2021 Grateful 5: Upcycling with the Fucskárs

Renovation. Stress. Stress. Renovation. The only thing that has kept me sane in the last year or so is knowing that I’ll have more space. Eventually. We’re currently only a year behind schedule, but who’s counting eh? I had planned to have the big opening coincide with my birthday this year but that didn’t happen. Maybe next year. But then the numbers won’t match. I was reading 155 as i55. No matter.

The space will eventually be a workshop/retreat centre of sorts. My vision is still a little hazy, much to the consternation of my more business-minded friends. I should have a plan, they say. A business plan. And I will. In good time. I can’t explain the compulsion to do this. It doesn’t make sense. But it’s there. As is my conviction that nothing bar the appliances will be new-new. It’ll all be new to us, but not new-new.

I’m a huge fan of upcycling and refurbishing and what I call functional art. I’ve bought a couple of more pieces from Tómi and have just recently discovered the magic of Attila József and Ágnes Fucskár. The pair, who have been married for 42 years, are probably better known for their photographic guidebooks. They’ve published more than 40 volumes on Transylvania, Hungary, Italy, and Croatia. When they’re not travelling and taking photos, they’re upcycling furniture.

I came across a posting on FB – a lovely chest of drawers made from old suitcases. I wasn’t quick enough though. It had already sold. When chatting with Attila, he said he’d make me another one. He had hundreds of suitcases to choose from. Did I have any particular colour in mind? Blue, I said. I’d like something in blue. Or black. He sent me a couple of selections and I went with these.

six old-fashioned suitcases
Photo by Attila József Fucskár

A little over a week later it was ready. No matter if I didn’t like it, there was no obligation to buy, he said. I promised I’d go to Pécs and look.

Turns out they’ve also worked some retro magic with old radios and random drawers from random places. Given that when we eventually get around to converting the attic of #155 (one staircase is in and the balcony doors and window were oddly there already), I quite fancy a retro-look for the massive open plan room to the front, inspired by these radios and a sofa and two chairs that I’ve been coveting down at the Wheeler residence, waiting patiently for the owners to tire of them.

Photo by Attila József Fucskár
Random drawers made into one chest of drawers
Photo by Attila József Fucskár

 

Old wooden file cabinet given new life
Photo by Attila József Fucskár

The pair reckon they’ve saved about 1100 pieces of furniture and in 95% of the cases, they got their gems from dumps and tips. Ironically, what is thrown away is often of better quality than what’s produced today, he told me. And how right he is.

After checking way too many shops to buy a sofa for #93 a few years back, we eventually scored two old-fashioned Chesterfields from a second-hand shop. They were better finished, sturdier, and made to last, unlike the delicate, expensive, modern pieces we’d been cautiously sitting on. Having recently been introduced to a local upholsterer, I’m now all for old sofas. An ugly, but sturdy old suite that was left in #155 is currently away being reborn.

sofa and three armchairs on the roof of a small blue car

At the hands of the Fucskárs, furniture that has lasted 60 or 70 years will last for 60 or 70 more. Their thesis is that if we start buying recycled furniture, less new stuff will be produced and so fewer trees will be cut down and…you can follow the thread yourself. Just look at these chairs!

 

Four red retro chairs refashioned
Photo by Attila József Fucskár – Chairs by Ágnes
Two retro armchairs upcycled
Photo by Attila József Fucskár – Chairs by Ágnes

They get a kick out of looking at old stuff and figuring out ways to give it a new lease of life. When they’ve finished with a piece, they post it in various Facebook groups and sell it. If no one bites, they keep it. So far, everything has sold.

I was to be at their place at noon. My sense of direction not being entirely in tune with Google Maps’ somewhat laggardly approach to telling me where next to turn meant that I was late. And when I’m late, I get cranky. And it didn’t help that I’m down with some sort of crud and probably should have been in my bed rather than driving the roads in search of six suitcases.

When I got out of the car, Attila’s head popped over the wall above. Mary? he asked. Igen, I said, and all the tension faded away. My Hungarian did me well. We went through the usual greetings and such as he led me into their courtyard to my piece. I knew I was going to see the military cemetery in Böhönye on the way back so even if I didn’t like my drawers, it wouldn’t have been a complete waste of petrol. I was managing my expectations.

But I loved it. Suitcases small enough to remain intact stay as they are, lids removed. Those too big are backed by drawers. The legs give it a retro feel.

Chest of drawers made from six old suitcases
Photo by Attila József Fucskár
Chest of drawers made from old suitcases - one drawer open
Photo by Attila József Fucskár

It does this weary heart good to see people doing their bit to make the world a little better and I’m grateful for it. Reusing stuff rather than throwing it out and buying new is the way to go. As work on the attic is still to begin, my suitcases have taken pride of place in what will eventually be the main training/conference room. I have a sneaking suspicion that they might set the tone for the rest of the furniture in there. I could do a lot with those colours.

Am grateful that I made the journey. And I’m more grateful that the Fucskárs and their work are now on my radar.

 

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