I have always liked to create something, to leave a trace, more or less tangible. In high school, with a friend, we created hip-hop band and even played a few small concerts. While still in high school, I started taking pictures. This passion stayed with me for longer and led me to study photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań and the Łódź Film School.
And the furniture… hmm. Probably the first time that I ever thought of anything related to the subject was during my studies. I remember one of the works of Olafur Elliason: imitation of the sun. There was an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London where the “sun” was shining in a huge hall and people were lying and basking in the “warm” wave of light. Then I thought it would be a great idea to be able to design a lamp that imitates the sun so that you can catch some sun at home on an autumn evening. It was probably the first moment when it crossed my mind to create a utility object, but it ended with the idea.
After graduation, I ran a photo studio. We had more and more clients so at some point I had to change the studio to a larger one and so I got to WSK – these are industrial buildings, where you can easily get lost, but they delight with the atmosphere of the rooms with a lot of daylight. After moving to WSK, I met Robert who had his studio next door and who worked in a furniture company, and after hours he was renovating old furniture. His entire studio was cluttered with old furniture and his collection was impressive both in terms of the gems he had and the amount he collected. His work with furniture interested me so much that we started to create something together.
A table with chairs, an armchair and a sideboard were created. The sideboard, in turn, became the basis for creating new pieces of furniture: bookcase and desk. At one point, however, we ran into a few problems.
The problems resulted from the production processes and the time they were taking. We decided with Robert to end the cooperation. After taking over the entire company, I started the process of redesigning the entire furniture system and optimizing production.
One of the biggest problems was finding the right material for production. What we could not find on the Polish market, we managed to find in Finland.
When we started working with plywood, it was with Polish and Russian plywood. Our first purchases of Polish plywood caused us a lot of troubles and worries, because the material was far from what we wanted. The layers of the board were of different thickness; in addition, the wood in the middle layers was of a different color, there were large numbers of knags replacements (characteristic oval or puzzle), the color of the top layers also differed significantly on individual boards. The quality of the Russian plywood was slightly better, but still far from the quality we were looking for.
We were looking for a company that pays close attention to every step of plywood production process. We managed to find one in Finland; I’m talking about Koskisen. With Koskisen we can influence the plywood production process, and we do so. The quality of the veneers used for production is much higher, and the process of obtaining wood is balanced. Thanks to this cooperation, we were able to learn many things about plywood, production, logging, etc.
After we found the right material and could produce it with the right parameters, it was time to organize the production.
The most challenging are, of course, the side legs. Finishing all the internal openwork and curves needs to be done by hand. We have been trying various mechanical solutions, but none of them produced fully satisfying results.
The level of complexity of the production process is quite high. Each leg has many more edges because of the openwork; in addition, there are internal edges and all these edges have roundings. Each of these elements requires manual sanding and the inner edges are particularly difficult. Next, we need to polish the surfaces and then oil them. Oiling also takes a lot of time and the process is not easy to mechanize.
That is why it is so difficult and time-consuming, but the effect that we have managed to achieve is fully satisfactory as confirmed by the opinions of satisfied customers who often emphasize that our furniture is unique to the touch and made with great care. I know it might sound clichéd, but every time we get positive feedback from customers, we really know why we are doing what we are doing.
The entire process begins with the selection of material, through its processing, finishing and packaging. Customers also pay special attention to the quality of packaging, taking into account the distances where they need to reach and they reach really distant places, believe me, and they reach there without the slightest damage or a single small scratch – this is also one of our hallmarks.
That’s right, and that was another challenge starting with the system design. Our furniture most often lands in the USA with California and New York being the most popular destinations; Australia, Great Britain, Canada and, of course, Poland are also quite common and we did have few shipments to the Arab Emirates, Honolulu, Japan and Israel. While delivering furniture within Poland does not generate such problems, shipping to other continents required building appropriate logistics. You need to be aware of various issues, from the largest, such as large-size shipments, to the smallest, such as the fact that, for example, in the USA, a courier leaves a package at the door and goes on without informing the customer that he has a package at the door, no matter if it is a small stool or a large L-shape desk.
Not everyone is aware of the fact that many manufacturers cannot ship their furniture or other products all over the world. Our furniture system is designed so that it can go anywhere and this is part of the design that I took care of when creating this system. Our furniture is as easy to assemble as furniture bought in IKEA and shipped in such a way that bringing it to the top floor of the apartment buiding is not a major problem.
Not every piece of furniture from other manufacturers can go everywhere. Some pieces of furniture are glued together and their weight exceeds the carrying capacity of several people. They cannot be moved through narrow doors and certainly cannot be shipped by air to the US, because they are shipped whole.
As you can see, logistics is very important for us.
“Our furniture most often lands in the USA with California and New York being the most popular destinations; Australia, Great Britain, Canada and, of course, Poland are also quite common…”
“Our furniture system is designed so that it can go anywhere…”
It’s not just your impression (Darek laughs). We have a policy with Kasia that we want everything to be … perfect. And maybe this is not an approach that will make us a furniture tycoon on a global scale, but it is certainly in line with our beliefs and perception of how we want our company to look. That is why we supervise all things ourselves – starting from design, customer contact, marketing, we take photos and videos ourselves, we do everything. In our studio everything is in its place, the shelves are tidy and the furniture is packed like a masterpiece. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to do it if we didn’t have our wonderful employees: it’s a whole body that works well. We can trust them because they are total detail-freaks and they, just like us, enjoy every positive opinion about our furniture.
