Design Finds Q&A – Interview with CRATEive

CRATEive - Interview with Bartek Stanny

This month we are very excited to have a new feature here on F.I.N.D.S.  We have an interview series we have started and are very excited to introduce our readers to CRATEive.  When we first learned of this company based out of London we were so inspired and interested in the work that its founder Bartek Stanny was doing that we had to learn more.  Not only is he producing sustainable furniture, but the entire process is environmentally friendly as well.  You know this month we love anything sustainable, but what really got us with this company was the story behind each piece.  It truly is a unique item that you cannot get anywhere else.  We would love to own one of these one a kind furniture pieces.  CRATEive is saving old crates that have housed many famous art pieces from all over the world and repurposing them into fantastic one of a kind furniture pieces.

Originally these pieces were inspired by the places the crates had traveled from.  He has a table entitled West 24th Street table and it has been painted a taxi cab yellow referencing that the painting had been transferred from New York.  Recently however, Bartek has experienced a shift in his inspiration and is proud to announce the launch of his newest collection ICONS.  The ICONS collection is a shift in his source of inspiration, rather than drawing from the locations the crate has come from he is more focused on the artwork that was inside of the crate and the specific styles of the respective artist.  We are in love with his new collection and are very happy to have the honor of announcing and sharing CRATEive’s new work with you here on F.I.N.D.S.

We will not keep you in suspense any longer; here are the newest pieces from CRATEive! (Click on the images below to be taken to CRATEive’s website for detailed information on each piece)

CRATEive - ICONS Collection - Jasper Johns Coffee Table

CRATEive - ICONS Collection - Roy Lichtenstein Dining Table

CRATEive - ICONS Collection - Keith Haring Coffee Table

CRATEive - ICONS Collection - Robert Indiana Storage Box

In addition to allowing us to officially announce the launch of his new collection Bartek was kind enough to take the time to sit down and answer our questions.  We were so fascinated by the idea of his work that we just had to learn more about his inspirations, processes, ideas, if he loves to travel, and if he had any advice for those of use starting our own creative businesses.  We loved everything he had to say and it really is an interesting read.  His advice at the end of the interview is short, but fantastic.  We may even turn his quote into some art for the wall in the office, we love it so much!

F.I.N.D.S.How did you get started working with creating furniture from crates?  What was your initial inspiration?

Bartek: The concept to make furniture out of art crates was conceived during my visit to the Tate Museum storage in 2010.  The warehouse was filled up to a ceiling with bright yellow wooden crates (all Tate’s cases are painted yellow).  Walking through this maze and looking at the names of the world’s finest artists stenciled on the crates and all the shipping labels from distant places I realized that these wooden constructions live amazing lives and have a history of their own that should be told.  I thought that they should not end up in a wood chipper, but be re-purposed and continue their lives as art objects.  During my career I have seen so many perfectly fine crates being disposed of simply because the cost of storing them once empty was greater than a chance of them ever being re-used.  I could not stand the thought of all the energy and materials once used to produce them being completely wasted.  It appeared to me as a completely senseless waste.  Therefore, the ideas to start making furniture out of art crates evolved naturally and combined with my passion for sustainable design and art with the skills and knowledge I’ve gained as a technician.  Over the years I’ve learned quite a lot about crate-making and I know that art crates are extremely solid structures made of high-quality materials, as they are designed to protect their valuable contents while being shipped to far-off places.  I knew that they would make a fantastic base structure for furniture.  Nevertheless, it took me another three years to finally make a decision of ending my career as a fine art technician and shifting all my energy towards furniture design that later became CRATEive.

F.I.N.D.S.Do you have a favorite designer or artist that you draw your inspiration from?

Bartek: I have never had any formal furniture making/designing training of any kind.  I was growing up thinking that I will be an architect or interior designer just as my older cousins.  I loved drawing and designing but I’ve decided to follow my passion for art.  Fine art for many centuries was actually more about decorating interiors rather than abstract values we attach to art today.  As I studied Art History I was becoming more and more interested in the history of objects of everyday life as I realized that they are interesting witnesses of their times and changing fashion.

