It is not a typical story of someone who resigned from his full-time job in a corporation to indulge in a hobby. At some point it is true. However, Sylwia Biegaj left her regular job in advertising to devote herself to renovating furniture. She does it with all heart, continually gaining new experience not only collecting likes at Instagram. Let’s follow her example.
You are one of the best specialists in renovating post-war furniture in Warsaw. Why have you decided to go to school?
– I don’t feel as one of the best. I try very hard, but there is still room for improvement. I am a self-taught person, I lack practical knowledge. I just wish to develop my craft to a professional standard.
I still have a problem to call myself a craftsman. Maybe that is the reason I enrolled in classes.
Was it easy to find such course for adults?
– No, it wasn’t. Fortunately, there is a school of upholstery in Poland where I can learn during weekends, additionally for free. It is in Garbatka – Letnisko.
It is the first edition and these are the beginnings. The course lasts a year and a half and ends with an accredited certificate for an apprentice. I am very excited and I get up very eagerly at 5 AM on Saturdays to go there. I am just finishing the first term. This school has its own, well-equipped workshop and lots of practical classes. I love it.
Can we move back in time? What happened that you got interested in furniture?
– From my early childhood, I always liked manual work. My mum used to sew on a sewing machine, knit, crochet, paint. I remember we designed a cabinet and brought it to a carpenter.
Then I got interested in old furniture. I tried to renovate my first two chairs myself. I put newspapers on a floor, started scraping wood, removed textile. It didn’t turn out quite well so I decided to get some knowledge and skills from professionals. From then on, I used to ask for tools and upholstery courses for my birthdays.
I gained much from classes at Galeria Stara Praga in Brzeska Street. This is a studio with history, huge knowledge, they even renovate antiques.
You are looking for a studio on this side of the river. Where have you been working so far?
– At home, but it is very complicated and difficult. I can only renovate chairs, armchairs. Let’s face it, a coach would be difficult to carry upstairs. Finally, I need some breathing space.
How is it to be a young craftsman in Poland, in Warsaw?
– I can only speak for myself. It all came out of passion not will to earn money. I want to work in this field and I constantly keep wondering if it is possible to make ends meet. The costs of being a sole trader and running your own company are very high. There are hardly any locals dedicated to workshops for artists and craftsmen. Those which are on the market soon will be demolished.
It’s amazing that it isn’t such a profitable occupation. Old furniture seems to be in vogue today.
– Yes, indeed. But does it have any influence on craftsmen? I doubt it. People still want to have everything cheap. Professional handcraft costs.
Do you have your own clients, who are willing to pay for the quality? You list a product at your Internet shop and it is immediately sold out within 5 minutes? There is no nagging that it is expensive or so.
– This work requires time. Besides, quality of materials and fabrics is of high importance to me. Both sides, me and my clients want a unique piece of furniture. It will take some time to make people think why handcraft has to cost more than mass production. It is changing slowly so there’s hope.
Don’t you regret that you resigned from your full-time job?
– Not at all. Financially I felt more comfortable then. However, I redefined my life. I don’t have so many material needs as in the past. I appreciate my life even more.
Here you may find Sylwia’s work: www.sylwiabiegaj.pl
Photo: Aga Bilska and Kasia Białoń & Studio Cienia
Interview: Agnieszka Kowalska