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Design studio Baker Street Boys on how rust is the new gold

Tomasz Danielec, half of Polish design duo Baker Street Boys and star of CBS show Europe ByDesign, talks to Effect about finding beauty in ’unloved’ materials

In 2015, after a decade-long career as a successful architect working with industry greats like Robin Partington and Rafael Viñoly, Tomasz Danielec decided it was time to take a step back. “I reached a point where doing big projects didn’t satisfy me anymore,” he tells Effect. “I then started product design and fell in love with objects I could touch and move, contrary to the huge-scale architectural projects I had been doing for years,” Luckily, it was a sentiment he shared, albeit in a different context and capacity, with his partner Arkadiusz Glanowski, a former hairstylist.

Baker Street Boys co-founder Tomasz Danielec puts the finishing touches to a piece from his collection of minimalist furniture pieces that celebrate the imperfections of rust

Danielec’s design knowledge and Glanowski’s expertise in luxury environments meant that they had just the blend of skills they needed to segue into product design. And so they did, deciding to take a leap of faith at their favourite coffee shop on London’s Baker Street, and aptly christening their new studio Baker Street Boys. The duo chose to set up their atelier in Twardawa Castle, Danielec’s childhood home in Poland, which the couple purchased in a bid to restore it to its former glory.

As a child, Danielec was always surrounded by beautiful architecture. Born in a historic Polish village, he grew up in unusual homes: among them an apartment in the same Twardawa Castle that now houses the duo’s atelier – and later, a modernist dwelling of his parents’ own design.

The construction of the latter was an experience the architect now recognises as a watershed. “I loved coming to the construction site,” he remembers. “I’d play with bricks or watch concrete being mixed. It was fascinating, and in that way, architecture followed me from my early years.” 

Danielec’s early interests weren’t limited to architecture. As a child, he often played fashion designer, organising impromptu runways, conjuring tablecloth catwalks and dressing his cousins in their weekend finest. Those experiences followed him too, kindling an equal love for design, and specifically modernism. So when it came time to select a university for his master’s degree, he set his sights on the Silesian University of Technology, a school noted for its modernist bent. He got in, graduated, and shortly afterwards clinched a job with Polish fashion designer Tomasz Ossoliński as a scenography and lighting specialist for a fashion show commemorating an anniversary of the historic Polish brand Bytom.

In 2005, he moved to London in a bid to flex his architectural skills, and, in due course, he had the opportunity to work on projects including an award-winning middle school redesign in Białołęka, Warsaw; the masterplan for the University of Oxford; and a specially commissioned mixed-use development on Oxford Street for the royal family of Qatar. Plaudits poured in—chief among them a national accolade in 2005 from the prime minister of Poland, and a Leonardo award for best public building in 2007 by the International Union of Architects. But with glory came gumption, and change was afoot.

After co-founding Baker Street Boys, Danielec’s modernist sensibilities found new expression, as demonstrated in the studio’s maiden collection, The Line. Launched during Clerkenwell Design Week 2016, it saw two seemingly antithetical materials—raw steel and 400-year-old reclaimed oak—coalesce in a collection of bar tables, coffee tables, bar stools and footstools. The collection was minimal, functional, and crucially, successful, eliciting a bevy of orders including one from the royal family of Dubai.

The studio’s second collection, The Connect, was in contrast born to solve a very specific problem. “It was born out of my love for baguettes, which I just couldn’t fit onto any of my existing serving boards,” Danielec admits with a smile. So he set out to make his own, which comprises long, interlocking serving boards operable independently or together. The five-piece collection is available in combinations of Nero Marquina, Bianco Carrara marble, oak, walnut, and Rosa Beta granite. “The functional benefit is obvious,” Danielec says. “What’s not is that the indent of the handle mirrors the cut line used in architectural blueprints.”  

Yet the designer’s most prolific collection “came to me while drinking coffee at a Starbucks in Warsaw. I used a napkin to draw out the first sketch,” Danielec reveals of the series, titled The Box, which he co-created with his younger sister, chemical engineer Agnieszka Bar. The collection, which took over two years to conceptualise, is informed by the imperfections of rust, and reimagines iron oxide in sleek minimalist forms. “My dream for this collection was to take something popularly defined as ugly or damaged, and turn it into something beautiful,” Danielec notes. “I love saying rust is the new gold, because it perfectly embodies my philosophy of finding beauty in unloved materials.”

It wasn’t just Danielec and Glanowski who recognised its beauty. Producers from American media company ByDesign soon approached the pair to cover the collection in Europe ByDesign, a new documentary series featuring European design innovators. “I was happy that we could show the audience what the process really looks like, because no photos can perfectly capture its uniqueness like a live camera can,” avers Danielec, who admits to being a tad emotional on seeing a professional camera crew in his childhood home. The designer has come full circle, but the Baker Street Boys are seemingly just getting started.

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