There are many great designers that I admire and London is a particularly good place to get inspired.  Thomas Heatherwick is one of the most amazing designers of our time and few of his works can be seen and admired in the public spaces in London.  There are of course the giants of design that I should mention here as they’ve shaped the realm of contemporary design.  Patricia Urquiola, the Bouroullec brothers and absolute legends, the Eames are probably among my top favorites.  However, I don’t search for inspiration in other designers’ work.  For me the inspiration is always enchanted in the object I work with, the crate.  They provide never ending sources of ideas.  Also, because of my strong art background I tend to look at the history of art to reference my pieces.  The best example of this practice is the blanket chest from my collection named Moganshan as it was inspired by ‘Cassone’, the most important piece of furniture in the households of wealthy Italian families during the Renaissance.  It was a chest holding a bride’s dowry.

Naturally there is inspiration coming from the artwork that travelled inside a particular crate.  Recently I’ve created a coffee table from a crate that used to hold an Andy Warhol painting titled ‘Flowers’ that was sold at auction in London for almost £900,000.  This particular project was commissioned by a client so my hands were a bit tied, but it enabled this surge of ideas that resulted in a series of four pieces each dedicated to one of the giants of American pop art (The ICONS collection introduced earlier).  So there’s a Liechtenstein dining table, Jasper Jones and Keith Haring coffee tables and a Robert Indiana storage box.

F.I.N.D.S. – How do you decide what crate to use for a piece?  Are there certain characteristics that make a crate better suited for different uses?

Bartek: First of all there’s the quality of the crate to be considered.  Although most of the art crates are of fine quality there are still various standards of specifications.  The best crates are the ones crafted for museums and the biggest galleries as they are made of best quality, expensive materials.  All art crates are made to order and a good art crate can cost anything from $200 for a small one up to $2000 for a bigger one.  All respectable art shipping companies have dedicated crate-making departments so they provide top quality products to their wealthy clients.

Once I pick which crates I want to get for my studio I start thinking about what to make out of them.  For me, every piece of furniture I am making is an artwork and I work on every piece individually.  I approach the crates as I would approach a blank canvas or a clean slate of marble.  I’m trying to get inspired by the object and work with it and not against it.  This is the reason why the collection is so varied.  Each piece has its own unique character expressed through form and colors.  Narrow painting cases are better suited for making tables and wider sculpture cases make wonderful storage units, bookcases, or armchairs.

CRATEive - Crates ready for construction

F.I.N.D.S.We love that the product you create is environmentally friendly with the reuse of the crates.  Do you take steps while creating each piece to make the entire process environmentally friendly?

Bartek: Of course I’m making every effort to stick to CRATEive’s ‘eco’ principles in all aspects of our business: transport, energy, waste, materials.  I’m trying to recycle every part of the crate including the foam with which they are lined.  It’s important to mention that the best art logistics companies such as Momart or Martinspeed in London pride themselves on sourcing their materials for crate making only from responsible and sustainable sources.  Therefore my base material is already compliant with CRATEive’s eco-friendly principles.  On top of that I try to use hand tools that require no or limited amounts of electricity.  One of the most important things for me was to find paint that would be both environmentally friendly and durable.  It wasn’t easy, but I finally found a product that fulfills my criteria.  It is so called chalk paint invented by Annie Sloan and it became very popular with people doing DIY furniture restoration.  It has this stigma of being suitable only for creating a shabby chic effect.  I’ve decided to give it a go because of its amazing eco properties, as it is totally water-based and odorless and I achieved some good results.  Sometimes, however it is inevitable to use some spray-paint or solvent-based varnishes.

Most importantly, I sincerely hope that CRATEive becomes successful so we can save even more crates from ending their lives in the wood-chipper and give some joy to the people with my furniture.

CRATEive - Inside the CRATEive Studio

F.I.N.D.S.What is a typical day like for you?

Bartek: It’s not particularly exciting or special so don’t put it in 🙂 (editors note: We decided to include this though because it speaks to the design process that so many of us have, get inspired, wait, work on a project, step back wait, hate it, then continue working and eventually you love it)

I wake up, go to the studio, have a coffee and cigarette (yes, I know it’s bad for me), I either pick up where I left off the day before or start a new project.  I stare at a crate to get inspired.  I create a design (which I’ll change a few times while working on it).  I clean it, peel off all the shipping labels while recording the info on them.  Sanding.  Planning all the fixings such as hinges and insert nuts for legs.  I fill all the imperfections and wait for it to dry.  Have more coffee and cigarettes.  I sand, check and sand again, and check, and do more sanding.  Applying primer, wait.  Coffee and cigarettes.  Sand, check, sand.  Apply first coat, wait (usually a long time).  Apply second coat, wait.  Design the stencils, cut them out by hand.  Clean the spray gun.  Spray the stencils.  Clean the gun.  Apply varnish/wax/oil/lacquer and wait.  Fix all the fixings in place.  Look at it and get dissatisfied (that’s usually my initial reaction, later it gets better) and have a near-lethal amount of caffeine and nicotine 🙂 One piece takes from three to seven days to finish.  I also do lots of marketing and sales related tasks in the meantime.

