PORTRAIT - Malgorzata Bany and Tycjan Knut
For me, our PORTRAIT series is about people. Yes - we are photographing and telling stories about their homes, but most important to me is the people within the place and the space.
To meet Malgorzata and Tycjan and be invited into their home and workplace was an utter joy. Quiet, beautiful, careful, delightful, detailed, welcoming - all of these things. And also storytelling - through Malgorzata’s wonderful pieces and Tycjan’s incredibly beautiful paintings - but also through conversation and observation.
And to watch Kalina fall into and take the extrordinary images in this PORTRAIT, I hope conveys how much we both were uplifted by the people and place.
Malgorzata tells us how making, her memories and family have informed her home, work and way of living.
Images by Kalina Krawczy
I grew up in Warsaw, Poland. My very early years came along together with Poland coming out of communist era but also at the time of rapid economic growth. To start with, there wasn’t much [in the way of goods] to choose from, I know that people were happy with what they got hold of and they really did treasure it.
The most vivid memories from childhood are centred around creative fun. My mum is very good at knitting so more than once she dressed me and herself. My dad had a passion for model making which came in handy whilst building a plywood dolls house with working electricity in it (!) or making 1:1 cardboard mock-up of a laptop (that of course came a little later, roughly when laptops appeared on the market :)
My grandad was very good at sewing and he made all the alterations for the family, not to mention net curtains and lined curtains – only now I can fully appreciate the enormity of such task.
I am quite sure that all the above influenced me, mostly, to bring it all to one conclusion: the best fun is in creating something that makes you happy yourself.
I believe that it was very much a thought of the time too, the 'do it yourself' trend – as much as it was relevant in Poland, it was also in UK. If one can’t get hold of something, the best solution is to find a way of making it with your own creative approach and a little elbow grease.
Coincidentally, Poland always has been a very forest-rich country, with so many forests it wasn’t hard to get hold of wood. Along with that came a long-lasting tradition of textile manufacture. Together they were the source of a lot of raw material to work with and my family, as much as other people made use of it, depending on skills with extraordinary or mediocre results.
Of course, I didn’t forget the late 90’s mass-produced Swedish furniture. But much as it constituted a wide landscape around me, it wasn’t so much at my home.
In terms of objects and furniture I found captivating as a child and as a result they are part of my vivid memories… I remember the cabinet at my grandparents house. It smelled of sweet roses due to my granny’s stash of essential rose oils. It also had a beautiful glossy veneer on it and the sound of the door opening and closing was so satisfying, but rather impossible to describe now. It was definitely a handmade, bespoke piece – I have absolutely no idea where they got it from, but it was ultimately beautiful to me then.
I remember the wool blanket and cushion covers from my mum’s parents’ house, with their wonderful texture, woven and bubbly. It was incredibly scratchy to put one’s face on it, but unbelievably addictive to touch you’re your hands. My granny had it in red wine colour and my grandad in pale bone. The wonderful thing about it, which of course I found out years later, is that these particular blankets and design of the textile is a regional Polish craft which one couldn’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately, my mum tells me now that these are not produced anymore and very hard to find. Thankfully I got one for myself few years ago… and I certainly hope someone will take it up again, it always so sad seeing a diminishing of local craftsmanship.
I also remember my granny’s small stool – purely because of its proportions next to all the other pieces of furniture at home. It was tiny and toy-like, yet incredibly useful to my equally tiny granny.
I remember the tea set where all the cups and tea pot had different colours. It seemed particularly avant-garde to me then.
I remember the armchair set that came with coffee table, side table and stool. The construction of all the pieces was based on patinated shiny metal dowels with smoky glass for the table tops and raw linen seating for the armchairs. It was very modernist in style and still now I dream of a set like this.
I remember rough linen, tonal, stripy curtains in a rusty colour and handmade crochet table dressings collected by my granny.
I also remember the parquet flooring and its soft buttery waxy polish. Thankfully it was so popular then. I am still of the view that nothing can replace a beautiful wooden floor.
There are, I am sure, many more things I do remember, mostly for their smell, texture, craftsmanship or interesting detail or proportion… Yet I must admit, it would be difficult to forget as all these pieces are still very much in use and in their original place. I really think there is something very special about acquiring things one feels committed to – not only because the reverse of that would seem wasteful but also, I think it would be a shame to replace pieces that contributed to so many memories.
