OSTBLOCK is Australia’s only online store specializing in original mid-century and modern day products sourced exclusively from Eastern Europe.
We speak to Ania to find out more about Eastern European Mid Century Collectables.
- How do you define geographically / culturally the region of “Eastern Europe”?
There are many definitions of Eastern Europe but in the most basic terms, we deal with so called Eastern Block, former Communist nations.
This of course includes the former Soviet Union as well as the currently in vogue East Germany (DDR).
- When did your love of “Eastern European” Mid Century Collectables begin?
My first childhood memory was of my living room, furnished and decorated in the latest Mid -Century Eastern European furniture. Canary yellow walls, dusty blue model ‘366’ armchairs and beetroot red sofa designed by Jozef Chierowski.
My father had great taste, my mother was not impressed with the jet black rug BUT I loved it all and the colours have been permanently stamped in my memory.
Years later my work took me back to Europe and I was fortunate to work and live in a number of wonderful European locations. During these exciting years, I have travelled to a handful of Former Eastern European nations including Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Estonia….
I was intrigued by the complex relationship between the traditional folk identities merged with the strict doctrine of the communist era, and then finally the liberation following the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was amazed at how the beauty of Art and Design were able to shine through even at the darkest of times. OSTBLOCK tries to pay homage to those talented artists and designers that were so prolific during such difficult times.
Even the stark simplicity of communist Architecture and interior design when viewed through and unbiased eye, has something unique about it that make it stand apart from the more widely known American and Scandinavian equivalent.
- What era and products of “Eastern European” Mid Century does OSTBLOCK specialize in?
Typically, OSTBLOCK deals primarily with the 50s, 60s and the 70s. These three decades make up the bulk of the products we offer though there are a handful of products that predate this era, and of course there is our collection of contemporary design as well from the same regions.
Currently we stock a pretty comprehensive range of homewares, particularly in porcelain and ceramics as well as an enviable collection of vintage alarm clocks and wall clocks. We also offer a selection of very rare furniture pieces which are practically non-existent in Australia and in time we plan to expand the range of furniture.
From our contemporary range, we have carefully selected a handful of unique designers and manufacturers that would be impossible to find in Australia. These products have been selected not only for good design, but because they come from a good place and have interesting stories to go with them.
One such story is of 26 year old Magda Godowa who comes from the rural town of Janowice Wielkie in Poland. She is responsible for a range of gorgeous handwoven baskets made from recycled newspapers. She conducts workshops and recruits people from disadvantaged backgrounds to help her fulfil the orders.
- Does the design influence, differ very much from the Danish & Scandinavian style? And if so how?
In many cases not upon first impression. However it would be wrong to bundle all of the Eastern Block Design into one basket. For example GDR/ DDR (East German) Design has been described somewhere between Bauhaus tradition and Scandinavian Design but perhaps slightly influenced by the Eastern European tastes and style. Today DDR Design is reaching iconic status with many collectors and enthusiasts and it even has its own name, OSTALGIA.
Some of the defining features that can be found with Eastern European furniture for example, were the preference for light coloured woods, as opposed to the Scandinavian preference for darker shades. Owing to the financial struggles of Communist area, the furniture designers had to offer less expensive production options, such as using plastic handles and drawer carcases for their cabinetry.
One might argue that the Eastern Europeans showed preference for brighter colours, often described by the West as garish whereas Scandinavian designers favoured elegantly understated tone on tone shades.
Then, there is always the “Sputnik effect”. The small spherical satellite with trailing thin antennae had a tremendous impact on furniture and product design. The “Atomic” euphoria overspilling into Textiles and Graphic Design with the satellite motive repeated in interior, fashion, glass and porcelain design.
But at the end of the day, one might ask whether Eastern European design actually had its own aesthetic or whether it mainly borrowed ideas from the West. Quite often, it exudes a personal charm, variation, and quirkiness that make it well worth preserving, exhibiting, and discussing.
