The Cult of Bokja


Textile aficionados love them, so do design fans, and movie stars like America’s sweethearts Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Hudson. Thanks to the stars and design bloggers, the cult of Bokja is no longer a secret.

What on earth is Bokja? It’s a Turkish word that describes the elaborately and detailed fabric created to cover a bride’s dowry. Embroidered by the bride’s relatives, this fabulously worked textile is meant to be a reminder of her past to be treasured in her new life as a married woman.

The concept of entwining the past with the future is what brought the Lebanese design team of Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri together. Their mutual passion for textiles and furniture was Bokja’s starting point, which made coupling the traditional fabrics of Central Asia with furniture design of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s inevitable.

Each piece of Bokja furniture is a surprise for the eyes. The chairs and sofas appear to be calling the shots on how they want to be reupholstered. Says, Hibri, “We don’t care if things match. If we like the fabrics, we find they end up liking each other.” Fabrics are varied and one chair might consist of numerous textiles that originate from places as far apart as Samarkand, Aleppo and Istanbul.  They submit to no rules when it comes to combining designs and styles: floral motifs might be matched with check and stripes; kilims with wood block prints; rich velvet with crisp linen.

In an interview for the online magazine, Baroudi and Hibri explain, “We are mixers and matchers who like to upcycle fabrics, frames, and techniques in a sustainable and fascinating way. We are story-tellers. Every piece of fabric, color, thread, frill that goes into our pieces is a little word from a different part of the world that is chosen in an intuitive process.”

Hibri and Baroudi work with local artisans who still use traditional techniques passed down over numerous generations. The partners also work with women who have fallen on hard times, and make it part of the company’s mission to help them. They’ve included the intricate needlework of local female prisoners, and have employed widows to support themselves and their families.

In mid-April at Milan’s Salone dei Mobili 2010, Bokja successfully exhibited ‘Conversations’ which celebrated the narratives and experiences that make up a sofa and 10 years of Bokja.  In the exhibit, two sofas were displayed—not as independent and final objects—but as a collection of stories that are pieced together by the varied collection of vintage and contemporary textiles from across the world. Set like an art installation, the fabrics were hung around the sofas in a quasi “postmortem” deconstruction of the product. Each textile was accompanied by text that revealed place of origin, context, and story.

The sofas formed an “S” shape to encourage conversation between visitors. Baroudi explains, “Each piece of hand-made fabric that Bokja comes across carries with it the attached stories and memories of the country and society from which it originates.”   For Baroudi and Hibri these textiles have their own very special stories to tell, and re-using them on pieces of furniture opens new chapters in a never-ending tale.

Bokja’s flagship store is located in the Saifi district in downtown Lebanon, but collectors, connoisseurs, interior designers and celebrities can find the exquisite furniture in stores like New York’s ABC Carpet and Home, London’s Liberty Store, Paris’ Merci. For more information, please visit