Anna Olszewska of Furniture East
In Conversation With

Anna
Olszewska Of
Furniture East

Words by Lucy Siddall.
Photography by Anna Olszewska.

From fiction to furniture, Anna Olszewska on inheriting her
father’s carpentry skills and turning a passion for woodwork,
creativity and storytelling into a career.

Anna Olszewska: The Furniture East Workshop

Sourced pieces, ready to be restored and upholstered.

Carpentry is more than a profession to Anna Olszewska. It’s a way of being. To her, it’s ‘sentimental’. Born into a family of craftsmen, in a way, Olszewska was destined to work with her hands. Following an education in literature and a career as a photographer, she shifted gears during the pandemic. Fuelled by creativity and a love of vintage furniture, Olszewska, under the guidance of her father, started renovating her pieces.

Lucy Siddall: What made you decide to retrain as a carpenter?

Anna Olszewska: Everything changed in 2020. It was lockdown, and unable to go on photoshoots, I suddenly had all the time in the world. My dad is a carpenter, and I’d always said if I wasn’t a photographer, I’d be a carpenter. It is a very meaningful job for me. Once I’d decided, I approached my dad and bought a few chairs, leading me to where I am now.

I always said if I wasn’t a photographer, I’d be
a carpenter. It is a very meaningful job for me.

LS: Did your father teach you how to restore furniture?

AO: Yes, I told him I wanted to learn and asked him if he’d show me. Since then, he has taught me a lot, for example, how to take furniture apart and, without causing damage, remove varnish. He’s a trained carpenter, though he’s not trained in restoration, so we also learn new techniques as a pair.

LS: What’s your earliest memory of coming into contact with vintage furniture?

AO: In my childhood, we lived in the village my mum grew up in, and our house was full of beautiful, interesting pieces. Unfortunately, we had to sell the house for financial reasons in the nineties. We moved to a small apartment in the city and had to leave all these incredible items behind. At the time, it was just furniture, a wardrobe or a cabinet, but I’ve since realised they were amazing Art Deco pieces.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAIL

Anna meticulously restores vintage furniture by hand, bringing each piece back to its former glory and beyond.

Anna Olszewska of Furniture East

LS: Why did you choose to go down the route of second-hand furniture rather than making your own?

AO: Everything I’ve practiced since studying literature has been about storytelling, and it’s the same with antiques. Vintage furniture has a story to tell. Each item has so much history: Who made it, and where has it been? When I shop or buy from dealers, I research the pieces as much as possible to find out about their origins and past.

LS: Restoring the piece means adding another chapter to the story. You’re evolving it.

AO: Yes, I think I’m giving it a new lease of life.

LS: Our readers would love to know where you source furniture.

AO: I often use Facebook Marketplace, or we have an eBay equivalent called Allegro. I’ve also met dealers through these platforms, so now I go directly to them.

Anna Olszewska of Furniture East

LS: What do you look for in the pieces you’re going to restore?

AO: I buy some things purely because I love them and think they are beautiful. I like simplicity—simple, geometric forms with clear, clean lines. But I’m also looking for functionality. I want a piece to be what it’s supposed to be. If it’s a sideboard, it needs to practically work as a sideboard. If it’s an armchair, it needs to be an armchair that functions, so there must be comfort within that functionality.

LS: How do you know something is worth restoring?

AO: Every piece is worth restoring. If you like something and want to give it a new life, it’s always worth trying. Just be prepared to fail.

LS: What determines how you will upholster a piece of furniture?

AO: When I first started, I would make pieces in incredibly bright colours, but they weren’t in line with what people wanted, which was natural or muted tones. Now, I keep an eye on interior design trends. I don’t always make safe decisions. I might do a bright pink boucle chair just because I love it, but on the whole, I make informed styling choices for the pieces I’m going to sell. It’s a balance between what’s on trend and what I love. I think it’s important to stay true to yourself, but if a client has made a specific request, I’ll follow that.

Anna Olszewska in her studio
Anna Olszewska in her studio

In 2020, during the first lockdown, Anna retrained from photographer to carpenter.

Anna Olszewska of Furniture East - Collection of restored chairs

Completed pieces, ready to go to their new homes.

LS: How do you approach your renovation process?

AO: I consider each piece individually, as every item requires a different process. If I am unfamiliar with a specific technique, I will research and practice the necessary skills. Each piece is a learning curve, and I like to challenge myself. The restoration process is a compromise, as every item has had a life already, but the patina is just as valuable as the piece itself. That’s what makes each item special and unique. With vintage furniture, you must be prepared for the unknown.

LS: How do you work with clients?

AO: My workshop is in Poland, and I specialise in Eastern European pieces, so I only restore there. Clients come to me asking to purchase products they’ve seen, or they ask me to source something in particular, and we customise it together collaboratively. I used to sell items I had in stock, but working on a pre-order basis suits me and my clients better. I still have a mountain of things, which I work on when I have some spare time.

LS: How long do your renovations take?

AO: It depends on my amazing upholsterer back home. He’s a magician. I source fabrics from around Europe, but he applies them, so it mainly depends on his availability and the nature of the project. I do everything by hand, so I usually say a few months once I’ve factored that in.

LS: Finally, who is inspiring you at the moment?

AO: A friend of mine, Laura Fulmine, she’s a maverick, she’s fantastic. She is an Interior Stylist and Creative Director and owns an incredible showroom, The M.A.H Gallery. She’s brilliant.

Head to Anna’s Instagram to learn about Furniture East and the objects Anna Olszewska restores.

Furniture East - Restored chair ready to assemble

Anna specialises in Eastern European pieces and restores all furniture in her workshop in Poland.

Anna Olszewska of Furniture East - Daybed detail
Anna Olszewska of Furniture East - Carpentry Tools
Anna Olszewska of Furniture East
Anna Olszewska of Furniture East - Zadziele Armchair

A newly refurbished bauhaus style armchair produced in Poland in the 1960’s by Rzemieslnicza Spoldzielnia in Bydgoszcz.

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