The story of the mashrabiya table started in Kuwait, was fleshed out in Antwerp and physically born in Kabul. It draws its elegant shape from the creative mind of Nedda El Asmar, and its perfectly executed woodwork from the able hands of Ustad Nasser Mansouri.
The heart of this table lies in its tabletop, mashrabiya, a wooden screen that is intricately built in a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, and that is intimately tied to the architecture of Muslim countries. Mashrabiyas reflect a historical tradition that marries function and beauty. Designed to provide shade and ventilation, they were also used to keep out the heat, let in some light and create privacy. Function did not come at the expense of beauty, and exquisite mashrabiyas made their way in the palaces and houses of Kabul, Cairo and Basra. Back in those days, wood workshops boasted thousands of master carvers.
Today, the tradition is almost dead. What little remains can be found in museums and historic sites. No longer are the Cairo workshops busy with complex woodwork, and those of Baghdad are long gone. Ours was not an attempt to revive a whole tradition, but to show that with a little imagination, the demise of such a legacy, of such a beautiful craft, can be avoided for a little while longer. This point struck home when making our very first table sample in Antwerp. We managed to have the elegant legs made, but missing was the beautiful mashrabiya top. Without it, the table lost its identity.
In Ustad (Master) Nasser Mansour, we found our missing half. In a Kabul workshop, the tables came to life. Piece by piece, in an almost meditative exercise, the wooden screens materialized. Each table takes days in the making, with the pattern appearing only once all of the pieces are assembled together. In this process, we understood that the mashrabiya table is not simply a table. It is a whole story.