For nearly ten years, the company Nanovo has been buying, renovating and re-selling design items from Czechoslovakia’s Communist era, from home décor to furniture. I visited the company’s warehouse in Prague’s Vysočany district to meet its two owners, Jirka Mrázek and Adam Karásek and I first asked them if it was still easy these days to come across original pieces from communist Czechoslovakia:
Jirka: “This is not really a question for me, because I am not the hunter - the hunter in our company is Adam.”
Adam: “It is definitely harder to find new things, because when we started it was really to find good and cheap pieces. On the other hand, we have been promoting our business quite well in recent years.
“I would say people started to think more about it and they are more aware that they have something that can be sold on the internet.”
How do you search for the things? Do you visit people’s homes or do you search primarily on the internet?
"We want to make them look at the object from a different point of view and see the beauty of it."
Adam: “It is easy. I am sitting at the computer browsing the internet. We don’t have time to travel across the country looking for things. Some people send us offers via email. And sometimes we come across interesting pieces and we buy it from them.”
What about people’s taste? Has it changed over the past few years? Are there things that have become fashionable since our last visit to Nanovo five years ago?
“It’s hard to tell. But I would like to add that we don’t buy so many things right now. Almost nothing, in fact, because our warehouse is completely full. At the moment, we focus on customised renovations, which also fill our storage space.
“As far as the tastes are concerned, people used to like cabinets and chest of drawers designed by Jiří Jiroutek, which I don’t see any more. But we are in fact promoting new pieces that we started to produce in collaboration with him.
Adam: “I think that when we started, we used to sell a lot of industrial things but now it’s over. People are no longer interested, so we quit buying industrial objects.
“In my point of view, people started looking after old pieces of furniture due to some nostalgic feelings. They started to think it was time to renovate it.
“Five years ago they might throw it away but now they are thinking more about the value of old things. They started to ask about renovations and we started to offer them. So it’s a new opportunity to do business for us.”
I believe most of the things you are selling are from the 1960s and 1970s. Are there perhaps more recent things that have become fashionable, let’s say from the 1980s?
“I think there aren’t that many differences between the 1970s and the 1980s. Before the Velvet Revolution, things that were mass produced were not produced for just two or three years, but for a few decades. So in my point of view there is not such a huge difference in the trends.”
What are some of your most recent discoveries? Have you come across some real treasures?
"We have customers who don’t want to renovate just furniture but the whole interior."
“Yes, sometimes we were lucky. I recently found a picture of an armchair on the internet, which looked interesting. I called the lady and she told me it was from some hotel. So I asked her which one and she said: hotel Praha. And I was like what? I am coming!
“I was there in half an hour and there were a lot of plates, glasses, lights and armchairs. So we started to buy them one by one and after two weeks we told her we would buy everything. So it was the biggest treasure that I came across.”
Do you think that the Communist-era design appeals to people because of this nostalgia?
“I think what we tried to do from the very beginning was to separate the objects from their history and the era in which it was made. We want to show the people the different shapes and materials.
“We want to make them look at the object from a different point of view and see the beauty of it. We want to show them that it is just a beautiful piece made at a certain time in our history.”
“So I hope that most of the people understand what we are trying to do with the Czechoslovak design: show it and compare it with international design made in this period.”
“We started with Czechoslovak design but after a few months we started to sell things from all over the world, but it has to be from the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.
Jirka: “Ninety-five percent of things that we have are from Czechoslovakia. Only from time to time we have something from abroad.”
And what’s the proportion of Czech and foreign customers?
“It’s fifty-fifty. There are Czech customers but also customers from all over the world, usually from Europe. It’s harder to ship outside the European Union.”
You were talking about renovations. When people ask you to renovate things from them, do they want them to look brand new or do they want to preserve the patina?
“It really depends. Every customer is different and every customer has a different relationship to the item he brings, so it really depends.”
Have you been thinking about producing replicas of the old furniture and home décor?
Jirka: “We have already started with this. We started with cabinets and sideboards designed by Jiří Jiroutek in 1958. We continued with an armchair by Miroslav Navrátil and we have some other projects.
“But at the moment, we are taking a break, focusing more on interior design. We are working on several big projects in Prague, Ostrava and somewhere between Prague and Brno, to renovate a hotel.”
Jirka: “We started to cooperate with architects and interior designers. We have some customers who don’t want to renovate just furniture but they would like to recreate or renovate the whole interior.
“We are currently working on one private apartment in Prague. And we are hopefully going to cooperate with a group of owners of a hotel somewhere in the Vysočina region.”
Is it an old hotel?
“It was built I think in the 1973. It was renovated in the 1990s. Many things were destroyed, including the atmosphere. We are now trying to find a way to renovate the hotel and preserve the 1970s atmosphere. So this is one of the projects we are working on right now.
What about you ourselves? I wonder whether your apartments are filled with things from your warehouse?
“For me it is really easy to resist. I don’t have anything. Actually I have been moving from one apartment to another quite recently so I have almost no furniture and all my things are stuffed in boxes.”
What about Adam?
”I am better. I have a lot of pieces from our company but my flat is full. Sometimes I would like to bring there something but my wife tells me now. We have a full flat. But I do have a lot of stuff.”
So what are some of your favourite pieces here in the warehouse that you would like to see in your flat some day?
“I really like the pieces by designer by Antonín Hepnar, such as the wall light over there. Mr Hepnar is actually making a replica of this light for me. So it will be my favourite piece. I will have to move it to my flat and tell my wife that it is really beautiful and that we need it.”