Sitting in an industrial yard in south Buda, sipping on a Turkish coffee, Andrej Abraham is the master of refurbishment. Travelling around Europe, he and his girlfriend Judy collect derelict antiques and breathe new life into them, producing the sort of industrial-chic design elements that take a space from ordinary to exquisite. This Thursday and Friday, the couple is hosting their first Vintage Night Market, where beer, lemonade and live music will be on offer to all shoppers perusing the wares.
“I started with the restoration of old lamps,” Andrej explains. “I was always working in industrial areas, so I started restoring these lamps so they could work on normal electricity, giving them a new chance at life, because most were in rubbish condition. And people were amazed at how well these lamps worked. I was just happy to have some light, but that ‘New York loft style’ is becoming popular again, so people took notice.” It was this popularity which inspired Andrej and Judy to begin selling the refurbished lamps in Budapest, hosting sales outside their workspace. This Thursday and Friday, 2-3 July, the couple is opening their doors again, with their first-ever Vintage Night Market from 5-10pm on both days.
These lamps practically come with a lifetime guarantee, so solid is the craftsmanship. “You can dunk them in acid,” says Andrej, “The only thing you’ll ever have to fix is changing the light bulb.” And Andrej has begun making his own pieces, too – newer copies, but fabricated with the same old-fashioned quality that make them a “buy it for life” kind of product. No planned obsolescence here.
In 2014, as he and Judy travelled around Europe, they visited flea and design markets, picking up treasures and buying out old factories which were set for demolition. “I felt sorry for these old items,” says Andrej, “and you think how cool they would look in your workshop or flat. But then after a while you have hundreds of items – so I got the idea to start selling them”. They began in small flea markets in Vienna, then design exhibitions in Austria, Denmark and France, where he caught the eye of architects and interior designers.
Back in Budapest, they struggled to find a place to sell Andrej’s projects. “We were inspired by the really elegant flea markets that we saw in France and Germany,” says Judy. “There’s not anything like that here in Budapest.” So, they created their own, which Andrej refers to as “yard sales”, although their magnitude is so much more. Retro and antique furniture, the iconic industrial lamps, glass jars, ceramics, original prints of Soviet propaganda and more. “Nothing is boring,” says Andrej. “We have things coming from the Balkans, Ukraine, old Soviet items, Maldova, ex-Yugoslavia, France, Austria… People like to come here because there’s a lot of nice things all assembled,” he adds. “Not old microwaves lying around. And the secret of success is that I’m offering good stuff for a good price. The goal is to never be over-priced.”
The first yard sale was a huge success. Lemonade was provided, and visitors were invited to just look around and buy what you liked without being pressured. “But they really responded,” says Andrej, “and because of their happiness, I decided to host another one.” Soon, the yard sales had become a regular thing.
The yard sales usually take place in spring and autumn, to account for the pleasant temperatures, since everything is set up in the concrete car park outside Andrej’s workshop. This year, of course, the coronavirus has pushed the spring yard sale into a summer one – but the couple have met the challenge with a creative solution. “We’re calling it the Vintage Night Market, 5-10pm, so you don’t have to boil in the heat,” says Andrej. “And then people can come after work, too,” Judy chimes in.
More details on the Night Market can be found on the Facebook event, and at the bottom of this article.
Andrej and Judy prepare everything themselves. Alongside the refurbished lamps and furniture are beautiful prints from illustrated texts over 100 years old, which Judy has meticulously collected, scanned in and reprinted at standard picture-frame sizes. Beautiful paintings of birds and polar bears, scientific sketches of herbs and flowers, and drawings of fish which look almost alien-like, with bright colours and bulging eyes.
Items for sale at the yard sale are divided into two camps: fully restored and DIY. “But even the ‘not prepared’ items are still half-prepared,” says Andrej. “I don’t want you to buy garbage and then if you work really hard, maybe in a year you’ll have something. No, these are ready for you to take over, the hard work is done.”
News of the yard sales has spread quickly in Budapest. Attendees line up an hour before opening, and make beelines for specific items on their list. The yard sales are always outdoors, with beer, water and lemonade on offer, sometimes a DJ or acoustic band playing, as well. When it begins to get dark, candles and ambient lighting are brought out to enhance the atmosphere.
Before this focus on restoration work, Andrej was working refurbishing old museum vehicles. “So I knew how to work with these materials,” he explains, “Like which glue holds them together and what removes paint. And before that I was a carpenter.” His skillset means he attracts a lot of hobbyists looking for advice. When asked about leading workshops, however, he says he hasn’t received much interest there.
The area outside the workshop is shaded by a large tree, with a colourful hammock-chair hanging from one of the boughs. “It’s one of the last trees left in the complex,” Andrej remarks. In the background, the whirr of a chainsaw confirms the fate of a luckless compatriot. The whole complex is on borrowed time, in fact – the old brick factory buildings are set to be demolished over the next couple years, to be replaced by shiny new-builds. When that happens, Andrej and his workshop will have to relocate.
The rest of the units – while they remain – house a jumble of services and companies. Car repair, car demolition, ceramics companies, indoor rock-climbing, pizza delivery... rock bands even come here to practise sometimes. And the gritty, industrial atmosphere brings photographers, as well. “People do wedding shoots here,” says Andrej. “They like to photograph the old factory buildings, the chimneys.” He shrugs. “They’re taking pictures of garbage, but I guess for them it’s like a small excursion.”
One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and the author of this article admits to having immediately partaken in photographing “the garbage” at the summation of the interview.