Fed up with a lack of storage for her husband’s motorbike jackets and strewn about shoes, Kathy Madell put her trust in the hands of meticulous maker Zev Bianchi to customise a modern version of an old school gentleman’s wardrobe. Steph Schaffer had a chat with the pair to unpack the story behind this truly unique undertaking.
Zev Bianchi of Bcompact first grew infatuated with furniture design when he fled Sydney as a young man to carve a new path in New York City. Out of necessity more than choice, he began designing space-conscious, multifunctional furniture to reap the most of the tight confines of his overpriced apartment.
“I was living basically in a rat’s nest of 10 or 15 metres in the East Village for seven years,” he recalled. “I learned to make do in that space by making furniture that would do different things and it sort of blossomed from there.”
Today, in his Darlinghurst workshop, Zev’s creative process still draws upon this narrative. He strives to create superior living environments in the least amount of space. Form and function factor most strongly to start and aesthetic follows thereafter.
It is this specialisation in compact, space-saving, and environmentally sustainable furniture – as well as his impeccable craftsmanship – that caught Kathy Madell’s eye.
Frustrated by a lack of storage space for her husband’s bulky motorbike jackets and scattered shoes, Kathy embarked on a mission to find a modern interpretation of an antique gentleman’s style custom wardrobe. Rather than a built-in, she wanted a sleek and elegant piece to juxtapose the 1920s architectural features in her entry foyer. The big challenge? “We needed to limit the depth of the wardrobe to around 400mm so that it wouldn’t intrude into the space too much,” Kathy said.
She scoured the internet for both a practical and aesthetically pleasing piece, but nothing she stumbled upon struck her fancy until she found Handkrafted.
“I had a look at the website and thought there were interesting people and pieces. I liked the concept of having someone put you in touch with people who specialise in different things,” she said.
Zev also expressed reverence for the site. He admitted that the likelihood of Kathy or any other potential customer randomly discovering his work without Handkrafted would be slim to nil. “Personally, I love Handkrafted,” he said. “As a designer, I don’t have time to do my own marketing. I have a website, which goes left for dead, so when I want someone to see something, I go, ‘Hey, there’s this!’” in reference to his maker profile.
“When you use this platform, you find people actually willing to spend money, collaborate on something, and get an outcome. I’ve found it to be the most ideal situation as a designer. [Handkrafted Founder] Fred scratches my back and I scratch his.”
Three makers were initially curated by the Handkrafted team to engage with Kathy’s brief. No surprise, Zev jumped on Kathy’s write-up upon receiving it. A multipurpose, space-saving furniture design undertaking? Challenge accepted. “Kathy’s project came up and I thought, ‘That’d be an interesting thing to do.’ So, I clicked yes,” Zev remarked.
He sent an introductory email equipped with photos of previous work and a quick concept drawing done on SolidWorks – the ‘be-all and end-all of his design world’ – a software that allows designers to manipulate each aspect of virtual 3D models in ways that mimic reality.
Kathy took notice of Zev as a standout in aesthetic, workmanship, and overall value. “His drawing was quite funky. It was really unusual and piqued my interest,” Kathy recalled. “He got immediately what I was trying to achieve, and came up with a brilliant answer straightaway.”
“Zev’s clever design found a perfect solution. He was really pleasant to deal with and his craftsmanship is truly outstanding. The entire thing was absolutely seamless from my perspective.”
Zev kept Kathy in the loop by sending updates, and photos of finishes he could achieve and the types of bamboos that were available. Bamboo – Zev’s material of choice due to its environmental benefits and malleability – appealed to Kathy. “I quite liked the idea that he was using a sustainable material,” she said.
Upon delivery, when an unanticipated situation arose, Kathy and Zev proved once more they had perfected the art of collaboration. During the production process, Kathy had forgotten to mention to Zev that she lived on the fourth floor of a very old apartment building: no windows, five flights of spiral stairs, two metre lift, and two metre wardrobe. You do the math.
Lo and behold, the custom wardrobe came within a millimetre of the lift.
“We had great fun getting the wardrobe in,” Kathy reminisced, laughing through her anecdote. “Zev was very patient and we worked together really well. We ended up going up and down in the lift a few times until it lined up exactly – and that just shows Zev’s dedication. He could have said, ‘Sorry love, all yours,’ but he didn’t.”
With its delicate teak shade, fluid curves, and ingenious design, the one of a kind piece now stands as a focal point in Kathy’s entry foyer. Some superb features include: concealed hinges embedded in the timber, fore and aft running poles, a deep seated drawer at the base to house shoes, and innovative side-opening doors for ease of access.
“There’s not going to be another piece like this in anyone else’s home,” Kathy commented. “And apart from being functional, I will be able to hand the wardrobe down to my kids, who actually want to keep it.”
“I love that buying bespoke allows you to have your own inflection and put your own twist on everything you want in your home,” Zev agreed. “And it’s good for makers like me who practice a dying art.”
With support from makers like Zev and customers like Kathy, Handkrafted strives to preserve the art of bespoke craftsmanship. Let’s transform what many consider a dying art into a coveted prowess…together.
Remember how we mentioned Zev’s go-to design software SolidWorks? Check out this cool clip of Kathy’s custom wardrobe in its final design stages.
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