The story of Zanat

“It takes a tremendous amount of history to make even a little tradition.”
—Henry James

From primitive village craft to UNESCO World Heritage List

Zanat was formally launched as a design brand only in 2015 and it has come a long way since. Zanat’s roots, however, are to be found much earlier in history. It started more than a century ago when Gano the great grandfather of Zanat’s founders, Orhan and Adem Niksic, stumbled upon what once was a primitive hand-carving technique that originated from a small village close to our hometown of Konjic, just south of Sarajevo on the Neretva River. Gano learned the carving technique from some pioneer woodcarver-entrepreneurs who (thanks to visionary educational support of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s regime that ruled Bosnia at the time) perfected the village technique beyond recognition and teamed up with already established furniture producers in Sarajevo, such as Buttazoni-Venturini, who exhibited hand-carved furniture pieces at fairs and exhibitions in Milan, Paris (Millennium exhibition of 1900), Vienna.

Gano passed his skills down to his sons Salih, Meho, Adem and Asim. Salih opened the first woodcarving business in the Niksic family in 1919 and trained his younger brothers. Adem, the most entrepreneurial of all, took over the company in 1927 and built a reputable export business. Others soon followed his example, and in the peacetime between the two World Wars, several fine furniture workshops were opened in Konjic, producing hand-carved furniture and decorative objects in local hardwoods. With this legacy as our foundation, our family has been designing and building heirloom-quality hand-carved furniture for more than four generations.

On December 6, 2017, the Konjic woodcarving technique perfected and preserved to a large extent by our family was officially inscribed onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The quality and uniqueness of traditional hand-carved furniture from Konjic has garnered global acclaim; several pieces produced by our ancestors are kept in the Ethnography Museum in Belgrade and the National Museum in Sarajevo and few pieces are under state protection as part of Bosnia’s national cultural heritage. The unique woodcarving and furniture style developed in Konjic defines Bosnian traditional furniture and interior design.

We can proudly say that our company belongs to the category of European family-owned enterprises that through generations of uncompromising quality and innovation have become symbols of a city and its traditions. But the road to success was not without challenges. World War II and the subsequent advent of socialism in Yugoslavia forced our grandfather and virtually all the woodcarvers in Konjic to close their businesses. And although it was nearly impossible to run a private business during the early years of socialism, Adem’s sons Mukerem and Besim reopened the business in 1950s and kept it alive. Then came the end of socialism and instead of greater freedom a series of wars broke out that tore Yugoslavia and Bosnia apart.

The Days of Manulution:
Recrafting Modern Design

Besim did not waste time after the Bosnian war ended in 1995. He reopened under the name Rukotvorine and started growing the company with the help of his sons Adem and Orhan. New investments were made and the business expanded quickly. Adem took over management of the company, and he and his brother Orhan developed a new vision for the company, inspired by their appreciation for modern design and their disillusionment with the increasing divorce between modern design and quality craftsmanship. Adem and Orhan decided to promote a new idea in furniture design and production: one that emphasizes craftsmanship and shows how traditional hand-carving techniques can seamlessly blend with and open new possibilities for modern design all while contributing to sustainable socioeconomic development.

The Making of Zanat

Old ideas always evolve and new ones are born, in particular during happy, idle times. Thus, while vacationing during the summer of 2013 on the idyllic Croatian Island of Korcula (where Marco Polo was allegedly born) the idea for Zanat came to life. There, Orhan and his friend Mark Bartolini (an aid worker and hobbyist craftsman who developed a close friendship with Orhan and the Niksic family during the Bosnian war) discussed two of their favorite topics: ways to advance the development of Bosnia, and the arts of furniture design and production. Based on his long experience in international development as a senior economist with the World Bank and other international organizations, Orhan had ideas how to use his family’s business as a vehicle to address some prominent market and government failures that hinder economic growth and job creation in Bosnia. Mark, an appointee in the Obama administration, with a lifelong commitment to social justice and the environment, discussed with Orhan how these economic drivers could be melded with their shared concerns over sustainability, good governance and social justice to create a company that could serve as a model for Bosnia’s reemergence in the global marketplace. The idea for Zanat was born and it took off soon thereafter thanks to selfless support and talent of our friends and other people who believed in the idea, like Scandinavian designers Monica Förster, Harri Koskinen, and renown Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh who accepted an invitation to design for Zanat at the inception stage.

Now, at a time when Bosnia is suffering one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, Zanat is creating opportunity, hiring and training young people. We are breathing a completely new life to this UNESCO listed hand-carving technique, preserving and promoting the craft that used to be close to extinction. Our vision has incorporated a developmental model that seeks to establish Bosnia and the Balkans region as a hotspot in the global designer furniture market and according to the writings of reputable international magazines and newspapers we are already succeeding in that. Our aim is not only to become a known international design brand, but also to demonstrate the highest standards of corporate governance and sustainability. We are committed to making our products with sustainably harvested wood from local suppliers, as we know that Bosnia’s abundant forests must be well-managed if succeeding generations are to enjoy both their bounty and their beauty. Zanat is committed to achieving a carbon neutral footprint through product longevity and conservation.

The furniture produced by our grandfather could be found in exceptional residencies and offices throughout South Central Europe. Today, Zanat’s furniture is finding favor in a global designer furniture and accessories marketplace. While the designs and scale of our company have, and will continue to, evolve--our company values will not. We are committed to both the satisfaction of our customers and to our traditions. We believe that you, our customer, should feel secure that when you buy a piece from Zanat you are not only improving your home, you are improving our world.