In Brussels, Many Corners of the World

In conversation with Andrea Lennon, founder of The Corner Studio, about her fascination with fabric, the Wabi-Sabi discipline, promoting mindful consumption and what corners bring to her life.

Growing up, corners meant many things to me  - my mother is a Mathematics teacher and in our house, each corner was occupied by one of us. As conversation arose from those spots and darted across the rooms, we learnt that some things had to be fixed for others to flow through. Like the rigid fluidity of the starchy cotton sarees she then wore, corners came to ascribe individuality for me. It was where dreams were spun and efforts stitched together to take shape.

Four years ago, Andrea Lennon’s dreams took shape when she founded The Corner Studio, a showroom for artisanal cushions and home decor, in Brussels, Belgium. As we delved into her work over an email correspondence, she unwound for me the drapes of her fascination towards fabric and the role of geometry in her work.

The origin of the Corner Studio lies in her travels that she undertook when she was younger. “Having travelled extensively as a photographer, I was privileged to experience and often stay in incredible places with amazing design. I always loved to bring back objects and textiles from where I was travelling so it was a logical step to follow this path.”

On her journeys, bits of what now is The Corner Studio, emerged. What began as an awe of craft and the efforts of local artisans evolved into a passion, and is now at the heart of what her work is about. “During my travel as a photographer, I discovered this work first hand and was in awe of the incredible beauty of these objects. Be it a vase, a stool carved out of wood or handwoven textiles, they all had an added dimension brought out by this unique interaction of the maker with nature. This in turn translates to your interior by adding soul to it.” 

The process of bringing the artists behind her work to the fore is part of Andrea’s design philosophy. “From the moment I discovered these traditional textiles, I fell in love with their beauty and wanted to show them to a larger audience. I never expected so many people to enjoy these fabrics and my cushions. I love the idea of sharing traditional craft from around the world and making something that is at once respecting these traditions while also reinterpreting them in a contemporary manner.”

The process of creating her artisanal cushions starts in West Africa. “I work with artisans in Mali and Burkina Faso who weave the textile bands and dye them with natural dyes from plants and tree bark and mud”, she says. These woven fabrics then arrive in Belgium, six weeks later, where Andrea creates the magic that her cushions are. Each piece of her artisanal cushion collection is created with love, and named as though they are people. “My artisanal cushions are a true passion and a labour of love, for each one has their own personality. I liked the idea of giving them all unique names. It gives them an added quality where they become more than just a cushion and I hope more treasured because of that.”

Apart from the artisanal cushions, The Corner Studio is a kaleidoscope of various elements from different countries. It is a place where many worlds collide - artisanal ceramics from France and Sweden, antique Chinese pots, jute baskets sewn by Bangladeshi women, Danish teak vintage bowls, teak office chairs inspired by the late-50s Chandigarh style, all driven by the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic that has its origins in Japan which celebrates imperfection. 

“I love perfect imperfection, perhaps the geometry of imperfection too. Take my cushions for example, the bands can vary in size from 14 to 20 cm in width. Even when I received different widths of material, I have had to learn to work with them making coherent designs.  I trust my eye to create that visual harmony because I love that things aren’t always geometrically perfect but nonetheless are incredibly harmonious.”

The visual harmony that Andrea envisions for her products and her store translates beautifully online, on Instagram as well. That is how most customers find and admire her work. “Someone from Texas, who had been following me on Instagram visited my store while passing through Brussels to buy my cushions and other items. That was the first of many surprise visits  from people from around the world. I am amazed at how many people, even if they are just passing through, make time to visit my store because they follow me on Instagram and feel connected to my aesthetic. I have had people from all over Europe coming, New York, Dubai. I have had requests online from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.”

While appreciation for her work pours in from around the world, Andrea stays rooted in her ethic of sustainability and slow living. “I think slow living is the cornerstone of our future. It is stepping out of this increasingly fast paced world and taking the time to live a life focused on impactful work and intentional living, to be mindful of the choices we make in our daily lives, to focus on quality more than quantity be that in our work lives or personal lives.

One of the most important aspects for me when I opened the studio was to showcase products that would encourage my clients to purchase less but to purchase better. I want my clients to purchase a cushion, a piece of furniture, an object or an artwork that they will treasure over time and that will find a place in their homes as they evolve and change. Focusing predominantly on artisanal pieces, I hope that I help to contribute to slow living by showing people the beauty that lies in slow creation by understanding the time that it takes to carve a stool by hand, to make a ceramic pot or plate, to weave a fabric on a small wooden loom. 

They should be able to appreciate the work that it entails and the value this work brings to us and to our homes. Although mass production and consumption won’t go away completely, I hope that my store will entice people away from easy cheap consumption. I hope that it pushes them to consider what they buy, how and in what conditions it was made, to think about who made it and the value of preserving the work and skills of the craftspeople of the world. My hope is that the selection in my store is of timeless pieces that people will treasure long term avoiding the endless cycle of consumption.”

Lastly, on being asked what effect corners have had on her, Andrea says, “The Studio is in the middle of a street, it is not actually a corner. The door is on a side entrance so the space forms a corner of two large glass windows and that’s why the name seemed appropriate. A corner without really being a corner. I’m not sure if corners have had an effect on me growing up but being of a curious nature, I like the idea that just around the corner there is always something new and exciting to discover, that it is important to be adventurous and keep exploring in life. You never know what you will find around the next corner. So keep going, keep searching, keep learning and discovering.”