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Maknoon: Boundless Furniture by Karim El Tobgy

Maknoon grabs our attention as the furniture line that reveals the limitlessness of everyday objects. We speak to its creator Karim El Tobgy, and uncover a world of philosophy and creativity.

We met with Karim El-Tobgy at his home studio in Maadi, to discuss his furniture line titled Maknoon. El Tobgy's studio doubles as his home, where he lives with his son and wife Myriam, who has also been a source of inspiration and collaborates with him on some pieces. Maknoon is about bringing the unbounded reality to bounded materials, in the context of furniture.

How does this happen, you ask? By finding the hidden beauty within objects hence the name Maknoon, which is an Arabic word meaning 'treasure lying within'. The idea’s birth came to the couple when they were getting married and were broke. They were faced with one of two options; feel the constraints forced upon them due to their lack of finances, or come up with a creative solution and an original idea. That idea was to go to the Friday Market and purchase what they can with what little money they had and then refurbish it themselves bringing life back to the pieces. 

“We found old stuff and we turned them into other stuff, and furnished our home with it. Other friends would come and see it and say 'we want stuff like that'. And that started when we lived at Darb 1718, we had a studio there.” El Tobgy said, going on to add “we needed the money and that’s where it took off.” 

The pieces we see have an oriental feel to them. The colour, patterns, the designs, and how the item functions, is really creative. But what’s most fascinating about El Tobgy's work is knowing what the items used to be. We saw a tableya turned into a chandelier, and shutters turned into a TV table, and this theme continues throughout all of his work, and that’s the main twist of his furniture line; picking up an old item and shuffling it around, turning it into something else, completely different ub yse.

“The price is range is 500- 10,000 LE. There’s no set price, it depends on the work, and because every piece is unique and cannot be duplicated, we can't set a price, At one point, people were really liking my stuff and so I had someone partner up with me and wanted to make Maknoon more mainstream, but the orders, having to duplicate pieces, and being creative when I didn’t feel like it, killed it for me. So now I am back doing things the way I like to, at home around my family, and on my own terms,” explains the creative spirit.

Maknoon is more than a furniture line, it’s a philosophy that at some point El Tobgy aspires to share with others. “In the future I would hope to have a workshop, where I teach people how to have no boundaries. Money shouldn’t be limiting, there are no constraints. You can apply this to furniture, to eating, and dressing well." El Tobgy was able to discover this philosophy in life where there are no boundaries and that there’s unlimited potential to everything through his meditations. After reaching such clarity and awareness, he was hooked on meditation which he happens to teach a course on in Maadi. 

El Tobgy shows us great pieces of furniture that he designed and that were set on display for us. They were just functioning items around the house. The chandelier was hanging and the TV was placed on top of his TV seat, everything in it’s natural element as it should be. We were especially fascinated by the MaknoonElTableya piece, which is an upside down tableya turned into a chandelier, with glass droplets hanging, usually found in Siwa but can also be found at Khan El Khalili. Another eye catcher was the MaknoonElsandoo2; a  chest used to store food or clothes in rural Egypt, with the cover removed from the chest, and where El Tobgy places a window shutter in it’s place making it look really simple, yet eye grabbing. It is this very simplicity that renders El Tobgy's products ingenious. 

Maknoon items are available at select stores in Cairo. 

Photography by Christina Rizk.