By Alix Norman
Brainchild of Panayiotis Stelikos, the re-cover project began two years ago. In layman’s terms, it’s mid-century upcycled furniture that has been reupholstered. But in actuality it’s far, far more. Each of the exquisite chairs has been ‘discovered’ – some have come from second-hand shops, others from house clearances. A number have even been found out on the pavement, giveaways from those who don’t share Panayiotis’ vision or creativity. But that’s just the beginning – there’s a unique design process to get each item to where it is today: in the re-cover project’s pop up shop in City Plaza.
A civil engineer by trade, Panayiotis is the founder of arcube studio – an experimental venture that consists of constant research between overlapping design fields: “A regenerative process where architecture meets furniture design, graphic design meets fabric design and by extension relates to any form of design of everyday objects”. And the re-cover project fits perfectly into the studio’s ethos of ‘rethink, redefine, reform’.
“I’ve always been fascinated by furniture,” Panayiotis explains, “and I’ve spent a great deal of time studying architecture and other forms of design. I’ve travelled a lot, and visited museums and galleries all around the world,” he adds, citing the inspiration he’s found in place such as the Paris’ Pompidou Centre, Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen, and the Tate Modern.“Of course, I’ve also visited a lot of architectural landmarks,” he enthuses. “One of my favourite examples of contemporary architecture is the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, a place of clean lines and clear sightlines. It was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the same guy who created the Barcelona Pavilion and introduced the iconic Barcelona Chair.”
A civil engineer, then with an absolute passion for design in all its forms. And it’s clear, looking around the display, that he’s also a talent to be reckoned with. Especially when you discover that “all this has been done in my spare time! Design is something I love,” he muses, “especially modernism, with its elegance and timeless form.” Which brings us to mid-century modern, the aesthetic so prevalent in the re-cover project. Lasting approximately from 1933 to 1965,it’s a period that saw designers move towards clean simplicity and integration with nature, and is typified by such classics as the Eames Lounge Chair, the Egg chair, and the starkly organic Grand Prix. And, of course, your grandmother’s three-piece suite!
Think back to the chairs of your youth, and you’ll probably recall at least one example of mid-century modern. “In Cyprus, this furniture was everywhere in the sixties and seventies,” laughs Panayiotis. “But it wasn’t appreciated! Often it had been passed on the new generation by parents, and by that time, the younger people on the island were looking to the utilitarian design ethic of the eighties.”
Luckily for Panayiotis, this means that many a wonderful example of mid-century modern ends up unwanted “in second-hand shops, in friends’ basements, even in the rubbish! I used to store some of the pieces I’d collected in my parents’ garage. The neighbours were very supportive and sympathetic to ‘the poor guy who fixes chairs for a living’,” he grins. “One day, one of them threw out a dining chair, and I went and had a look. It was amazing – really beautiful. But in such bad condition that nobody thought I would be interested…”He gestures to an absolutely exquisite piece: its beautiful lines and organic form perfectly restored, and now reupholstered in a striking geometric fabric of Panayiotis’ own design.
“First I removed all the varnish and paint,” he explains, “then I fixed everything that didn’t align and replaced the parts that were broken, and used the lines of the chair as inspiration for the fabric. It’s over 50 years old,” he says, adding that he thoroughly researches each of the pieces. “I love finding out the pedigree of the chairs: where they come from, which exact time. One of my motives for studying this specific era is that I felt that some of the furniture was in the wrong hands, misused. The idea is to create a relationship between the past and the present; it’s a way for me to give a motive to the younger generation to appreciate it, and the older generation to re-appreciate it.”
Starting with the research, Panayiotis works through a lengthy but loving process: replacing parts, perfecting the structural integrity of each piece, sanding and varnishing. Then the fabrics are designed, sent to the UK for printing, and the reupholstering begins. And it’s this that makes each of the pieces truly unique: because not only are the designs inspired by the chairs themselves, but also by Panayiotis’ extensive travels.
The pattern on the reupholstery of the dining chair, for example, “was influenced heavily by my visit to the Alhambra Palace in Grenada – this repetition of octagons almost creates a texture in the fabric. The Buenos Aires design,” he adds, pointing to the minimalist skyline in an ombre of black and vermilion and orange on a three-seater, “came from a photograph I’d taken of the sunset over the city.” Many of the designs relate to South America – an area which holds a fascination for Panayiotis: “About three years ago, I travelled from Argentina to Uruguay, through Chile, Peru and Bolivia and ended up in Rio,” he explains, gesturing to two chairs which bear “a patchwork of contour lines that represent the time I travelled over the Andes by plane.”
One thing is definite – each and every one of his chairs is a modern icon, functional and comfortable, but also inspired and inspiring. “A lot of people see the chairs and say ‘my grandmother had that, but I didn’t like it because it was in an old building full of old things. But now I love it!’” Panayiotis concludes. “Context,” he adds, wisely, “changes everything”. Especially, one would imagine, to a designer who has seen the potential in the past and made it truly relevant to our future.
The Re-cover Project
By Panayiotis Stelikos is currently on view as part of the Nicosia Pop Up Festival at City Plaza. The chairs can also be seen on the website www.therecoverproject.com. The official Launch Party of the project is on December 5, from 18.00 to 21.00 at City Plaza. All are welcome. For more information on the re-cover Project, visit the website or the Facebook page ‘The re-cover project’, email [email protected] call 99 766749