CRATEive - In the studio - The making of Moganshan Blanket Chest

F.I.N.D.S.When someone purchases something from your collection do they get to know the history behind the crate their piece was created from?  What is the most interesting story behind a crate or the most interesting piece of art that was carried in a crate you have used for your collection?

Bartek: Yes, they do.  I’m bound by a gentleman’s agreement with the institutions which supply the crates that limits the amount of details I can share publicly about the artworks and their owners.  There’s a considerable amount of secrecy in the art world.  However, I can and will reveal some interesting details to the purchaser.  It definitely makes for an interesting dinner party story.

I have crates that protected Turner Prize nominated artworks, icons of contemporary art such as aforementioned Warhol or Liechtenstein, Anselm Kiefer, Dan Flavin and many more.  Arguably the most interesting artifact that travelled inside my furniture was a folio from Blue Qur’an which is one of the holiest Islamic manuscripts and its folios are displayed in the most prestigious museums around the world.

F.I.N.D.S.Of all the pieces you have created, do you have a personal favorite?

Bartek: This is a tricky question as if to ask a parent which of his kids is his favorite 🙂

I do however like some of my creations more than others.  West 24th Street coffee table is among my favorites as it is the closest to the vision I had of my collection before I started CRATEive.  I also like a dining table I made out of Roy Liechtenstein’s crate.  It is not yet properly photographed and uploaded on the website as it was finished only recently but it will be coming soon (editor’s note: This table is part of the new ICONS collection we announced and pictured above.  It has since been added to the CRATEive website)

CRATEive - West 24th Street Coffee Table

F.I.N.D.S.How would one go about working with you on a project or getting something from your collection for their own home?

Bartek: If a client requires something specific, he or she can contact me directly via email or phone.  Once we discuss project specifics I can then go about looking for an appropriate crate.  If I find one that fits the requirements I can then come back to the client with a suggested design.  I recently had a commission from a client for a coffee table in yellow and white and ideally with an interesting history associated with a world class artist.  Luckily I had just a crate for the job, Andy Warhol’s.  My initial design has been accepted with only minor changes which were discussed during video-conferences on Skype directly from my studio.

F.I.N.D.S.This is just something we like to ask everyone.  We love to travel and use travel as a huge source of inspiration in our work.  Do you travel often and if you do, where are your favorite destinations and do you have a favorite design destination?

Bartek: Traveling is my second favorite thing after designing, but when it’s a design infused traveling then it’s definitely my life’s favorite 🙂

I try to travel as much as possible and I do my design research on the way as to not feel guilty for not working in the studio.  Even my honeymoon was filled with design stopovers.  Luckily my wife is also a huge design enthusiast so she didn’t mind.  I really think that travels are absolutely necessary if one is wheeling to become a successful designer as we need to expose ourselves to the unfamiliar in order to keep our minds fresh.  I think the fact that I left my native Poland as a teenager to live, work, and study in Norway, Paris and then London helped me rediscovering the world’s visual language.

I always try to visit interesting concept stores and design showrooms, but I try to keep my eyes wide open everywhere I go.  Sometimes graffiti on a wall, a piece of unusual road signage, a random sticker on a window or a design of local public transport map can provide an interesting stimulus.  Design is everywhere we look and the less familiar it is to our brain the better.

It is always an absolute joy to travel around Italy.  Every city is full of outstanding design stores, but what’s surprising is that in Italy even small towns can satisfy a design enthusiast.  On top of that they have world class art collections, delicious food and coffee, fast cars, great fashion sense, the best weather and beautiful people.  For me it’s heaven on Earth.  Italians understand design like no other nation.  When it comes to short city breaks, all-time favorites such as Paris or Berlin, which happens to be near my hometown of Stettin, are always a hit with abundance of design shops and artists’ studios.

I’ve recently decided to record my design field trips in a form of a blog so I invite everyone to visit

F.I.N.D.S.Lastly, what advice would you have for someone who is starting out with the creative business?

Bartek: I could go on about how important hard work, persistence and determination are because it’s true, but it’s actually much simpler than that… Follow your dreams.  It’s bloody worth it!

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