By Laura Goldstein
“There’s an emotional appeal to our brand and not just because our family has been producing hand-carved furniture since 1919,” says Orhan Niksic CEO and ZANAT co-founder, from his factory/showroom in Konjic, Bosnia.
A former senior economist with the World Bank, Niksic has parlayed a century-old family company based upon traditional hand-carving techniques, into a modern, design-forward business with emphasis on environmental sustainability and developing local Bosnian design talent in the global marketplace.
A curated selection of ZANAT furniture will be showcased in the SwitzerCultCreative Booth #603 at the upcoming Interior Design Show, IDS-Vancouver, September 26th-29th at the Vancouver Convention Centre and the SwitzerCultCreative showroom, 1725 West 3rd Avenue.
ZANAT (meaning “craft” in Bosnian,) has its roots with Orhan and brother, Adem’s great- grandfather who developed an intricate and highly ornate hand wood-carving technique in his village of Konjic. He even teamed up with other established furniture makers of the time to exhibit at fairs and exhibitions in Milan, Paris and at the 1900 Millennium Exhibition in Vienna. It’s a point of pride for his great grandsons that 100 years later, their furniture collections are still being showcased at international interior design shows.
It was on vacation in 2013 on the beautiful island of Korcula in Croatia that the idea for ZANAT and giving the family business a new direction, was born. “With our friend, Mark Bartolini, we discussed how we could meld sustainability of wood from Bosnia’s abundant forests, good governance and job creation with a new vision for contemporary furniture collections. I was really disillusioned with the poor quality of craftsmanship on the market and I knew we could combine our traditional carving techniques with new designs without the quality suffering. They are not mutually exclusive,” says Niksic.
It was no coincidence then, that Niksic approached Swedish furniture designer, Monica Förster for ZANAT’s first Collection of Unna chairs and tables. The antithesis of heavy furniture design once popularized in Europe, “Scandinavian designs are so sleek and elegant. Our lace-like hand-carved leaf extensions in oak, maple, cherry or walnut can even be created in a contrasting colour,” Niksic explains.
Scandinavian architects and product designers, Gert Wingårdh & Sara Helder designed the Tattoo Stools and Barstools for ZANAT. Their clean designs in maple have an exotic twist with peacock and pheasant abstract carvings on the seats. Finnish designer, Harri Koskinen’s Igman Lounge Chair & Ottoman boasts hand-carved designs on the solid wood arms and are upholstered in buttery vegetable-tanned top stitched leather.
British designer, Ilse Crawford from Studioilse packs a punch with her tactile Touch Sideboard for ZANAT. No two hand-carved surfaces of the multi-purpose storage cabinets are the same. Available in three and four-door versions, the legs are available in wood or cast-bronze versions.
ZANAT bespoke furniture commissions are sought after for hotels and restaurants including the Ett Holm Hotel in Stockholm, Hotel V Amsterdam, the Andaz Hotel in London.
The wood industry in Bosnia-Herzegovina is the largest and the strongest export in the region. One of ZANAT’s mandates is to mentor and promote Bosnian talent to the design world at large. “We have trained 20 new apprentices in our art of wood-carving and have affiliated ourselves with several design and technology programs offered at the University of Sarajevo,” Niksic explains.
“For example, Jasna Mujkic who also teaches at the Arts Academy in Sarajevo. “Her Quiet Chair and Stool are classically elegant with subtly geometric carved patterns on the back rest. And, coming full circle, on December 6th, 2017, the small Bosnian town of Konjic and ZANAT’s birthplace was inscribed into the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in acknowledgement of the superior craftsmanship of the region. In celebration of that honour, ZANAT recently opened their own museum dedicated to the history of wood-carving.
“You know, three years ago when we first exhibited in Milan, nobody knew us,” admits Niksic. “That’s one reason that we started partnering with some internationally established designers. But we have fantastic talent here in Bosnia and now when we participate at design fairs, buyers are coming to us.”