We have known each other for a while when I discovered a Facebook page where fantastic pieces of furniture were given new life and new identity. I was charmed by the colours and shapes. Then one day I was shocked to realise that these magical things were created by Ági. I’ve admired her work ever since. As a journalist I couldn’t help myself, I just had to interview her.
– Ági, how did you get into working your magic on furniture?
– I never had a hobby before. As a child I collected paper napkins because every girl did. I loved taking photos of my cat, but my parents didn’t approve because films had to be developed at the time and I took quite a few useless shots, and then I covered everything in kitty pictures. Even now I couldn’t say I can draw anything more complicated than a potato. But it’s a lovely potato.
So much for talent. It didn’t show for ages. I had no idea I was talented at anything until last year. I simply didn’t realise I had a gift. I didn’t take notice of how I always transformed the flats where we used to live. I painted animals on the walls of Cuki (my daughter) ‘s bedroom. We never called a decorator, I always managed to do the job myself. I never thought it was special to change the colour of the fridge to orange because I didn’t like white, or to decorate the bathroom tiles with hand-painted gold flowers. I have no idea where this skill came from, it was just there, taken for granted, like eating or walking.
I fell in love with furniture officially when grey wall-paint spilled over a small nightstand. This was it: (kép)
I tried to wipe it clean but it only got smudged, so I decided to go over it with a roller. I painted the drawers white. I was ugly as sin, but I liked it anyway, because it looked much cheerier. But I’m a perfectionist, so I went on the Internet to see how to do this properly, and I found out that it was indeed possible. From then on I kept reading online articles and attending workshops, trying everything I learned. Our home quickly turned into a workshop.
One time I looked around in my living room and saw the dismantled chairs, leftover fabrics, paints and brushes, and I remembered that I used to long for a workshop space of my own. Well, I had one, I made it without realising.
I have a lot of friends who pop around from time to time and one time my best friend came to visit. She wasn’t upset by the chaos, in fact she told me she had five chairs she would pay me to revamp. I thought I’d do it for free so she wouldn’t be disappointed if I messed up.
Anyway, it felt great to be trusted like that. I revamped the chairs and she loves them. And I’ve had a hobby that is also my job ever since.
- How long did it take to learn the techniques?
I’m still learning, it is a never-ending story. I keep finding new solutions, new techniques, it’s a great journey.
– Which is the piece you think means the most to the person you made it for?
There is a cradle that I was supposed to rent out to someone. I haven’t told them yet, but I won’t let them pay for it. It feels wonderful to know that a newborn is sleeping, growing in one of my creations.
- Do you always consult your clients?
I couldn’t work unless I do. The exception is when someone chooses a ready piece. Otherwise I need to know the person, the personality, the environment and the requirements. It’s an understatement to say that I could only create a truly magnificent item for those who let me put a dash of my own personality and “craziness” into their idea. I can’t actually create anything for those who wouldn’t consider this. There are hundreds of craftspeople who can make gorgeous furniture precisely to client specification, but my clients are open to new ideas, to change. They like my designs and they know that their ideas, paired with my creativity will create something very individual and personal.
–Did you ever make something you got so attached to that you refused to sell it?
This question is spot on, because the white settee on the pictures is precisely that piece. We actually put it up for sale at double the planned price with my photographer colleague. But somehow it was bought anyway. Then there is the “Százéves” (Hundred-year-old), which is a controversial item; it will be taken soon even though I planned to keep it because it was a milestone. When I work on a piece I always try to be conscious of the process and my feelings, and I noticed the flow experience for the first time while working on this one.
- Do you consider yourself a successful mother?
