When a ship sinks and starts to disintegrate, the wood that the vessel was made off get lost in the sea. After a while, the wood finds its way to a beach and lies there in the sun. Some people may not imagine that this type of wood can be used, but Shahir Mikhail does. Mikhail is the founder and owner of Gazwareen, the name of which is a type of tree.
“I am actually a surgeon and so is my father, but he was into carpentry as well. I learned it from him as a child.” Mikhail recalls the many summers he used to spend helping his father with his hobby. “I spent my whole childhood in Agami,” he explained. Agami is a beach-town close to Alexandria, and the place where he first saw driftwood. It fascinated him as a child as “it looked very beautiful”.
Mikhail lamented that the concept of using driftwood is lost in Egypt even though it is very popular abroad. “The sea salt makes the wood very hard and it also becomes insect-repellent. It has an aesthetic quality due to the withering that happened to it, and it also has a historic quality,” Mikhail explained. The historic aspect comes from the fact that before landing on the beach, the wood went on a great journey. Mikhail stressed on this aspect the most, which he believes gives the wood “its personality”.
Mikhail combined what he learnt from his father with his passion for driftwood to create driftwood furniture and later the Gazwareen brand. “I have been collecting driftwood for 20 years now…but I only turned professionally five or six years ago,” Mikhail said. He first realised its business potential when he held an exhibition with a friend and ended up selling all the pieces on display. “I found that there was a demand for that kind of furniture and people appreciated it,” he said.
He added that the process of making the furniture is very fluid: “It depends on the availability of the driftwood and the inspiration [for the design].”
Mikhail explained that his designs just pop into his head, rather than seeking inspiration from some particular sources. “I would have some design in my mind, but I don’t have the driftwood for it, so I postpone it for a while,” he said. So, his projects do not have a particular timeframe. However, he added that for a smaller project, it might take him as little as two weeks to finish it.
“It is harder than regular carpentry because the driftwood doesn’t have fixed dimensions and the pieces aren’t straight,” Mikhail explained. He does everything himself and all the steps are done manually since he cannot use machines lest the wood gets ruined. The step which requires the most work is the cleaning of the driftwood: “You need to clean it without the wood losing its personality and that old look.” This involves sanding to achieve “a neat look” without stripping it of its natural beauty.
He also has to wait for the driftwood to dry out before he can work on it, which usually takes around two weeks. In the meantime Mikhail is also busy with his medical career: “I divide my time between being a surgeon and designing driftwood furniture.”
So, what is the process for ordering a piece of furniture? “People usually contact me and explain what they need exactly. I prefer to see the space in which the piece will be put [to better envision the design],” Mikhail explained. He added that the process of designing for a client is very “interactive” so that the “final product can be both functional and aesthetically-pleasing.” He prefers to meet with the clients to show them the available driftwood.
“I like the design to be very simple, which enables me to build something durable,” he explained. He added that since the driftwood was used to make ships, it is very tough. Therefore furniture made of driftwood can survive for many generations: “you can give it to you children and grandchildren.”
Finally, Mikhail wanted to highlight how “valuable” driftwood is due to its “great and long history.” He explained that abroad it is sold for very high prices and that making furniture out of driftwood is also a form of recycling.
The many beautiful designs of Gazwareen can be seen on their Facebook page.