Our reels and photos on social media about hotel rooms in Lisbon have clearly moved you. You’re inquiring about the details of this project, so voilà! Here is Joanna – I will tell you the whole story, with its bright and dark sides. It will be long, but honest, and it will include some personal aspects. Are you ready?
The Portuguese investor and his architects found us on their own in the virtual depths, and it was precisely the furniture from Wood Republic, among other cool plywood projects, that immediately convinced them. We learned only during the first meeting how difficult it was for them to find a European plywood contractor whose design is fresh, versatile, and capable of essentially the impossible task of designing, building, and installing built-in furniture for 41 differently sized rooms in a very short time.
We rubbed our eyes in astonishment
We read the first email with a considerable amount of skepticism because the order for comprehensive plywood furniture for a hotel in the center of Lisbon seemed simply unlikely. Despite having various wild projects under our belt, including those for commercial spaces like hostels or restaurants, it was hard for us to believe in such a commission 🙂 Controlled pessimism? Rather caution 🙂 As it turned out later, the situation in Portugal worked to our advantage. While there are indeed many wood specialists there, in the face of the constantly growing tourism needs, they are unable to meet all the challenges.
Breaking the ice
We reacted quickly and just as swiftly scheduled a video call between Wood Republic, the Investor, and the Architect. It turned out that the whole Lisbon team was on the same wavelength, and we quickly found a common language without any pretense or artificial solemnity. The online discussions took place in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Thus, the first barriers were broken. However, the most important thing for the investor was a face-to-face meeting. This approach, emphasizing the importance of in-person relationships in business, seemed very cool and healthy to us because we have always embraced a similar philosophy at Wood Republic. In our business dealings with Michal, we have always ridden the wave of the saying “what goes around comes around” – in short, if you play unfairly, it will come back to you in life’s hiccups.
Face to Face
We were super curious about the place and the people. In response to the investor’s invitation, we flew to Lisbon for the first time in June 2022, consisting of Joanna, Michal, and Zuzanna. Right from the beginning of the first in-person meeting with the investor and his team, we subconsciously felt that it was going to work. Personality-wise, it clicked very quickly. Everything seemed fine and beautiful, but as is the case in business, the investor demanded solid evidence of our skills. So, it was decided that three months later, we would present the built-ins for the first two model rooms. The outcome of these works was for us to be or not to be in the Lisbon hotel.
3 months later
In September, Michal and Kuba packed the finished furniture into a van, and started their over 3000 km journey to Lisbon. The trip was incredibly exciting as it involved encounters with customs officers, police, and various inspections. Meanwhile, I took our firstborn under my wing, and we comfortably reached the destination by plane. This time, we wanted to approach the trip more casually and family-friendly, combining business with pleasure, which is why we brought our son Kosma along. This guy, by the way, brings us luck and even without knowing foreign languages, possesses invaluable interpersonal skills.
When it comes to the WOW effect, we had no worries at all – modesty aside.
The minimalism of our furniture, the quality of finishing, and the naturalness of plywood appealed to the Portuguese taste. However, an equally significant impression was made by our proprietary, very easy, modular assembly method. We swiftly, non-invasively, and cleanly assembled the prepared units on-site like Lego bricks. There was no mess, even though the furniture was custom-made, fitted under sloping ceilings, and had a challenging form. Proper dimensioning is the key.
The investor and their team immediately accepted our work, so at the end, we shook hands to signify the start of official collaboration. We left Lisbon with a plan to quickly prepare a contract for the execution of comprehensive built-in furniture for 41 hotel rooms. Woohoow!
Michal and Kuba’s return, this time, was without adventures, despite – just a trifle – spending 3 days on the road. Kosma and I, on the other hand, were supposed to just fly back to Poland. So, we casually walked into the airport, all happy and relaxed, only to realize that… our flight departed a day before. As it turns out, Lisbon is a place where it’s easy to lose track of time, but these are the kinds of things that make the best memories, right?