I believe that I was receptive to the quality of objects from quite an early age. It always seemed important to me how something feels when you touch it, how it smells. Is it heavy or light? Warm or cold? What’s the texture and the sound it makes? Perhaps it is very standard in navigating ones’ way through the tactile world, but I can definitely confirm that this would be my way of categorising objects into interesting or non-memorable.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, a beautiful piece of chalk rock from the beach can feel equally precious as a bronze trinket. It is simply beyond comparison to me. It’s different, true of itself and unique.
When it comes to furniture, certainly I always thought that handmade pieces were precious, but actually everything one owns should be looked after, even if it’s not solid oak but merely chipboard covered with veneer. I am quite familiar with the approach that something is good for as long as it serves the purpose… but of course, more than once I didn’t resist the temptation, and minimalist living just expanded by one more ‘necessary’ object.
I am always drawn to natural materials and as much as I feel it goes back to my childhood experiences I also appreciate the time exploring it when painting, sculpting or making pieces of furniture.
In my home, I still love linen and wool, particularly in their natural tones. But I also like to experiment with different dying techniques. There is something addictive about it as you can always go back to the same piece of cloth and dye it again and over, especially if I am not happy with the colour that came out or if I am simply too familiar with it after a while and I crave a change.
Our home is a rented warehouse unit. Both me and my partner, Tycjan Knut, have separate studio spaces here and, of course, a living area. It took a lot of effort to make it work for us. The space doesn’t have the easiest layout and it wasn’t cosy when we first stepped in, yet we fell in love with light and airy space, large windows, and the rawness of it.
Comparing it to my childhood home, it had certainly nothing in common… Except the all-important wooden floor :) For Tycjan, possibly, it was ever so slightly more familiar to him, even just for the fact of having studio and home under one roof. Tycjan’s dad is a painter and works from a studio attached to the house.
Our previous home was a beautiful flat in Georgian terrace. I really loved it, but practicalities of home being separate to our studios we decided to move. I think it was to do with prioritising work over the potential comforts of a peaceful, restful home. Two years on I feel that we have achieved both. We can both focus in our studios but also the living space gives us just as much as we need for now. The work and living spaces are completely separate – probably not at all! – but I got used to it and now I really like it.
One thing I really dislike in general is clutter. I find it distracting and tiring, yet another hand-made tea cup could definitely be on my list of necessities… or another pebble or a nice piece of fabric that I could make something out of… Currently I am on the hunt for a little Japanese stool to pair up with the one I already have. My need for empty spaces at home probably makes me more selective in my choices because I always think it’s great to have beautiful things but if you can’t display them properly, what’s the point?
Tycjan, on the other hand, is quite simply not interested in objects as much. He is used to having artworks at home that constitute his natural habitat.
All in all, the truth is that our home is somewhat an extension of our studios. It is neutral, calm, light and, in many ways, has all the characteristics of a good work space. And this is often how we use it in the day. For us the neutral colour scheme was very important. Tycjan often brings finished paintings to the living space, just to look at them in a different, clean environment. I always lay out models and test pieces on the sideboard or coffee table. It helps me to distance myself from them for a moment and just take them for just another object in the space. Taking things out of the workspace is always very helpful. Ultimately, I can at least reassure myself if I like living with the object, whether it is a table or a wall mounted relief.
I think there is a sense of this home being temporary. But I can already feel that it will be (and is already) at a heart of a very important chapter in our lives.
The last three years have been almost solely focused on work. But there is nothing better than being focused on doing something you really care for, the sense of contribution and the incredible relief and satisfaction with every undertaking as it materialises. It’s very much a time when we’re learning a lot – about ourselves and our professions – and that inevitably comes with equal doses and excitement and exhaustion. I think where we are mentally, and our home, are definitely an extension of one another. Like anyone, we’re trying to find a little peace and rest. But for me, most of the time I really wish for our home to give me energy, focus and space for thoughts. I can say that we love it, but probably to a large extent because it is inseparable from what we do.
The idea of ‘home’ is certainly given new meaning for anyone who lives away from their home country for ten years or more. As my home multiplied in a geographical sense, I am quite sure it made me more adaptable and open. It also became much easier for me to build personal relationships with new places and spaces for that matter.
For me, our current place feels like home mostly because we have dedicated a lot of effort to put it together. When we moved in the space was empty, literally. So the experience of building sofa and a bed frame, putting up a screen partition wall, building kitchen units and mezzanine storage… these were our first experiences of the kind. It was most certainly memorable and, as a result, made the space very personal to us. I am ready to enjoy this place for a while longer – for now it feels just right.