Posted on Wednesday 28 October 2020
Stiliyana on the solace chaise chair in the Design Museum (credit Felix Speller),
A designer has donated artwork exhibited at a prestigious museum to thank St Thomas’ Hospital for the care she received when she had her child.
Stiliyana Minkovska, 30, from Kentish Town in north London, donated a collection of artwork comprising of three birthing chairs named Ultima Thule to the St Thomas’ Hospital Home from Home Birth Centre. The centre is where women with low risk pregnancies give birth.
The chairs were inspired by Stiliyana’s experiences of giving birth to her four-year-old daughter Stelena at the hospital in January 2016 and are designed to support women during childbirth.
The chairs were exhibited at the Design Museum in London earlier this year where she was recently an artist in residence.
Stiliyana said: “I live in north London but as soon as I found out I was pregnant I wanted to have the baby at St Thomas’ Hospital. I love the location of the hospital and its history. It seemed like a great place to give birth.
“I had a very easy pregnancy but my daughter was overdue so I was admitted to St Thomas’ on 31 December to be induced. I initially spent time on the maternity ward for the induction and was then taken to the Birth Centre where my waters were broken and the labour begun.
“The labour was very painful but it was a truly wonderful, awe-inspiring and cosmic experience. The midwives were very supportive and I was allowed to film the birth for my then architecture project as part of my MA Architecture degree at the Royal College of Art. When Stelena arrived I was so elated I felt like jumping up and down.
“After her arrival we were taken to the postnatal ward where I had the most beautiful view of the River Thames and the Houses of Parliament. It was truly magical. The experience changed me as a person and designer. It ignited my interest in childbirth and how women could be better supported and empowered during the process.”
The first chair, Labour Silla, supports pregnant women to find the right position during labour. The second, the Parturition Stool, consists of two face-to-face chairs to connect the mother in labour with her partner or the midwife assisting the birth. The third piece, named Solace Chaise, is a chaise lounge to support postnatal recovery and aid bonding between mother and baby. The chairs are upholstered in hardwearing vinyl and have a matt appearance.
Stiliyana said: “I became really interested in pregnancy and childbirth after my daughter’s birth and they were the subject of my thesis at the Royal College of Art, where I graduated in 2016.
“I was then accepted onto the Designers in Residence programme at the Design Museum to expand the project further. The idea behind the project was to reflect the otherworldly and cosmic experiences of giving birth. This is why I named the artwork Ultima Thule, which means “beyond the known world” in Latin. For many women, childbirth can be a very medical experience so the chairs are designed to be supportive and inspiring without the normal medical associations of labour and being in hospital.”
The Ultima Thule collection was displayed at the Design Museum from January to July this year.
The chairs are currently just for display use only at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Stiliyana added: “St Thomas’ Hospital has a very special place in my heart so once the Design Museum exhibition was over I donated the chairs to the hospital as a way of saying thank you to the wonderful team who supported me during my daughter’s birth. It is very fitting that the chairs are now in the hospital’s Birth Centre, which is where my daughter and the idea behind them were born.
“The chairs are there to inspire pregnant women and their partners and also to provoke conversations between midwives and obstetricians about how to provide even better support to women during labour. I really hope they enrich other women’s experiences of pregnancy and childbirth and that they are mass produced so that even more women can benefit from them.”
Maxine Spencer, director of midwifery at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “We are extremely grateful to Stiliyana for donating her chairs to our Home from Home Birth Centre. Her work is a wonderful addition to the centre and will provide comfort and inspiration to our patients and their families.
“Around 6,500 babies are born at St Thomas’ Hospital every year and we are committed to ensuring our patients have the best care possible during their pregnancy and baby’s delivery. We are very glad Stiliyana had a wonderful birth and it’s lovely that her positive experiences have led to the creation of her fantastic birthing chairs.”
Stiliyana is a designer and qualified architect and her work includes architectural, interior, and product design.