Gentleness, playfulness and wit

Furnicoolture is one of the first design studios in Košice. Mária Bujňáková and Patrik Bujňák are involved in everything from graphic design to consultancy, the production of specific products or gift items and the design of public and private spaces. We asked Mária Bujňáková, a founding member of Furnicoolture, about the future of design in Košice, design festivals and conferences, as well as the cable car station at Skalnaté pleso.

The last time we interviewed you was about three years ago, what has changed since then?

My overall situation has changed, as I finished my PhD studies at the Faculty of Arts of the Technical University in Košice and started teaching as an assistant professor. I have been working at the Faculty of Arts for two years now. I have also received a nomination from the National Design Award for my Takka figurines, which I created as part of my dissertation. In the summer we had our first solo exhibition with Furnicoolture Studio at the Vojtech Löffler Museum and also smaller exhibitions with the Faculty of Arts. And there was also Covid (laughs). 

For those who don’t know, could you explain what Furnicoolture is?

I founded the design studio together with my brother Patrik and Mia (née Podolánová), while we were still at university. All three of us studied design at the Faculty of Arts. When I was starting out at the faculty, Patrik and Mia were finishing their studies. We mostly worked by consulting with each other for our university assignments. Even back then, we told each other that we would love to have our own studio. They both waited until after I finished school and in 2015 Patrik promptly came up with the name Furnicoolture. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have a name in English, so the word that we created was made up of three English words: “furniture”, because furniture was what we were most interested in; “culture”, which was a reflection of the culture in (housing) design that we lacked in Košice; and “cool” in the middle came to us as a cool idea at that time. Now we see it slightly differently (laughs). We launched our careers with our first commission in Markušovce, where we worked on the redesign of the interior of the Dardanely summer residence. Today only my brother and I run the studio and we collaborate with designers Michal Smoleňák, Viktória Fialíková, architect Ladislav Balogh and student Ivana Miženková. Mia decided to leave the studio for a pragmatic reason and created her own brand. However, we still intend to work together.

You really do everything, from children’s toys to interior design for apartments, surgeries and public spaces and visual identities for festivals. Why are the things that surround us important and what is the difference between working with intimate, private and public spaces? 

Each member of Furnicoolture works in a different sphere, with the exception of large-scale projects where we work together. Since I have graduated from an art college, it was perhaps logical that I do graphic design as well (laughs) which, of course, I also very much enjoy. But I am a trained product designer with a focus on furniture and applied arts. My brother graduated from a woodworking high school, where he mostly focused on interiors and more technically demanding projects. Mia, a grammar school graduate, was creating products for specific clients. So most of Patrik’s contacts come from the private sector and mine from the public sphere. We each have our own references and we connect them effectively. 

Is there any aspect that is specific to your work? 

That’s probably for someone else to judge. Speaking for myself, I can say that my design is very minimalistic. It is equally characterised by thoughtfulness, subtlety and playfulness. The added value is the story contained in the signification, stylisation, symbolism or material. Most of my products or graphics will make you smile, and that is a sign that you understand my design or social intention.

How did the project for the cable car station at Skalnaté pleso come about? 

It is the valley station of the cable car that connects Skalnaté pleso and Lomnický štít. We were approached directly by the investor – the management of Tatry Mountain Resorts – to redesign the interior. It is located in a historic building by the famous Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič, so it was necessary to preserve some elements, but otherwise we had full artistic freedom. We were only influenced by the budget, high mountain weather conditions and limited accessibility. The chosen ecological material could only be transported by cable car. I coincidentally discovered this material while studying in Norway and used it for the collection of products in my thesis. In short, it is a wood fibre material that is coloured throughout, and has excellent properties such as strength, moisture resistance etc. The project itself was led by my brother in collaboration with two architects. Patrik designed the suspended ceilings, the centre piece and the prominent polygonal wall cladding. The whole concept of the interior elements is based on the use of the same material, which can be fully replaced with the same piece if damaged. The interior also included the graphic design of the timeline and the navigation system, which I did myself and I am still adding elements to the graphics according to requirements. The overall project took about a year to complete. Our friend, architect Igor Ciel, took care of the execution. It is one of the few projects that went directly from visualisation to realisation and the final result is identical to the design. There are only minimal changes, to which we attribute the success of this work.

Are there any other collaborations that you can single out?

I am currently finishing a collaboration with designer Martin Kossuth from moredesign studio and his friend Monika Suchánska from CEEV Živica, who organises ecologically-friendly funerals and who developed a new product under the brand Funebra. It is a very sensitive project, the intention of which is to provide the clients with a means by which to plan the end of their life. I love unusual collaborations, especially when I feel fully trusted. For Funebra, I designed a paper box that looks like a book or a photo album. Inside there is space for cards with questions through which you plan your departure and funeral. The box includes a pocket for storing photos and letters, and a compartment for a USB key. You can put there the memories and items you want to leave for your loved ones. We took a long time choosing the right paper, prototyping the cover and taking care of every detail such as blind embossing, embossing, fine printing and closing.

