Beauty beneath the dust
Updated: Nov 9, 2021
– with up-cycler and founder of Väike Mööblistuudio, Baibi Villem.
Ever since childhood, I was fascinated by vintage furniture. Detailed craftsmanship, the scent, and imaginative thoughts of where the furniture had traveled. I was mesmerized by Baibi's passion and knowledge on the subject and wanted to know how she took on her calling while capturing her studio through my lens. We connected via socials and a few weeks later we set up a meeting and enjoyed hours-long conversations on a sunny afternoon. We talked of life, similar interests, and her craft, with a lovely surprise visit by the local curious cat. (see the last photos to get a glimpse of that sweet day!)
There is something special about giving old furniture a new chance to shine, in a new home. I have great respect for those who take on refurbishment. It is a thoughtful process, requiring patience, flexibility, and innovation.
Her creative studio, Väike Mööblistuudio, is located in Southern Estonia, where she redesigns old furniture into new, renovates vintage furniture, works on art projects, and also runs a curated web store of home styling products.
Let's dive into her world!
Tell us a little bit about you...
I'm a creative person and an up-cycling enthusiast. I have my own furniture studio and curated home styling web store. I love to find and refurbish old furniture, whether it is needing the gentle touch of a new coating or a full restoration process. I am open-minded and curious, and this has brought me many new hobbies and work projects.
I grew up in the countryside in Southern Estonia, which gave me a lot of opportunities to spend time in nature and do handicrafts and to try different things that country living has to offer. My favourite topics are all connected with art, interiors, spaces, design, music, and styling in general.
From old to renewed
Your studio is located in the beautiful city of Tartu. What do you most love about your space and Tartu?
Tartu is my home and I feel very comfortable and relaxed. In some parts of the city, you feel like you're in the countryside. It is peaceful, with parks and lots of places to ride a bike or take a picnic. My studio is also located near to the railway station, a theatre and a university, in a part of the city that is beautiful and historic. It's a great place to be creative!
Tell me about the typical day in the life of a creative entrepreneur and an up-cycler?
My day usually starts with some hot cups of coffee, because I am a real coffee lover! Then making some plans for the day and looking up my appointments with customers. Computer work is also one of the things I like to do in the first half of the day. Communicating with followers, brands, making orders for supplies, new products or dealing with orders and my web shop are a few things that are part of my everyday life.
The other half of the day is mostly spent in the studio, giving new life to furniture, meeting customers, creating new ideas, sending orders to my clients, and sharing some things on social media. Some days are also dedicated to photography, which I mostly do myself or create some other projects on the go.
Could you walk me through how you create or restore a piece from start to finish?
First, there is this searching process, like treasure hunting. I like to think about that when I visit up-cycling stores or flea markets and see what I can find. Then I bring the old beauties to the studio and see what comes to mind. Maybe look at some art books, photos to get my creativity flowing. From here, I plan out what I am thinking in terms of restoration and up-cycling for the piece.
Then it's time to start creating! Remove the old finishings, grind and clean, repair the surface, pick the right colour or finishing wax... and after some dusty hours and painting or waxing, the first layer starts to dry. The next day I can usually make the second layer and finish up. But it of course depends on the piece I'm making and the plan. And the final step is the most rewarding moment – when the item is ready and I can capture it and enjoy the outcome. Actually, the whole process is exciting and rewarding for me.
What else can people see next to restored furniture on your website?
You can find a collection of curated items for your home styling like vases, bowls, home textiles, candle votives, and refurbishing materials for painting. Most of them are from Denmark, and I am also planning to bring in more Estonian brands. I really like Estonian design and would like to support and promote it more.
Treasure islands and nostalgia
What is your first memory of up-cycling/vintage furniture; what sparked your interest in it?
I made my first pieces when I was about 18. I was moving to my own first rental apartment and my up-cycled furniture desperately needed a new look to suit my small apartment. I have always been interested in room styling and constantly removing my furniture, also playing with colours and textiles. So I got very excited to paint my old dresser and coffee table back then. But interest in old furniture has always followed me, already from childhood. I loved old stuff, like visiting old houses, they were like treasure islands for me.
I have always been a fan of old materials and handmade things, the dust has never bothered me...because I see the beauty beneath it.
What do you love most about working with furniture?
I love the discovering and designing process, imagining what could work best for the furniture’s new look, and saving the beautiful details of the original at the same time. The feeling of nostalgia sometimes follows you when redesigning a vintage piece. I believe in the idea that things can be used as long as possible and it is essential for humankind to understand that we actually don't need new things all the time and that it is OK to redesign or repair them.
So working with furniture has also a more profound meaning for me.
Where does your skillset come from? Where did you learn your craft?
My skillset has been growing since my childhood. As a child, I loved playing with textile and sewing, and making artworks with paper and wood. I also loved drawing. But many of my skills are self-taught. My mom also taught me a lot about sewing and making things with my own hands, so I had the courage to develop my skills further.
Later I worked several years in a natural building materials shop, where I got a lot of new knowledge about different paints, layers, interiors, wood finishes, refurbishing materials, and restoration. And the skills are improving continuously. This is also something I like about working with furniture, that every piece is different and challenging you constantly to improve yourself and discover the process.
Most memorable piece: My favorite pieces have been from the 50s to 70s, mostly dressers. They have all been made from teak or rosewood, which is just beautiful without any hard paint coating.
In more recent times, one of my favourites was a Swedish Bodafors dresser that had designer marks inside drawers and was nice even with those scratches and cup marks on the upper side. It was like a pattern from time, a little damaged, but looked perfect!
What is a skill you would like to learn and why?
I would say that better technical skills in interior designing and of course branding, to develop and market my own business. Also, I would like to learn more about the historical background of different areas, working methods, and especially furniture design history.
How do you relax on your days off?
I often take a walk in nature, go running or drive out from the city to discover some new places. There is always something new going on and this inspires and gives me a good restart. But there are also quiet days just at home, in my comfort zone, reading a good book, or doing yoga.
What's your home space like? Which interior style do you prefer for your own home?
My home is bright and cozy, a fusion of boho, Scandinavian, vintage, and contemporary. I like mixing old and new designs. In my home, you will find a lot of green plants and natural materials, like wool and linen home textiles, and clay paint on the walls. I also still have at home some of the first pieces I repainted some years ago. I very much value them, they have a special place in my heart.
Details are the key to making a home more personal, it should tell the story about what you love.
What gets you excited about life?
I am excited about life itself and the unexpectedness of it. You never know what is waiting for you around the corner and what possibilities may come to your life. I am also excited about traveling, rich culture, fine art, trying new things, making delicious and healthy dishes, and also love to spend time with my family and pets.
I think that you can get excited about very simple things in life if you can appreciate them.
Thank you !
Behind the scenes: first meetup July 2021 and second meetup, photoshoot, October 2021.