Contemporary crafted furniture and beautifully restored woodwork from a workshop in Transylvania to Bucharest and beyond
By Stephen McGrath
On a sunny weekday in late April, Elek Sütö, a well-built man with cropped hair, shows me around his furniture factory situated in the small Transylvanian village of Seleuș. Sütö, 44, has every reason to feel happy.
“Today is our eighteenth anniversary,” he says, standing on a tree-lined path in the factory’s grounds leading from the entrance to his office. Sütö grew up just 10km away, in the medieval UNESCO city of Sighișoara, and moved to Germany in the ‘90s as a young man.
“I was in Germany and I met a guy in 1999 who owned a small furniture factory,” says Sütö, who spent that year with him learning the craft of furniture making. “He said to me, ‘Are you interested in opening a factory in Romania?’ — I said, ‘Let me try.’”
The workshop for building new or restoring old furniture
With limited experience, plenty of ambition and clear business smarts, Sütö did indeed try; in 2000 he opened his factory, Mobi Romantik, in Seleuș.
“In the early years I employed people with lots of experience, old carpenters who then trained the younger guys,” he says.
Eighteen years later, the whir of large machinery and the bustle of Sütö’s 16 craftsmen is what binds together a business that exhibits at Romanian Design Week, kits out some of Bucharest’s fanciest bars and restaurants, as well as many important heritage buildings and even homes belonging to Britain’s royalty.
“Three years ago we furnished Prince Charles’ home in Viscri,” says Sütö, adding that it’s one of his proudest jobs to date.
Viscri 163, Brașov
The Seleuș factory, which is sandwiched between neat rows of small houses, is a former communist deposit for hop workers, a popular crop in that part of the country. It once offered a place to eat, sleep and somewhere to kept farming machinery. As such, the grounds had enough space at the right price, with enough potential to make the business a viable venture.
Sütö didn’t rush ahead, he slowly built up the business to ensure his books balanced and the furniture output had the mark of quality key for long-term success.
“In the beginning I bought old furniture from people from the village, and started restoring it. Slowly, we eventually made everything from pine, oak, and any kind of old wood — the art of using old recycled materials is something special for me,” he says.
At the factory on any given day, it’s clear that the craftsmen have lots to get on with. Men are busy making everything from window frames, doors and stairs, to tables, chairs and bookshelves. In one of the on-site warehouses, a large order is waiting to be transported by truck to Croatia.
Orders for Mobi Romantik furniture come from far and wide, but its main markets — about 50/50 — is Germany and Bucharest. Each month, two full lorries deliver to both destinations. However, they have a daunting commission ahead, which they’ll begin working on this autumn.
Kuzina, Bucharest Mesange Fromagerie, Bucharest
“We’ve got a contract in Austria, to furnish a big hotel,” says Sütö. “It’s a big challenge, it has 27 suites, a restaurant and we’re making every piece of furniture for it.”
Maintaining a balance of producing high-quality furniture, while keeping the prices reasonable, is key to the company’s success, Sütö says. His passion for using old wood, particularly for restoration jobs, is also evident: in 2012 he restored an old door for a customer in Bucharest, who had inherited a period building and thought the door was beyond repair.
The result was impressive; the shabby old door was stripped and repaired using old materials and brought its owner to tears. Every year since, at Christmas, she has sent Sütö a bottle of wine to thank him.
“When the customers are really happy and enjoy the furniture we make, it’s more important than money,” he says.
On the day of the anniversary, Sütö was busy creating metal light shades. This may, in part, be the key to his success: he’s always looking for the next thing that will go above and beyond to please his customers.
Sardin Restaurant, Bucharest
Stephen McGrath is a Romania-based correspondent. His work appears regularly in the international press, for publications including The Times, BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Spectator, New Statesman, Forbes, and others.