Bokja produces pieces that blur the lines between functionality and ar t, rooted in the region’s heritage. The two talents behind the design studio, Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri, sat down with LT to share their reflections on their work and the design in
Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri’s exuberant designs have toured the world. Since they created Bokja Design Studio in 2000, the Beirut-based designers have been transforming objects into functional pieces of art. Brought together by their passion for antique and ancient tapestries, the two women made a name for themselves by sourcing retro furniture found in Beirut’s antique markets and covering them with patchworks of colorful textiles and embroideries from the Middle East and the mythic Silk Road countries of Central Asia. The duo’s unconventional furniture even caught the eyes of some of the biggest names in the entertainment and fashion industr y such as Julia Roberts and French footwear designer Christian Louboutin, who purchased a Bokja sofa for each of his stores. More than just a brand, Bokja, a Turkish word used to describe the heavily embroidered fabr ic that covers a bride’s dowry, is the stor y of ancestral traditions meeting with contemporary art and lifestyle.
HOW DOES YOUR LEBANESE HERITAGE INSPIRE YOU?
The influence of our environment is reflected almost directly in ever ything Bokja. The layer ing of fabr ics from dif ferent par ts of the countr y and the world reminds us of the multilayered nature of our city, which is chaotic and harmonious at the same time. There is also a sensibility to both the East and the West that is so distinctive to being here. Basing ourselves in Beirut for the last 15 years was a conscious decision and has allowed us to not only be inspired by our her itage but to positively contr ibute to it and give back in the long term.
HOW DO YOU COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER AS A DESIGN TEAM?
We always found that working together brought more ideas, passion and knowledge to the table. The two of us coming together br ings unexpected results that we feel could not happen if we worked alone. It makes our work stronger.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET INTO DESIGN AND WHAT NEW PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON?
We have always been passionate about ar t and design, with a strong background in antiques and textiles. It was a serendipitous meeting that brought us together and led us to take the jump into working in that realm. At the moment we just launched our latest collection “Goods,” as well as a limited edition collection of coats with Lebanese designer Milia M.
WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN PROCESS?
Our design and work process is an allencompassing one, with our focus divided on dif ferent par ts of the practice. We spend half of our time working closely with our ar tisans in our atelier houses, while the other half is spent brainstorming and strategizing with our creative team at the Bokja studio.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE DESIGN SCENE IN LEBANON IS EVOLVING?
Design has never been more visible in Lebanon, and it is exciting to know that Beirut is now establishing itself as a design capital in its own r ight, with its own set of world class designers. During the Civil War, the ephemeral nature of time has turned Beirut into a wonderful incubator that led to tremendous experimentation. The boom that followed the conflict has been even more incredible; with exciting opportunities appear ing as international interest for Beirut was growing.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO NEW DESIGNERS?
To be humble, to be rebellious, and to be persistent. And, not to look too far for inspiration. Their own culture and exper iences can be the best and most unexpected star ting point.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE AND WHY?
Ever y collection br ings with it a new favor ite piece, but my current favor ite is our Masharabiya wall hanging. It is a beautiful tapestry made of interconnecting pillows that represents a re-imagination of a classic Islamic architectural feature. Like all our projects, this resonates deeply with us on a personal level as it not only reflects on a r ich histor y and ar tistic culture that we appreciate, but also speaks of shif ts in our contemporar y attitudes of globalization and modern technology. The cushion that can only exist when hand in hand with another cushion sends a simple message: to be human is to be present, and together we are stronger.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO COLLABORATE WITH MILIA M?
We have been actively working to take Bokja into new domains so when the opportunity to work with Milia M came up we grabbed it immediately. It required us to step out of our comfort zone, but it was a wonderful exper ience to work with a brand that has a similar ethos, and the results were better than we could have ever imagined. It opened up new possibilities and collaborations that we will continue to explore in the future.