“You two made all of these pieces of furniture?!” I ask, with my eyes all widenened in disbelief. I can barely contain my amazement. Meanwhile, Sascha and Romana from Kellerwerk are wearing a content smile. Their 140 square meters of space on Gumpendorfer Straße houses a kind of hospital for old, damaged furniture.
There’s a myriad of furniture, jewellery, and lifestyle accessories, all with one thing in common: they’ve experienced rejection by owners who have discarded them as too old, damaged, too ugly, out of order – basically, they’ve all been once pronounced dead in their lives. But the two skilled cabinet makers/furniture doctors/life partners, Sascha and Romana, saw the beauty in them, and knew that all they needed was a little TLC to bring it out. Their life is dedicated to giving life to old objects.
Alongside making old furniture beautiful again, they’re also masters in upcycling random objects. They cobble them together and give them a new purpose in life – retro hairdressing drying hoods are turned into lampshades, vinyl records into toilet paper holders, suitcases are given legs and made into coffee tables, old truck tarps become bags.
They owe their inspiration to Africa – from the little country Burkino Faso, to be exact. After graduating from their degrees in interior design and cabinet making – where this love story began – Sascha went to Africa to build furniture for an NGO project. When he returned to Vienna in 2010, he tried studying and dabble in a few other careers, but nothing really made him happy. So he picked up the pieces where he had left them in Africa, and began to fly solo with upcycled goods.
“I had seen it in Burkino Faso – when you’re creative enough, there’s practically no reason to throw stuff away. Rather than using up more of this earth’s resources to make new stuff, why not rather put in a few hours of thought, and create a piece of furniture that not only looks its best, but also has a story, a patina, a past life,” Sascha explains.
While Sascha was self-employed, mostly working in his mother’s cellar (hence the name Kellerwerk, which translates to cellar work) and trying to make ends meet with his new business, Romana was still employed.
“My job was our lifeline, so to speak. But when things started to look up, I quit my day job and became Sascha’s partner in crime. That was in 2013,” Romana tells us with her signature bright smile. What sets Kellerwerk’s creations apart from other upcycling shops and collectives is the high quality of the end product, and the creative focus on the new design of the object. To put it another way – they invest a lot of thought into how they’re going to recreate this object for its rebirth.
The fact that the pieces here aren’t brand new is unnoticeable when browsing through the showroom. Meanwhile, Kellerwerk are also using their space and reach to promote other designers, namely when it comes to jewellery and accessories. The struggle by many to encourage us humans to move away from this buy-use-discard-repeat lifestyle and towards a more sustainable way of living has a fighting chance with the likes of Sascha and Romana around. And the discarded furniture of the world – well, of Vienna, at least – will be saved.