Had Jakub Zak and Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte met and not formed a partnership, it might have seemed almost sacrilegious, a kind of fuck-you to the gods of fate. After simultaneously studying design in their native Canada, and then again at the very same university in Berlin together, the pair only became aware of one another’s existence once they’d both moved to Milan to start their professional lives — Lecompte as a roving member of the Montreal-based Samare studio and Zak as a designer for Patricia Urquiola. As if the shared condition of being the only two Canadians they knew who were actively working in the Milanese design scene weren’t enough, they happened to meet at the precise moment in each of their careers where they were yearning to try something independent, experimental, and new. Samare was three years old and growing quite successful, but its physical manifestation was way across the Atlantic, and it maintained a relatively narrow focus on Canadian crafts and heritage; Zak was — and still is — working full time for Urquiola, “which is pretty demanding,” he says. “You reach a stage where you want to start doing projects of your own. Oeuffice is a research-minded collaboration where Nicolas and I can play with new techniques and materials in ways we might not have the opportunity to otherwise.”
It also helped that at the time they started working together as Oeuffice, last fall, Lecompte was finalizing plans to co-found the Carwan Gallery in Beirut, the first commissions for which would launch during the Milan Furniture Fair, giving the pair the motivation of a deadline. The duo looked to a mutual obsession with architecture — Lecompte’s undergrad degree — to define their opening collection, researching structural details they could scale down to the level of domestic objects, yet looking for ways those objects could maintain the monumental presence of buildings. “We were trying to think of a typology that doesn’t already exist, but could be a useful and dominant piece in the house,” explains Zak. The resulting seven-foot-tall Totems take the place of a normal library or shelving unit, but with a much more imposing presence. One called Centina — which resembles a stack of angular coffee tables — mimics the formal and structural language of concrete pillars, but with the added warmth of wood; Calico takes architectural louvers as its departure point, rendering them in hand-poured methacrylate resin and playing with notions of lightness and transparency. Laveer, a steel core coated in turquoise rubberized paint, is based on industrial architecture. “We did research into everything from Russian Constructivism to the basic mechanical structures that are at the core of any building,” says Zak, underscoring another serendipitous element of his friendship with Lecompte: a shared enthusiasm for spending their free time this way.
With their original three totems — all of which were handmade by craftsmen in northern Italy, “the best place to get anything produced in the world,” insists Zak — on view at the gallery in Beirut until September, the pair are beginning to think through what this mutual side project may yield next, including a possible collaboration with artisans in the Lebanese capital. “What we really want is to experiment with craftspeople and various techniques,” says Zak. “Architecture might be part of the expression but it won’t always be the defining intent. And obviously we’re not just going to stick to doing totems — there’s a certain end to that.”