Some facts about time and space
We calculated that between February and July 2023, we spent almost 4 months in Lisbon alone. However, when you consider all the work related to this contract, measuring and designing individual rooms, technological preparation, and production in Poland, it actually took a similar amount of time as finishing and assembling in Portugal. Given that each room was different, requiring individual dimensions and designs, and each built-in had its own nuances and completely different dimensions, we find this result to be almost unbelievable. And yet, we did it!
The architectural studio Atelier Catarina Cabral provided us with a preliminary concept and vision for minimalist interiors in the Japandi style. In these interiors, small spaces were to be maximally ergonomic, and built-in beds were to be an integral and multifunctional part of the relaxation zone. At the same time, the rooms were to be comfortable and provide a sense of open breathing space. Our meticulous work involved translating this vision into the design and technology language of Wood Republic. The natural curves of the old tenement building slightly complicated the work, as, as expected, each room had different angles and dimensions, but we had already dealt with such stories before!
How to deal with it?
In order to make the realization of this massive project possible within such a short timeframe, we decided to reorganize the carpentry work. We couldn’t afford to halt the daily production of furniture and built-ins for our other clients. The Lisbon project was important to us, but not more important than other orders, even those of smaller scale, like a customized coffee table.
A separate department was therefore established within the company, dedicated solely to creating furniture for the hotel.
Portugal is not an easy destination when it comes to delivering large-sized items. The search for a reliable carrier yielded various, not always good, results. In order to expedite the process and maintain independence, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We bought a flatbed truck and made several trips with a cheerful, but tired van, back and forth. We delivered 4-5 rooms at a time, fresh as rolls straight from our carpentry workshop.
What’s the buzz in Lisbon?
Although we were supposed to install built-ins in finished hotel rooms, it quickly became apparent that on-site, all the professionals were still bustling about at once: electricians, teams for windows, doors, floors, carpets, stairs, painters, plasterers, acrobats. It was a real beehive! Construction work was happening continuously and under immense time pressure, and the teams were only changing floors, trying not to step on each other’s toes. We quickly realized that our initial assumption, which involved shipping and assembling finished furniture on-site, would end in disaster. Simply put – in the face of ongoing renovation work, the built-ins would be damaged. It seemed like Portugal wanted us on-site. So, we had to find a solution, and we decided to transport raw modules to Lisbon, which our team would sand, assemble, and wax directly in the hotel. We appointed in-house carpenters, whom we delegated to work in Portugal. Of course, this meant a complete reorganization of work in our carpentry workshop in Poznan. Michal led the entire traveling team, which, in turn, meant a long separation for us personally, interrupted by short returns that sometimes deepened the longing even more.
Work in progress
The Wood Republic team in Lisbon was working flat out. The investor demanded that the furniture fit to the millimeter in trapezoidal, rhomboidal, or other parabolic spaces. Therefore, in addition to assembling the furniture Lego, we also had a lot of additional sculptural and stucco work.
Apart from our carpentry work, Michal was also involved in supporting the local construction team. It was purely physical work at full throttle. Added to that were managerial duties (planning our team’s work) and account and project management (communication with the investor and architects).
Until the project in Lisbon, we always shared responsibilities in running the company. However, during the work on the hotel, I had to face an overwhelming amount of additional work, taking over Michal’s duties. I supervised two production lines, coordinated this and thousands of other projects, and handled millions of other important and less important matters. Paradoxically – in all of this, motherhood and taking care of home, which often seem like a torment, were a salvation for me at that time. Now I think that Lisbon changed all three of us drastically – me, Michal, and our son Kosma, but only for the better because it’s the scars and imperfections that truly build us.
Michal basically lost spring and summer of 2023 from his life, as if someone cut out those pieces from last year’s cake and gave time to devour them. In Lisbon, Michal consciously immersed himself in action, while Kosma and I found solace in gardening, inviting neighborhood kids to play hide-and-seek, and watching music videos. It was a strange time and made us even more aware that we function best as a trio in every aspect.
When we locked the last hotel room, we had to learn to function normally again, like random people. We had to recover from that time and get back into the flow, which took us some time. Lisbon is like our Horcrux – we left a piece of ourselves there, torn out by the enormity of experiences, for which, despite everything, we are grateful.