Whenever he travelled, my father used little cards (this was in the pre-digital era) to write out lists of foreign currency values in multiples of 10 against our home currency. Given that English is not widely spoken in Budapest outside of the hospitality industry, this little trick proved invaluable in negotiations and was quicker than firing up my phone each time. They’d point, I’d point, I’d walk away, they (might) follow, I (might) go back… and a mutually agreeable price might eventually be settled upon. In the process, I discovered that if I put my thumb over the larger figures, it -discouraged excess.
I spent a day and a half with “the client” in Budapest to ensure that my design thinking would reflect his vision. Our first port of call was Artkraft, a used- and upcycled-furniture warehouse in an old industrial area. Here, we sourced a large, reclaimed metal window frame fitted with mirrored glass, along with a roughly worked steel table. Both were cool, industrial-inspired elements that would start to give the heritage space a more modern edge. As a plus, since the -mirror would hang between the windows in the living room, it would reflect the striking form of the chandelier, which was purchased from the previous owners and had originally been installed by their grandmother.
Next, we went to the outskirts of the city, to Budapest’s largest flea market, Ecseri Piac, where you can find everything from antique furniture and Soviet-era relics to kitsch collectibles and curios. In two shops, we sourced three bronze empire lights, for the hallway and master bedrooms, as well as two vintage glass pendant lamps, all for under Dh3,500 – a fraction of what the city’s antique shops would be asking. Clearly, it’s impossible to be too prescriptive when in acquisition mode. It’s about feeding in pieces that have the -potential to blend into a notional mood board and layering on to that. Photographs are key to keeping track, as none of the pieces would be in situ until much later.
I opted for white open wardrobe frames from Ikea – more aesthetically pleasing than the look of cheap, self-assembly Formica laminate – and also purchased a new sofa bed and a modern chaise longue in graphite grey from the same shop. Pops of strong accent colour were added to the living room with two art deco chairs bought from Ecseri for just Dh65 each. The chairs were sound, but the upholstery needed attention. The -additional colours were a fortuitous selection, made from an otherwise entirely bland and dated sample book at the workshop (they were, in fact, the only fabrics held in stock that didn’t evoke the style of a grandmother’s 1980s sitting room).
Cushions were brought from Khaadi online in Pakistan (UAE branches don’t currently stock homeware), as its current range coincidentally reflected the burnt orange, mustard and graphite palette already evident in the apartment’s soft furnishings. Local rug supplies were uninspiring, but Abu Dhabi-based online furniture supplier Ebarza had a refurbished vintage rug in a soft olive grey, which would be both practical and hard-wearing. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t deliver to Hungary. For the statistically minded, the brand’s 2.5m by 1.5m hand-finished rugs weigh 11 kilograms, and will fit into a large suitcase, making them exempt from local customs duty, payable if otherwise sent by courier. This still leaves room for a generous 19kg of winter-weather wardrobe packing when flying direct from Dubai with Emirates.
Furniture almost done, the next challenge was to find the items that make a house a home – artwork and accents. Hungary is known for its fine-cut glass and coloured crystal, and also has a strong cultural tradition of handworked embroidery on cushions, tablecloths and napkins. Best of all, vintage pieces can be picked up for Dh20 to Dh50.