At the very beginning I dealt with everything myself, from design to execution to shipping, having at the back of my head the need to do marketing, go to furniture fairs and deal with everything else related to running a business. At some point, Kasia joined me, and new people appeared in the production process. Currently, I am responsible for the entire production with the help of our talented team.
I also create all custom designs; all customization inquiries and projects beyond our standard elements go through me.
In addition, together with Kasia, we set goals that we want to achieve, we work on implementing them, finally we evaluate whether everything went according to the plan and the expected results were achieved and we draw conclusions. The whole idea aims at what I said before, i.e. calm organic development. We are still developing – at the beginning I was alone, now it is the whole team that makes up the Plywood Project.
“Together with Kasia, we set goals that we want to achieve, we work on implementing them, finally we evaluate whether everything went according to the plan…”
“We are still developing – at the beginning I was alone, now it is the whole team that makes up the Plywood Project.”
That’s quite an interesting question. When we started to develop the brand and we started to appear at fairs in Poland, many people asked us whether the furniture was new or renovated. This is a much longer topic when it comes to the reception of our furniture, because in Poland many people point to the fact that “their parents had similar furniture”.
After all, there were Hałas’ bookcases and Kowalskis wall units, etc. We grew up in houses where our parents had so-called PRL classics. Interestingly, perception is completely different outside of our country. For customers in the USA, our furniture is a Mid Century Modern classic, which they often look for and find right here at Plywood Project. Nobody from the United States says, “oh my parents had it at home”; they say, “yes, this is what I have been looking for for two years”. These opinions are also proof of how differently our furniture is perceived on different continents.
The most popular color in which we finish our sideboards, bookcases and desks is walnut – in Poland for many people it is associated with the times of the People’s Republic of Poland. On the other hand, furniture in a natural / transparent color gives a more austere and minimalist aura and is much less often perceived as furniture from the times of PRL. In turn, our light oak, as customers define it, gives them a sense of warmth and sun radiating from the furniture. Much more often, furniture in this color is chosen for modern spaces, mid-century American-style apartments, and for children’s rooms.
As for the furniture system itself, it took a long time to design the entire coherent form, which includes bookcases of different heights, sideboards and desks.
Three years ago, the system was based on 3 different heights of bookcases: Mini, Midi and Maxi, of which the Mini height was used for 460 and 690 sideboards with the width of 143 cm. I am mentioning it because today we are creating sideboards, which are actually bookcases, also based on Midi and Maxi legs, their width extends up to 189 cm. We’ve also developed a lot of desks and our L Shape is an American classic that finds its place in music studios and home offices. In the meantime, our system has expanded according to the needs of our customers. And this is one of the important points of our system: despite certain templates, there are elements that can be easily adapted to your needs, and the most common is adjusting the size of the furniture.
The entire system also allows for future expansion, which is appreciated by our current customers. They know that they can buy additional boxes and expand their furniture with new ones.
There is one more thing in the system worth mentioning – replacement of worn out or damaged elements. Our children, Olek and Ania, test our furniture quite thoroughly and the damaged top of their desk is the best example. If a certain element of your piece of furniture is really worn out, you can order it from us without having to buy the entire piece or tring to repair that element. This option is not available if you purchase glued furniture that arrives whole.
From the beginning of Plywood Project, I wanted the furniture that came out of the studio to satisfy their owners – quality is the most important thing. Maintaining current standards is one thing, and continuous development is another.
It might seem that once planned, production will work flawlessly all the time, but I really like gaining new knowledge and that is why production is for me a constant pursuit of better solutions.
When it comes to the brand itself, we have been trying to develop organically from the very beginning. We are aware of the possibilities of much faster development, economy of scale, etc. However, this is not our goal. We received investment offers, but we rejected them, keeping our idea as priority. Keeping our own ideas about why we do all of this will be the most important thing for us in the years to come.
I would tell them to touch it (Darek laughs). I mentioned it, because many people tell us that our furniture is velvety to the touch – and it really is, touch it! From the visual aspects, I would point out the light shining through our side legs. From the functional ones, I would probably mention the modular system with which you could arrange any space.
Before the Plywood Project was born, I had no experience in design. I studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań and the Łódź Film School. I think that both schools had a great influence on shaping thinking, ideas and approaches in creating on various levels. Certainly, they also had a significant impact on the aesthetics.
However, in my opinion, studying photography does not make you a photographer; it all depends on your approach, willingness to develop in every respect, be it technical, detail or creating your own style. The studies alone will not make you a person who knows what to do, but a passion and willingness to gain knowledge and learn. All these factors later determine what and how you do. I was also lucky that I could get a lot of knowledge from my uncle, my namesake, who runs a very large company that produces furniture. I could observe and participate in the entire production process and soak up whatever I could. All this practical knowledge allowed me to move much more freely in this area.
I think that each of us has weaknesses that prevent us from constantly moving forward. In my opinion, only knowing yourself and your reactions, and trying to get through them give you a chance to cope with everything. It is easy to talk about it, not so easy with the implementation, because it is influenced by many factors. But as I mentioned before, everything is in your head and hands. All in all, I can compare it to my favorite sport, tennis. Every tennis player in the top hundred of the ranking, everyone can be number one, each of them has great technical skills, but only few become number 1 and even fewer stay on the top for a long time. That is why the indestructible three: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal are such a phenomenon. Interestingly, they also have weaker days when they struggle on the court, but their determination and strength allows them to win matches that seem to be lost. Of course, determination alone is not enough; they are constantly developing and perfecting something.