Chris Chafin contemplates a trio of designers making old-fashioned look brand new

Sunday Styles

By Chris Chafin

Against our best intentions, some of us have personalities. As much as we know how chic it is to surround ourselves with glass and polished walnut and low-slung, leather chairs, how a house full of nothing is so much more luxe than a house full of things, we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to objects that have a human touch—that connect us to our pasts and inspire a tactile, emotional response. What can we say? We’re only human.

Often, these looks—lacy weaves, floral prints, vibrant embroideries—are written off with a single word: grandma. Really, though, pegging these styles on bygone generations completely misses the mark. I don’t think I’m the only person whose actual grandmother didn’t own anything like these supposedly “granny” artifacts. What’s secretly appealing about these pieces is they engage the viewer at the most fundamental level; your most honest self. When you wake up late on a weekend morning, cradle a cup of coffee, and just want something that’s totally you. Call it Sunday Styles.

Thankfully, there’s an artful way to scratch this itch. An emerging group of designers are making beautiful, thoughtful pieces that incorporate quilted patterns, sprays of dusty roses, and hand-sewn details that offer a simultaneously refined and indulgent Sunday morning vibe.

Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri of Bokja Design Photo © Bokja Design
Lebanon’s Bokja Designs, for example, uses patch-worked bold and bright Uzbek fabric called suzani to make the Opium Daybed , which looks perfect for lounging about in an oblique ray of sunshine. Indeed, sunlight is something Bokja’s Beirut studio has plenty of: on a recent morning, founders Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri were happily showing a guest their crowded inspiration boards, radiant white walls, and even a vintage British-style pram parked against one wall.

“When Bokja began, minimalism was the order of the day,” the pair tells me later. “We found that embroideries, knits, and woven items weren’t very popular, but we loved them and wanted to breathe new life into these crafts. Over the last decade, we have seen many designers exploring this aesthetic as well, and eventually it has become a movement in its own right.”

Their studio takes its name from a particular cultural practice. A bokja is an embroidered piece of fabric used to wrap gifts to women during the most momentous chapters of their lives: birth, marriage, and death. “In the Levant, every one of us has a piece of bokja,” Baroudi and Hibri say. “We have linens handed down from our grandmothers, each precious and with its own story. Our traditions are an inspiration for us, and our desire is to revive and push them forward in unexpected ways.”

Yukiko Nagai on her Panchina Bench Photo © Yukiko Nagai
Japan-born, Italy-based designer Yukiko Nagai sees a similar connection to the past in her work. “Maybe what appeals to young people about styles usually associated with grandmas,” she says, “is a sense of nostalgia. Many of us have grown up with this sort of aesthetic nearby, and it may have left an imprint.” Nagai’s chairs and ottomans are pure septuagenarian sitting room: cabriole legs and faded chintz motifs. “I tried hard to think about European grandmas,” she tells me. But as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

In a twist, Nagai’s pieces replace upholstery with rock, marble, and glass mosaic tiles, making her work both an art piece and a parlor chair. She finds that the surprise—the fact these very lovely, very cozy-looking pieces defy being sunk into—is always a pleasant one for audiences. Even more surprising, they actually are comfortable. “I try to create, through each piece, an impression that’s interesting or funny, that makes people smile, and that's always pretty easy to understand—because these are a sort of universal object that we are all constantly in touch with.”

Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia of Rooms Photo © Rooms
And while Nagai’s nostalgia lives among Victorian antiques, Rooms—a Tiblisi, Georgia-based design duo—prefers to revisit the midcentury. In works like Blossom Chair  and Embroider Blue Bench , they deftly walk the line between crafty and modern. The pair adds vintage patterns and hand-wrought embellishments to pieces with tubular metal legs and strong geometric silhouettes that would otherwise be at home in any SoHo boutique. “Nowadays society is lacking honest, human objects,” explains Keti Toloraia, one half of Rooms. “We agree that high technologies are essential and move us toward the future, but we love to keep traditional and informal touches.” Her partner Nati Janberidze adds, “Our work is humanistic, trying to keep some humor. I think this brings out an emotional response…something that lots of people today are looking for.”

Rooms’ little touches—a bright pop of blue thread, an intricate shape you lazily trace with your eyes as your mind wanders—are just the kind of thing you can’t help but be fascinated by. Ditto Bokja’s technicolor collages and Nagai’s virtually unbelievable trompe l’oeil mosaics. How did she do it? I wonder exactly how many pieces of fabric this chair has? Such relaxing meditations as you enjoy brunch for one, a second mug of coffee in hand.

  • Text by

    • Chris Chafin

      Chris Chafin

      Chris is a Brooklyn-based writer who's contributed to publications like Rolling StoneWiredFast Company, and The Awl. He'd be flattered if you'd consider following him on Twitter

  • French Translation by

    • Audrey Kadjar

      Audrey Kadjar

      Born in the US to a French family, Audrey grew up in multiple countries. Before landing at Pamono, she studied art history in London and worked in the cultural industry. When she's not working at Pamono, she can be found pursuing art and photography projects.

  • Italian Translation by

    • Valeria Osti Guerrazzi

      Valeria Osti Guerrazzi

      Born and bred in Rome, Valeria could never hide her (irrational) love for cold but colorful Berlin, where she moved immediately after earning a BA in literature from Rome's La Sapienza (her thesis was on Dostoevsky).  She is a translator for Pamono, and, in her free time, she likes to get lost in books and nature with her dog Pepper, the cutest dog in town.

  • German Translation by

    • Annika Hüttmann

      Annika Hüttmann

      Born in the northern city of Kiel, Annika's mixed German-Swedish roots mean that she grew up exposed to a smorgasbord of Scandinavian design. The Pamono translator’s latest passion, however, is for German vases produced between the 1950s-70s, of which she now has a collection of over 70!

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