“If I wanted to take a nap, I’d be laid down there, while they sat at the table talking. Rooms did double duty because people didn’t have much space. This daybed was multifunctional, working as a couch or converting to a bed. It stuck with me. I liked the idea of furniture doing double duty,” he says.
An architect, Ostoya began to design a line of furniture after his brother-in-law, Peter Brayshaw, opened up a millwork shop. “He worked at the Guggenheim Museum, doing installations and working in their wood shop to make platforms or funky installations for artists that would facilitate exhibiting the art,” explains Ostoya. “He learned woodworking and millworking, and then I come from an architecture background, but I’m all thumbs when it comes to shopwork.” They began working together, with Ostoya designing the pieces, sharing his ideas with Brayshaw, who then figures out how to make the ideas real. “I’ll do the sketches and get together with Peter, and he’ll look at it from a construction standpoint and we’ll discuss connections and such,” Ostoya says. “It’s definitely a collaboration. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
When Ostoya began designing, he wanted his furniture to express a similar, familial sensibility. “When we started the furniture, I saw that in modern furniture there’s a lot of plywood and that swoopy, plasticy stuff,” he notes. “And I love that, but I wanted something different. I wanted to build things that I wanted in my own house.” And to build things inspired by the piece he napped on at his aunt’s house during those long-ago summers in Poland. “I wanted this furniture to do a little more than the obvious use,” he says. “We’ve tried to incorporate this idea of furniture doing double-duty.”
Because of Brayshaw’s background and skills, making furniture in solid wood was an obvious choice. Ostoya says, “I have no interest in Shaker or mission furniture, but did want to use that lasting joinery that will survive and can be handed down.” And have a modern look and feel. “We asked ourselves how we can do solid wood but pare it down to the architectonic shape. Some people might say simple means dumb, but to me it means clean.”
The Lublin Daybed is not only a place to sit, or nap, or look at the view out the window—remove the cushions and they become seats, while the bed transforms itself into a coffee table. Made from solid walnut and walnut plywood, with brushed stainless steel supports and wool cushions, this multipurpose piece expresses an understated candor. “I like honest materials,” says Ostoya.
200 DESIGN SECRETS: FURNITURE
0 Top: As part of the effort to make multfunctional pieces of furniture, the Lublin has a cubby built right in to hold books or an extra blanket. Or, simply put the cushions on the floor where they become seats, and the daybed is transformed into a coffee table. Credit: Bruce Khan
© Left: Jacek Ostoya is trained as an architect; his brother-in-law, Peter Brayshaw, is trained as a woodworker. Together, they have developed the Mebel line of furniture, which is made in this workshop.
Credit: Peter Brayshaw
0 Right: Mebel’s design mandate is to make furniture with a modern aesthetic using solid wood and traditional methods that ensure the pieces will last.
Credit: Peter Brayshaw
As part of this honesty, Ostoya and Brayshaw also decided the piece should explain its own construction. “When we made the decision to not use veneers, we wanted to expose the end grain and how this piece is constructed, so we did solid pieces all around the perimeter. This allowed us to use mortise and tenon joinery for the edges and facilitated cutting out the cubbyhole.” This cubbyhole is both an aesthetic and functional choice. “I like the idea of carving out of it,” Ostoya says. “It’s an organic form with a cutout from a machine. You can see the hand of man, the machine versus the organic piece of wood.” And then he adds, “Also if you’re lying there, you can put your book underneath, which keeps things clean like us architects like it.”
This cubby presented one of the only significant manufacturing challenges. Ostoya points out that routers used to cut something like this always leave a bit of a radius in the corners of the shape. “I wanted the corner to be right angles, so we had to hand-cut those. I drove Peter a little bit crazy with this,” he confesses.
The asymmetrical shape of the legs was derived from another piece in the collection. “I developed three pieces at the same time because I wanted a collection that all hung together,” he says. “The shape of the legs came from the double bench. The legs and the cushion form one volume that is intersecting the wood. I wanted to imply a larger volume, and the metal, by delineating the edges, implies a volume.”
The legs are adhered to the wood with a metal plate that is screwed into the bottom of the daybed. The wood is finished with a conversion varnish. “We wanted the most natural finish on the wood to let the wood speak for itself,” says Ostoya. “Walnut has great coloration and the grain is very expressive. I know a lot of people use a hand-rubbed finish, but that can stain. We wanted to compromise between a real heavy finish and something that lets the natural beauty show through.” Finally, the cushions are covered in wool, with an oval bolster held into place with a Velcro strap. “Segmenting the cushions gives the cushions a little rhythm as they go down the piece,” he notes.
Making furniture as a family business has given Ostoya a new appreciation for the demands of manufacturing and woodworking. “If you’re doing furniture as one-offs,” he says, “it’s easy to look at furniture like sculpture. But when you look at manufacturing, there’s that whole question of how can you keep the integrity of a handmade, solid piece of wood.” He’s also considering more carefully how his designs affect the production process. “I’m trying to look at things from the eye of a builder,” Ostoya says. “My brother-in-law will still crack jokes about ‘You stupid architect,’ and we do sort of design without knowing what the real world is like. I just know what I want it to look like, and we have the tendency to hand-off the design and say, ‘Make it like I want it.’ Now, as we move forward with new pieces, I’m finding myself thinking of the construction aspects to things. I have a greater respect for the building aspect of things. I have a greater appreciation for the design that is within the construction.”
DESIGN SECRETS: FURNITURE
The walnut daybed receives a light “conversion” varnish, which accentuates the wood grain but will not stain as hand-rubbed finishes sometimes do.
Credit: Peter Brayshaw
0 The Lublin’s cushions and bolster are covered with a gray wool fabric that complements the steel leg structure. Credit: Bruce Khan