Located in the heart of Beirut, Lebanon, there is a studio where unapologetically quirky furniture finds its refuge. There, you will find an enclave filled with a hodgepodge of kaleidoscopic textiles, pillows interwoven with fairytales and mischievous humor, and an abundance of bold prints in an endless array of vibrant hues. Delightful Savoir Flair readers, say marhaba to the Bokja Design studio.
Perhaps you too are a Bokja groupie and have discovered the fantastical furniture store run by the Lebanese duo Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri. If not, we will let you in on a little secret: you are missing out on a brand beloved by the likes of Christian Louboutin, Kate Hudson, Sandra Bullock, and Julia Roberts. Note that the celebrity clientele list has been seriously shortened for the sake of time.
Despite the brand’s international fame, the heart of the operation – the thrifting, crafting, installing, reinventing, textiling, and, as they call it, ‘bokjadizing’ – remains inside the Beirut-based studio. So, naturally, that’s where Savoir Flair is taking you. Read on as the design duo divulges its go-to inspirations and takes us on an intimate tour of the enchanting studio.
Tell us a little bit about the origins of Bokja Designs.
Maria: Originally, it was born out of a desire to celebrate textiles, hand embroideries, and all kinds of crafts. Both Hoda and I had a passion for everything that was handmade and hand-woven.
Hoda: With hand embroideries, you really feel that the person who created it spilled his or her heart into it. We were very sensitive to this idea, and that’s why we decided to collaborate and tell the stories of textiles and how they survived the test of time. We also wanted to celebrate the women who are behind this amazing craft.
Maria: Bokja has really become about textiles from all over the world. It’s about inventing this textile language. We started using vintage textiles and mixing them – a sort of democratic exercise in textiling, if you will.
Hoda: When we opened our atelier a few years back, we started making our own embroidery and created something called ‘Bokja assemblage’. And through this, we found a tool to express many things.
Describe your core design aesthetic. What inspires your creations?
Maria: We start with a small parcel. Originally, we just wanted to let the textile talk. Now, we want the textile to voice a certain feeling we’re having, a certain cause we are inclined to. We’ve done a series of works and we discovered that we were able to tell their tale with these installations and these stories. We can create a certain awareness, but in our own way – in a humorous, lighthearted way –to tell people that things are not what they seem.
Hoda: Take, for example, the chair you are sitting on. You will see it tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but that she’s veiled. The message behind this chair is, “Why not?” This is part of our larger ‘Storytelling Series’, which is about all of the stories we heard when we were young and that we tell our children. But these are not our stories; they are not from Lebanon. Little Red Riding Hood is not from Lebanon and she’s not from the Arab world. It’s about asking: why can’t Little Red Riding Hood be a little girl with a veil?
We did the same exercise with the story of Hansel and Gretel. We made them Japanese. The house was made of sushi and they were wearing beautiful kimonos. We also did an Arab Spring installation that ended up at the Institut du Monde Arabe. The installation is now part of their permanent collection.
What kind of work did you put in to get the studio shaped the way you had envisioned it?
Maria: Everything – whether it’s a chair or a shop – is always one thing leading to another. Nothing happens preset. It’s very serendipitous. We couldn’t just decide that we wanted to have a shop. It had to be a shop that had that added value and would be ‘Bokja’. For the longest time, we preferred to be without a shop rather than to settle on a place that wasn’t right for us, but, when we saw the garden, we knew it was right. We loved that there was an outdoor chimney – it’s very random – but that made us love the place even more.
Hoda: We decided that the space would be a platform; anyone who has anything to say could just come here and say it. It’s very casual, so it’s not really a shop to sell. It’s a place to visit, to sit in the garden and have a cup of coffee. You can buy or you can just interact with us and with what we do. For the interior, we worked with a group of our children’s friends. One of them did the windows, another did the lighting. It was just friends pitching in. It was nothing serious; it was just people excited that Bokja was going to have a shop and adding ideas.
When you were looking for your workspace, what were the qualities you were searching for?
Maria: The atelier is a laboratory. We used to work in this old dilapidated palace, which is very much part of the Bokja story because we had an upholsterer and a carpenter who happened to be living there. The place is fabulous, but the working conditions were very bad because it was freezing in winter and very hot in summer. It also had all kinds of hazards, and it could have fallen on our heads at any moment. So, we looked for a place nearby, because we really think the palace is part of our story and we need to be close to it. We believe that, as long as we are near, and stopping by, we keep it alive.
Hoda: In our new atelier, we have big tables, fabric stacks, and you can experiment there. This is where we were able to really play with the textiles more. Sometimes, we decide to bleach a fabric, and, othertimes, we decide to cut it into odd shapes. We would do things with the fabric and the discovery was amazing. The extent of what you can do is limitless. It helped us realize in a way that our story could go on and on.
What is your favorite feature of the studio?
Maria: The garden. We have a shop with a garden. You know how you say, “I have a room with a view?” We have a shop that has a garden. It’s all about that for us.
Bokja Design is available at o’ de rose in Dubai.
“It seems like our assembled collages have migrated to the wall. It’s a great place to let your eyes wander.”
“This chair was part of an art and design event in Beirut. All the participants were presented with a pair of old, rusted, iron bench legs found at a flea market and asked to produce a one-off piece. We created the ‘Niagara Falls’. The waterfall is meant to wash away your sins and shove the snake of guilt down the drain.”
“Most things about our showroom are unconventional, including our freestanding sign that resembles a wind dial. It points the way to our store in the most delicious shade of yellow.”