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Etched in Wood: The Story of Zanat Furniture

Bosnian brand blends modern design with artisanal legacy

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“We want the carvings to be the essence of the product’s design.”
—Orhan Nikšić

The world of modern design has changed significantly since Zanat launched its first collection in 2015, according to Orhan Nikšić, CEO and co-owner of the Bosnian furniture brand.

At the time, Orhan and his brother Adem saw a growing divide between chic contemporary design and high-quality craftsmanship. Drawing on the family’s four generations of artisanal legacy, they founded Zanat with an innovative vision.

“We took a new approach to furniture design and production, emphasizing craftsmanship while showing how traditional hand-carving techniques can open up new possibilities for design,” Orhan says.

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The Dama-T Lounge Chair, designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba, has thin, curved surfaces with checkered hand-carved patterns.

Forging new frontiers

The Nikšić family’s heirloom legacy of hand-carved furniture originates with the brothers’ great grandfather, Gano Nikšić, who learned carving techniques from pioneer woodcarvers in Konjic, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By the end of the 19th century, the works of Konjic’s master artisans were being exhibited at major international events in cities such as Budapest, Vienna, and Paris.

Over a century later, the Nikšić brothers, who still live in the small town, set out to bring this heritage to new audiences.

The two knew the heart of their family’s legacy—exquisite hand-carved furniture—wouldn’t change, but they wanted to adapt it to the tastes of their time.

Yet there was still a considerable challenge ahead; namely, all contemporary design at the time was exceedingly minimalist. Any additional design elements, such as texture, were seen as superfluous.

Despite the industry’s strict adherence to that philosophy, the Nikšić brothers forged ahead with their unique vision and launched Zanat, meaning “craft” in Bosnian, in 2015.

“The belief that machines can’t do the work of a human being is essential to our approach. That fine filigree work creates a trust between the creator, the tools, and the customer,” Orhan says.

The brothers wished to create exquisite objects that could bring beauty and grace to interior spaces. As part of their modern vision, they decided not to add folkloristic decorative elements to their products, as was traditional in the region.

“Instead, we enhanced tactility with more abstract, visually appealing elements,” Orhan says.

Accompanying their cultural aim was the hope of creating a sustainable future.

“Our products can be inherited and passed down from generation to generation. They’re beautiful, functional pieces today but can become an heirloom piece or a museum exhibit tomorrow,” Orhan says.Zanat_Bowls-5

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Before collaborating on a product with Zanat, prospective designers must visit the company’s atelier to see the traditional techniques used by the artisans to carve the products.

A North Star for contemporary design

From its inception, Zanat has attracted well-known and respected European designers, many of whom have embraced the company’s fresh take on contemporary design.

“I think they believed in the vision and mission. The carving gave them a new medium through which they could explore their creative skills,” Orhan says.

According to him, the designers who begin to work with Zanat tend to say, “We know we’re not going to make nearly as much money in royalties as we would working with a major manufacturer, but we don’t care. We see the value in this. We want to do it because it’s very interesting for us.”

Once the designers take on the work, the first step is to visit the Zanat atelier in Konjic.

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 114

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