- Who are some of the more well-known Eastern European Mid Century designers?
Perhaps this question showcases the biggest difference between East and West. While the Western world enjoyed creative freedom and recognition, the Eastern Block credited design to the state rather than the individual. Few bright stars managed to shine through but most designed for companies and workers union cooperatives such as VEB in East Germany. VEB “Volkseigener Betrieb” meaning, state owned peoples enterprise.
Some bright lights and my personal favourites are as follows:
Roman Modzelewski, – His 1958 RM58 armchair is an icon of Polish design and a classic of Cold War-era modernism.
Józef Chierowski – His 1962 armchair Type 366 is an icon of PRL (Polish People’s Republic).
Dr. Yuri Soloviev – One of Russia’s leading figures in design, Dr. Soloviev worked in many design disciplines, among them furniture, interior, industrial, and transport design. He occupied positions at several state-funded organisations, including the Architecture and Art Bureau, the Ministry of Transport Industry, the Central Design Bureau in the Ministry of Shipbuilding and the State Commission for Science and Technology.
Peter Ghyczy – His 1968 iconic DDR Gardens Egg Chairs were launched in POP colours. “Guten Rutsch!” an optimist introduction into the 70’s.
Ernst Moeckl – Famous for his 1968 colourful and stackable Kangaroo Chris.
Jindrich Halabala – One of the most prominent Czech furniture designers best known for the H269 and the H275 Armchairs.
- Why would purchasing an Eastern European Mid Century piece be a good Investment, and what advice could you give?
Generally speaking, anything produced in the three Golden Decades (50s, 60s, 70s) are a good investment, but the one that has stood out in particular is Hellerau Furniture. It wasn´t that long ago that the East German produced vitrines, sideboards and bedroom furniture were considered the poor man´s substitute for the more highly regarded Scandinavian equivalent. Now, the pieces are quite sought after as is reflected by the rapidly rising prices. Upholstered sofas and arm chairs are becoming increasingly difficult to find and as are, the exquisite Polish porcelain from this era.
- If you could own any iconic piece of EE MC what would that be?
Coming from the Automotive Design background, I cannot help but to wish for a Trabant. This iconic East German car looks smells and sounds amazing. It’s made from a type of fibreglass and it runs on two stroke fuel. Whilst living in Postman, I had managed to track one down, which has been owned by the original family and it was in PERFECT condition. They had purchased the car in the 70’s and had to wait 12 years for it, such was the demand. They ended up waiting 2 extra years because they had ordered it in green, the most popular colour at that time. They have promised to let me know when they decide to sell it. Despite many dinner invitations, coffees and cakes, I am still waiting.
- How often do you travel to Eastern Europe and do you have a favourite destination and why?
We have been living in Europe until recently, so we could visit these locations fairly regularly. Now that we are based back in Australia, we would be happy if we could do this twice a year now. Warsaw and Lodz in Poland are the places we keep going back to, as they have so many facets. Each time we go there, we discover a new talent to include in our contemporary range. Then of course there is Berlin, arguably the most exciting and vibrant city In Europe, and one in which you can lose yourself with the old and the new. A visit to the DDR museum in the Mitte is a must for any fans of things Mid-Century Ostalgia.
- If we wanted to learn more about Eastern European Mid Century, which books or websites would you could recommend?
The Calvert Journal – is a London based guide to the contemporary culture of the new East: The post-Soviet world, the Balkans and the former Socialist States of the Central and Eastern
· Window-Shopping through the Iron Curtain by David Hlynsky
· DDR Design Books by Günter Höhne
·Casa Mare by Frank Gaudlitz – A glimpse into Eastern European Faces and Interiors.
· Abandoned East German Architecture by Hassan J. Richter
· DDR Limited by Skjerven Group GmbH – The special life and style at Strausberger
Platz in East Berlin.
· Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited, 1990-1996 Shortly after the Wall came down, subcultures boomed in Berlin’s Mitte district.