Maker Monday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Pooja Pawaskar

Pooja Pawaskar is the founder and creative force behind Whirl and Whittle, a brand of handmade wooden furniture and decor items. At Whirl and Whittle, Pawaskar operates from the standpoint that imperfections are elements of beauty – her design celebrates the uniqueness of each piece of wood and, rather than trying to force the material into standard designs, utilizes each quirk. In everything from coffee tables to sculptures, Pawaskar shares this philosophy, known as wabi-sabi in Japan, of ephemerality and positive flaws. Introducing this week’s Maker Monday, Pooja Pawaskar.

Whirl and Whittle creates a variety of handmade wood items including vases and bowls.

Whirl and Whittle creates a variety of handmade wood items including vases and bowls.

Andrew Joseph: Describe your design style as if you were explaining it to someone who cannot see.
Pooja Pawaskar: I won’t necessarily say I have a style. I start with the story I want to tell and then determine which woods to use to tell that story effectively. The narrative always takes precedence over the final design. Wood is a living and moving thing, bringing a certain kind of aesthetics to the table. And I work with that aesthetic to create a piece. The final design is an outcome. For me, it’s not about the style; it’s about what emotions it can evoke for the viewer. And the result is usually quiet-looking pieces that speak loudly. Lately, I have been focusing on creating pieces that encourage viewers to respond as though they were experiencing a piece of artwork—at the same time, inviting them to use it as an everyday object.

Pawaskar’s products find beauty in natural imperfection.

Pawaskar’s products find beauty in natural imperfection.

Andrew: What would you like to be remembered for?
Pooja: I want to be remembered as someone who took the risk to follow her heart and live authentically. There is an Indian proverb that sums it up nicely, “Only dead fish go with the stream.” And I most definitely don’t want to be a dead fish.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Pooja: Powerful, impactful and elegant.

Andrew: What might the design world look like in 10 years?
Pooja: Increased attention to quality. I believe people are starting to care about sustainability and the earth. Designers are beginning to recognize the impact of their products on the environment. In the future, I see the use of sustainable and biodegradable materials in all kinds of designs.

This Imprint Coffee Table, like all Whirl and Whittle items, is designed and handmade by Pawaskar.

This Imprint Coffee Table, like all Whirl and Whittle items, is designed and handmade by Pawaskar.

Andrew: Has your mindset changed into 2021? In what ways?
Pooja: I had a significant mindset shift this year. I was saying ‘yes’ to a lot of projects that did not bring me joy. And that usually led to burnout. After reflecting, I realized that I wasn’t focusing on my long-term goal. I have now started saying ‘no’ to projects that do not bring me joy. Change is often uncomfortable. But it’s crucial for growth. I have now started looking beyond the present conditions to long-term goals and vision.

Andrew: A book that everyone should read?
Pooja: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is usually recommended to artists, but I think everyone can benefit from it. This book gave me the courage to believe in myself and start Whirl & Whittle.

Photography by Kait Labbate.

About The Maker | Pooja creates objects and furniture with the intention of celebrating impermanence and imperfection in the woods and us. Using techniques born from the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, she encourages her audience to see flaws and transience, not as negative attributes but as unique assets.

Her formal education is in architecture and furniture design; a path inspired greatly by her grandfather, who worked making wooden parts that would eventually get casted in metal and used in industrial factories in India. All of these elements have shaped her aesthetic sense and her approach to design.

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