Konekt Studio is a multi-generational family endeavor based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Konekt’s practice began in 2015, and within two years founder Helena Sultan had joined forces with her husband, Eric Sultan, and her daughter, Natasha Sultan. Together, the trio melded their creative visions and aesthetic leanings to create modern furniture and lighting fixtures with an innate heirloom-like quality. Fascinated by contrasting materials and reimagining mediums, Konekt Studio has taken the likes of chain mail, horse hair, fiberglass, and wood to create impeccably designed and thoughtfully crafted home wares.
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we are thrilled to publish a very special edition of our Artist Series featuring fellow mother-daughter team, Helena and Natasha Sultan. Following an incredible shoot of our All That Is collection alongside the beautiful pieces in Konekt’s studio, Alexa and Nina met Helena and Natasha to discuss their craft, the beauty of working with family, and where their business is heading next.
Nina: Hi! So nice to meet you both face-to-face. I just want to thank you guys for being a part of this Artist Series.
Natasha: We're really excited to talk with you. As an introduction, I’m Natasha, Helena’s daughter, and I am one third of Konekt Studio. My dad, Helena's husband, is our third partner. I joined my mom at Konekt in 2017 as a co-designer, after she had had the business for about two years. We've been designing our collections together ever since.
Helena: I’m Helena Sultan. I started Konekt formally in 2015. Natasha was always my go-to person who I would show my designs to– I really liked getting her feedback and respected her aesthetic. When Konnect started growing we decided to make it into a bigger business, and Natasha and my husband Eric joined.
Alexa: So Helena, did you have a design background? Did you study design in school?
Helena: No, I didn’t. I've always been into design and art. My mother is an artist, so I've always been surrounded by art and design. I would always go with her to auctions and flea markets. I think I've always gravitated towards antiques; I love the patina and the craftsmanship of antique pieces. Because of that, I had a hard time finding furniture that I loved. I ended up starting to make some outdoor furniture that I was looking for but I couldn’t find anywhere. It just sort of evolved from there and I started saying, Oh, I was looking for a sideboard. I'll just design one.
Nina: So interesting Helena. My mother did the same thing– it was all about going to auctions and antiques. It's interesting how it passes from generation to generation. It all started with our mothers.
Nina: I have a question for you, Natasha. What inspired you to go into the family business?
Natasha: I studied English and creative writing, so I was not in a visual field or art field at all. When I graduated, I became interested in jewelry design and I started working for a small fine jewelry designer and eventually worked for a vintage dealer. Around that time my mom started designing a few pieces of furniture. Watching my mom do this at the same time that I was thinking about design on a much smaller scale broadened my horizons and we kind of came to this journey together in a way. Eventually it just made sense to merge the two.
Nina: It’s so interesting that you have that background, I was so drawn to your lights because they feel like jewelry to me.
Natasha: Yeah, we were walking along in a flea market in Pennsylvania and I found a vintage pot scrubber made from Chainmail. I loved the texture, the tactility of it and how it kind of flowed when you touched it and moved it around because it was similar to fabric in a way. We became a little obsessive with this chainmail. And it took us a long time to develop. We really didn't know what we were getting into but we spent a long time working on it and eventually came out with the lights which were our first our first piece with the chainmail.
Nina: And what are the lights called? Do they have a name?
Natasha: Yeah, the Armor Pendants.
Nina: They're really beautiful. I was sent an image by my friend Diane Eckstein, who works for Tony Ingrao, to Studio Van Den Akker, and Diane had told me about these amazing chain lamps. We later realized Alexa and Natascha were friends!
Helena: Wow, What a story.
Alexa: Was it challenging when you guys first started working together? The dynamics?
Helena: Yes, it still is at times. We've gone through different stages and grown together. We realized that we really need to each have our own little areas that we manage. But, Natasha and I, we collaborate a lot– with design, we're always going back and forth. You know, there's always friction there but we've learned to work pretty well together.
Nina: That sounds familiar. We really have a very similar situation.
Alexa: Our two businesses seem rather different– furniture and lighting compared with jewelry– but I think there are a lot of interesting similarities in terms of the juxtaposition of materials. Can you guys talk a little bit about your approach to combining materials that seem unorthodox but work in harmony together?
Natasha: Yeah, a big draw for us to furniture design is the tactility of materials and the variety of materials that we can use or that might not be very traditional to furniture. We're really interested in the way that different textures work with each other or play off of each other. With the armor lights, it has a very tough exterior and hardness to it that we wanted to combine with glass - this very fragile material with this smooth and more sensual nature.
Helena: You know, I think materiality is a huge driving force behind our designs. It's about creating strength and fragility between different fabrics. We have these pyramid sideboards where we use parchment, which is wrapped over three dimensional doors, and then we have brass around it which we contrast with wood.
Nina: It's very similar to our business; we are a stone driven company. We see the stones first and we design around what they are and what the design will be. My design is driven by the type of material also.
Helena: Yeah. It creates this whole other energy and the design can go into a whole different direction, you know, especially having two different people who are looking at it.
Alexa: It's also interesting to go back to what Natasha said because I don't have a design background either. Coming into jewelry production, the materials are far more precious, and functionality and durability are central to our designs. Nina started her business with materials like slice diamonds which were new to the market, so she had to find a way to make pieces with these very fragile stones. It’s a challenge with the craftsman that we use, to figure out how the pieces will function and how to make the pieces last.
Helena: That's part of what I love most about what I do; the craftsmen who we work with. Seeing their skill and working with them is invigorating. Whether it's going to the foundry or watching our amazing welder; it's so much fun. I love the rawness and the grittiness of it.
Nina: Do you prefer furniture design or do you like the lighting better? And you mentioned your first piece was furniture?
Helena: Yes, my first pieces were furniture. I think my strength is more furniture and Natasha’s is more lighting. Her jewelry background is a huge component. It's really nice to have to have that where we sort of excel in different areas.
Nina: Well, maybe one day we'll do a light together.
Natasha: That would be really exciting.
Alexa: I saw you guys also just did a collaboration with an artist recently.
Natasha: Yes with Cameron Welch, an incredible mosaic artist. He mostly does large scale wall pieces, but we had always toyed around with the idea of a collaboration with our Thing collection, our horsehair stools, just because they're a little wild. He was drawn to them and their sculptural elements. We collaborated using his mosaic work on the stool top, where we would typically have fabric and a cushion and kept our horsehair skirt and metal ring at the bottom.
Alexa: That’s amazing. What's next for you both?
Natasha: Hopefully a lot. Over the past years, we've been learning a lot about what is feasible or what works best within our aesthetic. So we have a larger furniture collection and a larger lighting collection in the works. The furniture collection is inspired by grain silos. We do a lot of driving out to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and pass a lot of silos. And Helena in particular has always been very interested in the shapes of them so we've integrated them into our design.
Helena: When I drive in Lancaster, I see this beautiful, rolling farmland, and all of the sudden there’s this tall, huge structure that just sticks up and is very narrow and somehow elegant. I've always wanted to use them and it eventually dawned on me how we could do it. These new collections are also expandable in a way that we're really excited about.
Nina: That sounds amazing. Well, it was so nice to meet you both in person. I love my armor pendant.
Helena: I'm so glad. That's so nice. It means a lot that you have it. And I love your jewelry, it is such a treat to wear.
Nina: And I love how we met so organically. It was all about the armor lamps.
Helena: It's funny how things happen like that.