From Iceland — A Chair Is All You Need

A Chair Is All You Need

Published June 7, 2024

A Chair Is All You Need
Photo by
Atli Freyr Steinsson

Carpenter artist Dorka Csora is obsessed with wood

“I mopped the floor for you,” smiles Dorka Csora as she welcomes me into her woodworking studio at the hafnar.haus creative space. “Usually, it’s a few centimetres of sawdust,” she remarks, proud of the tidiness of the space. Surrounded by an assortment of carpentry tools — hammers, jigsaws and more — she often spends hours on end in the studio. In this space, an eclectic mix of chairs, including those adorned with flames, a set referred to as “mother and father” and pieces undergoing refurbishment for friends, all coexist, breathing life into Dorka’s obsession for her craft.

I was born in Hungary, in a small town nestled in a valley between two mountains, which I really loved. But obviously, I grew out of it. Since my childhood I spent a lot of time in Stockholm where my mom’s sister and her family lived. At the age of 23 or 24, I moved to Berlin by myself, because I needed this adventure on my own.

Even if a chair looks like, “Oh my god, can I sit down on it?,” it’s always sturdy. You can put it in your living room as a sculpture or functioning object.”

I went to Berlin and I was riding my friend’s bicycle and thinking, “This is it.” I had this feeling of freedom. I was born on November 11, 1989, just when the Berlin Wall fell. Naturally, it had some effect on me. I was curious about Berlin. It’s a fun city. But I always felt like I belonged in the Nordics. I had been to Iceland once before I moved here and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been based in Reykjavik since 2021 and I’m planning to stay. But why Iceland? When I was a teenager, I saw a movie called Nói albinói. I like its melancholy vibes and how it’s fun-crazy. I love this movie!

Architectural mind, artisan’s hands

I studied landscape architecture and architecture. But I knew I wasn’t an office person, even though I always had a structured mind. I wanted to play around and work with my hands. Obviously, in Berlin, everybody does this and this and this. I used to do photography, which is fun, but the competition is huge and it’s just very nerve-racking. I felt that what I’m going to end up with should be a job I really enjoy daily. 

I started just like this [Dorka snaps her fingers]. The story came to me after I started. 

My mother has a really good eye for furniture. I grew up with original Thonet chairs, even though we were definitely not a wealthy family. But in Eastern Europe, you could make amazing deals if you were smart enough. We always had a nice antique collection of chairs. Every time I moved, it was essential for me to have a table and chairs. I decided that I was going to just make my own here. I was between points of deciding what I should do with my life and how I could get myself busy without a big purpose. I didn’t know that I would be the full-time woodworker I am now. I just wanted to do something and let things happen.

My first studio was in Grandi, at a place called Verkvinnslan. I was very lucky because it was mostly guys there, but there was Ragga Ragnarsdóttir, a great designer with whom I shared a woodworking studio. She was a big inspiration for me. She was just tough. We didn’t have heating or anything. I was sanding in my ski outfit, but we pushed through. Then I got into hafnar.haus and I feel very good here. Plus, I have heating.

Trash to treasure

The curator of one of my shows once introduced me as a carpenter artist and I just loved it. I restore and build furniture, but most of my work is for shows. It’s more like sculpture. But I want all my pieces to be able to be sat on — I want them to remain functioning and wood-based. Even if a chair looks like, “Oh my god, can I sit down on it?,” it’s always sturdy. You can put it in your living room as a sculpture or functioning object. 

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

I’m collecting chairs on the street, rebranding them and giving them a new life. My main project is using everything from recycled wood. That’s why I often go to the metal junkyard or Sorpa. I live in Vesturbær and there’s always some construction there, especially in spring and autumn — everybody’s just refurbishing their whole house. I go up to them or get their phone number and take the leftover wood. Sometimes, if I’m making shelves that have to be perfect, I go to BYKO and buy plywood. But the price and the quality are just not good. I love living here, but I live in the country without wood. The prices are pretty extreme at the moment, but I’m not complaining. I have my resources and I’m very lucky because I have the time and I’m obsessed with this. Otherwise, it would obviously be easier if I lived in Spain or something.

My projects vary. I made a huge sewing table for DesignMarch for the Scottish designer duo Endurtakk. Now I’m going to build a bed for a client. If it could be chairs forever, I would also be happy, but I really like when I get a message like “Do you also build beds?” and I’m like “I can. It’s the same structure, basically. Let’s try it.” If it’s a client I don’t really know, I usually have an interview with them, we hang out a bit. I really like when I can go and see their place. A lot of times people can’t really explain what they actually need, but it has to function for them. If you spend time with them in their home, even just for a coffee, then you can understand, see what they need. 

I love birch. Very hard wood is also very pretty. I don’t like pine. Nobody likes pine. But it’s also very rude for me to pick a favourite child, because I love them all, they are listening to us now. Pine is just soft, birch and oak would be in my top two. 

My dream project at the moment would be furnishing a restaurant or a cinema hall like Bío Paradís or refurbishing the chairs at Skúli. 

Music and nature as muse

I’m always listening to music while working. I type in ambient or new age on NTS radio and it just goes on and on. It really inspires me. I’m not going to work without music. I can tell what I was listening to with some chairs. I was listening to a lot of jazz while making this one. I’m not gendering them, it’s not a him or her or something, but it’s more like a genre of music, for example, that one is definitely a punk chair. I have some experimental chairs at home. There is one chair in my bedroom that’s a whole Sade album.

“I’m not going to work without music. I can tell what I was listening to with some chairs.”

Icelandic nature is another inspiration — I started dyeing wood a bit darker. I’m using stones in all of my exhibitions. Joinery with metal clips has a really big meaning for me — that’s what Icelandic nature is for me. The metallic elements represent mostly the sky or the water.

It just feels good. It’s natural. Since I found this as not my hobby but my profession, it gave me a purpose. I’m very invested in it. When you realise that, for example, if you love writing or if you’re interested in people, it’s such an easy job. Sometimes, I’m angry at a chair. My friend broke that guy [a chair in the studio], and I removed the glue, which was there from the 60s, and I regretted it that very moment because we don’t have such good glue anymore. Now, I’m trying to figure out a different way of getting the best glue to fix it. It’s a project I would never say, “Oh, I hate this,” or “I’m gonna give up.” It became my obsession.

Photo by Atli Freyr Steinsson

A friend of mine asked me what I was up to these days, and I said, “I’m making chairs.” He replied, “I love sitting.” Exactly. When you sit, you should relax and be present. Everything else just happens. Everybody loves sitting. Everybody needs a chair. But I did my research, and there are more than 40 billion chairs on planet Earth. Every time I make a new chair, I’m just like, “Ugh.” I’m trying to recycle.

Explore Dorka’s wood creations on Instagram: @dorkacsora

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