I also collaborated with designer Roman Juhás on the interior design for KEIS and Košice’s Výmenníky. Most of my collaborations have been through projects delivered by CIKE (Creative Industry Košice). Right after I graduated from university, I got involved in the Arts and Business project. I was with Viktor Feher on a creative internship in Ryba Košice. Viktor was designing the interior of Pán Ryba restaurant and I was designing gifts for the 70th anniversary of the company. After this creative internship I designed a bicycle stand for Aupark Košice and took part in a work placement in Sweden as part of the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs project. 

You and Art & Tech Days? 

During my mobility in Sweden, I was approached by the former project manager of CIKE, Jana Romanová. She asked me if I could create a logo for the Art & Tech Days festival. I chose a pixel font that they liked and which later became the basis for the festival visuals. This collaboration seems to work well, as we’ve been “pulling it off” together with the pilot edition for 7 years now (laughs). The festival is getting closer and closer to me. In the beginning I was looking for a way to grasp the connection between art and technology. I think the awareness of technology has grown quite a lot since the festival started. As for the visual identity of the festival itself, I’ve been creating it in a 3D program for the last few years. Of course, I react to the theme of a particular edition, but the process of creation remains the same. I model the graphic elements in 3D and then create 2D patterns for the visuals. 

This year the visual identity focuses on the theme of change with six spatial geometric elements. Each object was created from a different base that changes its trajectory into a different shape using selected points. The linear objects reveal the dominant typography of the multiplied title CHANGE, in which the letter N rotates. The bright yellow visuals of the campaign can be transformed according to the particular use, and this is what I greatly enjoyed about the whole process of creation.

How do creativity and technology intersect in your work?

At college, I worked in the Innovation Design Studio. If I can compare FUTU (Faculty of Arts of the Technical University in Košice), with the studios of, for example, VŠVU (Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava), I think they have a lot more possibilities than we used to have. We basically had only one workshop, two masters, and we created everything on our knees, so to speak. Maybe if we had a CNC machine, a laser or a 3D printer, we would have been able to create prototypes more easily. But we had to do it by hand, which is actually not bad at all. Today I see it as a benefit, and I say the same thing to my students – if they work with the material by hand and know its properties and limits, they can come up with better results. They should feel the material, but they should not resist technology and respect it. Technology certainly helps and speeds up processes, and often inspires – for example, unexpected moments or patterns emerge that you would never have thought of without technology. Creativity and technology go hand in hand and it will never be any different (smile).

What is your relationship with the Eastern Design conference and how does it inspire you?

This conference is always inspiring for me and I am very happy and grateful that Roman Juhás and Ľuboš Bišto have taken the plunge. Roman spoke to me about this idea in Tabačka a long time ago and it’s fascinating to see how his idea has become a reality. I don’t think that Eastern Design is the reason for any of my works, but it is a kick for me to keep working on myself and improving. What really impressed me in this edition was Michal Slovák’s attitude, his modesty and the fact that he has been working for Lyra for many years. I am also fascinated by Polish and Czech graphic design, which I have been following since school. I also enjoyed the philosophy and oratory skills of Tomáš Libertíny. I can also mention Kickie Chudíková, who came to the conference from America. I was more inspired by her marketing strategy than her work. She is able to sell herself as a world-class designer, and that, in my opinion, is what we Slovak designers lack. We make quality things but we often lack boldness and we have to do something about it (smile).

How has Košice influenced your work? 

A lot of people ask us why we stayed in Košice. My counter-question is that if we hadn’t stayed, who would be working here? We still enjoy working in an environment where there is less competition and we still enjoy educating our customers. In the beginning, during our meetings with clients we had to explain what design was. Fortunately, we’re past that now. Awareness of design and good design is growing. The number of colleagues who are involved in design has grown as well. For me, they are always colleagues, not competitors. The way it works in Košice is that we pass commissions to each other and work together. For example, Roman Juhás knows that I make good packaging, so he won’t worry about it and he’ll reach out to me, and it’s the same the other way around. I feel that in the creative community in Košice we support each other quite a lot. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the artistic community here is smaller than in Prague or Bratislava. 

Do you think there is such a thing as Košice design? 

Definitely! A lot of our artists studied in Poland for a while and I think you can see in our work the craftsmanship we acquired there. The distinctiveness of Košice design would be confirmed by the people in Bratislava, because we are currently having an exhibition at the ÚĽUV Design Studio. Our originality is also perceived by our colleagues from central Slovakia. Creative individuals from the capital may look down on us, but when they get to know us and our work, they change their perception.

Košice is simply a wilderness! We are more spontaneous. We have a sense of humour and we know how to make fun of ourselves and our art. We are not ashamed of expression, whether verbal or visual. I think that’s what makes us special. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we don’t pretend to be anyone we’re not.

Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.

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