Absolutely! I know I’m doing it right because my daughter tells me every day that she loves me. We are very close even though she is a teenager. I think it’s because I communicated with her even before she was born, and I kept up this constant flow of communication, reaching beyond mere physical contact while giving birth to her. When my daughter was 2.5 years old I wanted to die. I lost all my self-esteem, whatever I did, it turned out wrong. My relationship with the father of my child was really bad and I remember the moment I realised I had to make a decision: leave my life behind, or leave that life behind and start everything again from scratch. I took the second option and moved back to my home village with my daughter and a suitcase full of clothes. I was 29, with no money and no job. My parents are great people and I know it was very hard for them but they have always been supportive. My mum told me to find a job at the local hospital. I did, then I quit and decided never to set foot in that place again. So I told her I would only be willing to work at a job I loved, which was a bold statement at the time. Mum didn’t object but she told me to think about it carefully. What followed was a lot of tears, coincidences, hard work, luck, dreams, yelling, changing, breaking and a lot of love. My little daughter was telling me things like “Don’t worry, mum, it will be okay”. It is okay now, and we did it together, my daughter and me. Her father and I worked hard on this, and for the first time since our separation we can actually rely on each other. 10 years ago we couldn’t even talk without ending up fighting, and I think our current truce is due to as much effort on his part as mine. So I thought about all this and yes, now I do what I enjoy doing. I made so many difficult compromises in those seven years I was with him that I got fed up. I can’t do this any other way. My most important aim is to show Niki what she has always believed is true: if you have a dream, everything is possible.
- Is your daughter learning the tricks of the trade?
Only as far as a 12-year-old teenager is interested in her parents’ job. If I didn’t know her better I’d say she is not interested at all, but I know she has been a lot more creative than me, ever since she was a toddler. At the moment she is busy being a teenager, with all the joys and tensions, trying to find a balance between independence and closeness.
– A Chameeleon item is a unique treasure for any home. What does the name signify?
Chameeleon design furniture is much like a chameleon. My designs are transformed, just like a chameleon changes. An old-fashioned piece is dressed in new garments to adapt to the changing world. Old styles are given an elegant, trendy makeover to serve many more generations.
– What inspires you?
Even a pair of shoes. I keep my eyes open and look for unusual things. For some reason I can’t lead a conventional life. Perhaps this is why I always look for unique, unusual solutions. Elegance and simplicity are important to me, but they are boring without a hint of quirkiness.
- How do you make your furniture?
I love wood. I love the beauty of trees and wooden objects. My grandfather was a master smith and I loved watching him work. I thought it was nothing odd that he used to caress the pieces of iron before he started working with them. It was natural somehow. He told me to caress the material to get a feel of what it wants to be. To hear it whisper. My work is special because I don’t force my decisions upon my creations but listen to them and coax them to reveal their secrets. I couldn’t work any other way. I believe that my pieces of furniture are unique and individual because I never make two of the same. I combine wood with costume jewellery, leather, paint, faux leather and fur, even gems if required. There is an element of quirkiness is every piece.
The statement of my work is the beauty of imperfection, the acceptance of uniqueness as my pieces represent it. The world itself is complete in its special, imperfect way, and my creations mirror this sense of individuality. They show the world in a different light, they offer inspiration to leave your comfort zone and follow a different path, a different pattern. A bit of magic every day. If you take one of my creations home and put it in your living room, you will look at it, lounge in it, use it and remember to look at the world a bit differently and explore miracles. It’s all about the importance of change, while preserving old shapes, as trees change and develop, nurtured by their roots. As a chameleon changes while preserving its form.
- Where do you see your furniture?
- I imagine them in casual, light, elegant homes with people who prefer to preserve elements of the past paired with designer touches, and who can adapt to a changing world. People who want to add a touch of individuality to their everyday lives. Homes where love is not just a word. My plan for 2017 is to create as many pieces as possible where wood is paired with gemstones. This is a wonderful combination which gives a home special energies.
– So what are your plans for 2017?
Chameeleon design furniture is made in an open workshop where I sometimes teach furniture painting to women who want to revamp and renew their furniture at home. Environment-consciousness is important to me and I want to support them on this path. I would like to make my workshop better known, and to prevent lovely pieces of furniture being thrown away instead of being given a new life to serve people longer. Furniture painting is also a kind of meditation, it provides a flow experience, it is perfect stress-relief and a great pastime.
I would like my pieces to be found in as many homes as possible. There is also a national project in the making, and I had the honour to be a founding member of it. I’ll tell you all about it later…
– Well, Ági, have I told you I had this piece of furniture that needs a revamp…?