2013 – how did you meet and get the business off the ground?

Radu: Sebastian and I met during the third year at the university. We became good friends and after graduation we discovered that we shared the same values. That’s how we came up with the idea of doing something professional together, so the two of us started PickTwo. We knew right from the beginning that we wanted to design commercial premises and work on projects in the hospitality and service industries. Residential spaces were immediately excluded because these projects are more subjective. Our desire was to work with commercial enterprises.

Sebastian: I would like to add that we were lucky – we had two or three projects right from the very beginning. We were fortunate to gain the trust of our customers right away, even though we just graduated from the university.

How have you developed over that time?

Radu: For the first three years, we operated alone. We developed a reputation with the first projects and kept receiving requests for cooperation. At one point, we felt like we were going to have a burn out and had to think about expanding the team. In 2015-2016, we attended management training courses and also hired the first employees. Thus, our team grew from two to about 24 people.

How has the interior architecture changed over the years?

Radu: In the beginning, our target was the service sector. This was an area where clients did not care that much about professional interior design. Therefore, we were one of the first to furnish restaurants. Now, however, almost all the spaces in Bucharest are created by professionals. In the early years, of course, there were others besides us, but now there are significantly more interior architects. I think it’s good that there is more competition – it creates value. It was in 2013 when the clients started working with architects, but now they already have experience. They know what to expect and what the process looks like. It also makes our lives easier.

Sebastian: I agree with Radu – ten years ago, 10-20 percent of service areas were designed by professionals, now it is 85-90 percent. I don’t think anyone these days would create them without the help of a designer, especially when it comes to commercial spaces.

Who are your main customers?

Sebastian: We worked in the service sector, starting with restaurants. Now that the team is larger, we can take on more projects. We also work with hotels which are the toughest projects in the industry. We have an opportunity to operate in several different fields. But we do 60-70 percent, for example, in the service sector. In addition, we have worked with offices and health facilities.

Radu: Most of the clients are local, but we also cooperate with larger international companies. We are looking for new customers from other parts of Europe and the international community. Some time ago we worked with Heineken’s industrial office. We have also done interior design projects for airports, casinos and grocery stores. Our portfolio is very diverse.

How does the interior architecture scene differ by country?

Radu: Interior architecture is influenced by culture – the environment and the people who live there. Thus, interior architecture varies from country to country. If you look at Northern Europe, you see minimalism and white tones. Southern Europeans use more details, their style is emotional and extroverted. The Balkans is a mixture of several different cultures – Western mixed with Slavic and containing Turkish influences. The design, which our customers are looking for, is very detailed and colourful.

Sebastian: The materials and textures are determined by geography – everything that is available will be used. Oak is a common material in Romania, it is one of the best materials. In the Nordic countries, on the other hand, it is pine instead.

What characterizes the style of your studio?

Radu: Starting out, we immediately decided that we don’t have a specific style – we want to create an individual solution for each client that suits them. Our style depends on the project. Of course, there are some things that we prefer on a subconscious level, but those are not the be-all end-all. We make both eclectic and minimalist spaces.

Sebastian: As our team grew, we let each designer add their own artistic vision and style to the company. But everything still mostly depends on the client’s wishes.

What about innovation when it comes to Romania?

Sebastian: On a scale of 1-10, it’s somewhere around 5 or 6. We try to use different software solutions in our work – we just started using an AI software for 3D modeling, but this program is still in its infancy. I think innovation is progressing in Romania. We try to contribute to this ourselves by using new solutions and software programs. Radu: When it comes to Romania in general, it is on an even lower scale. The price is the most important thing for most customers, but innovative solutions require money. One should consider that innovation is not cheap. There is a lot of room for development and it is affected by the economic situation in Romania. At our studio, innovation is greatly valued – it is a very important factor. We try to find new effective solutions that work faster and better.

Why is AI important in interior architecture?

Sebastian: In five years, you won’t need to do traditional 3D modeling – artificial intelligence will do the job. Currently, modeling takes up to three weeks, with a lot of preliminary work. Using AI software, we could complete it in a couple of hours. We already use some AI softwares that are still in early stages, but it makes our lives easier.

How did your cooperation with OCCO begin?

Radu: I found an online article about OCCO and read what they do. In fact, we also planned to work on something similar to OCCO’s digital platform. OCCO had the resources and time to make it happen. When we saw OCCO’s introduction video on YouTube, we had an “Aha!” moment – OCCO is a company that suits our ideas and values very well. We wrote to them and inquired about their solution.

How is your collaboration proceeding?

Radu: Since we contacted OCCO, things have been going very well. We received a quick response, and we use OCCO’s digital platform in our projects, which is extremely important for us. This helps solve our main problem of project budgeting and finding the right products. The problem was that we started to select the furniture in the client’s budget range and put together the concept, and then it turned out that we went over budget and had to start over again. However, this process takes a lot of time and energy.

OCCO’s digital platform with artificial intelligence makes searching and ordering furnishings significantly faster and more efficient for us. With AI, we can find suitable and alternative products in a second, so we can stay within the budget set by the customer.

Sebastian: We are very happy to work with OCCO and we believe they will grow even more in the coming years.

What are your future plans working with OCCO?

Sebastian: We help OCCO find contacts in Romania and do everything we can to help them grow their business. OCCO offers a solution to one of the biggest problems for designers – how to efficiently find the right products that would not exceed the client’s budget.

What’s your first project with OCCO?

Sebastian: It already happened a few months ago and is actually a very good story about how OCCO is changing the world of design. Namely, we had a project where the client requested chairs by the German designer Herman Miller. OCCO’s platform made the process easy for both us and the customer – we received the chairs with sale prices and technical files, and the whole process went very quickly.

We ordered the chairs, and the customer was very happy. This is just one example of how powerful and useful OCCO is in the world of design.

Let’s skip ahead a bit. How is interior architecture changing globally?

Radu: Most of it involves AI, but I should also add that people should focus more on materials and textures in design. Interior architecture could move towards creating more unique atmospheres, combining surreal, minimalist and natural styles.

Sebastian: When designers have access to better tools and are able to do their work faster, they can focus on design and provide people with fully thought-out, immersive experiences. Currently, the main focus is on visuals – you enter a room that shows you the colour schemes, textures and choice of materials. The next step is sound, smells and styles. Light and video projections could be used. All this can be done by reducing the time required for preliminary work by using the OCCO platform.

What is timeless in interior design?

Radu: The design of the chairs is timeless – they remain the same in the grand scheme of things. Everything else is variable.

Sebastian: Natural materials such as wood or marble are timeless. When we’re constantly seeing new synthetic materials being created, it is very important that we still use natural elements as well.

What fascinates you most about your work?

Radu: I can meet new people to learn from – it helps me grow and be creative. I can work with emotions every day, it keeps me inspired. I would also highlight our vision: “Let’s literally make dreams come true.”

Sebastian: I like that work is never boring. Every project is interesting and special.