New East Digital Archive

Ivan Mitin: the man rethinking leisure, from pay-per-minute cafes to cottages in the woods

Mitin takes the pay-per-minute idea that founded Ziferblat and transposes it into Russia’s best-loved leisure institution: the dacha

6 December 2017

“The Soviets destroyed the old world, but kept the dacha,” writes Dasha Shkurpela in her essay dedicated to the “Russian cottage”. Deriving from the Russian verb dat (to give), the dacha has been central to Russian life since Tsarist times, when it represented land given by the state to its loyal servants. Epitomising leisure, pleasure and enjoyment, the dacha managed to survive Soviet times and remains intrinsic to community life in Russia today.

Thanks in part to the world’s growing infatuation with conscious living — a concept that embraces everything from what you eat for breakfast to the holidays you go on — the dacha has enjoyed something of a rebirth, eschewing the quaint familial association of the past to become the go-to destination for a new generation of urbanites looking to kick back and escape the chaos of metropolitan living. Ivan Mitin is one of the main reasons for the dacha’s lurch towards cool. A Moscow-based entrepreneur, Mitin is probably best known for opening London’s wildly popular pay-per-minute cafe Ziferblat in Shoreditch — the city’s first cafe based on the concept of paying for time rather than products. More than just a purveyor of tea and coffee, Ziferblat hosts informal educational lectures, amateur performances and an array of study and leisure events accessible at an affordable price. It became a DIY co-working location that gave space to a whole new generation of open-minded creatives to meet and work together. Ziferblat became so successful that Mitin has opened branches in Prague as well as across several Russian cities.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance in Mitin’s catalogue of projects is his most recent experiment, Bolotov Dacha, which takes the idea that founded Ziferblat and transposes it into Russia’s best-loved leisure institution. Bolotov Dacha is a kind of resort in the small village of Dvotyaninovo, south-east of Moscow, that comes complete with a group of guest houses, co-working stations and an eco-farm sitting next to a wild forest, all centred around the site’s focal point: a wooden-panelled building painted the blue and white typical of Soviet-era dachas.

Embracing the global trends of conscious living, farming, communal responsibility, eco-friendly living and lifetime learning, Bolotov Dacha has so far been a roaring success, attracting Muscovites throughout the warm summers and biting winters (cross-country skiing is also on offer). The dacha engages actively with the local community, with residents of the area bringin their own farmers’ goods, pickles and homemade vodka (known as samogon) to sell. The farming cooperative has already grown to include 30 local farmers who are responsible for providing quality goods for the dacha.

What might have seemed utopian for many has become a lived reality for Mitin and his partners, who aim to turn the dacha into a “village of the future”: a wild yet comfortable oasis in the middle of Russia, with 100 houses in the pipeline to be built near the dacha next year.

Text: Nadia Beard and Masha Borodacheva
Image: Ivan Mitin, Sasha Introligator, Bolotov Dacha/Vkontakte