When working on the recent article about the wooden construction toy Kapla , I briefly met Martine Lohiague, who for more than a year no...

In conversation with Martine Lohiague, Eysines hairdresser and Kapla enthusiast

When working on the recent article about the wooden construction toy Kapla, I briefly met Martine Lohiague, who for more than a year now has built and exhibited her Kapla productions in the window of her hairdressing salon in Eysines. I later arranged for a short-back-and-sides and while Martine was cutting my hair she told me a bit more about her unusual pastime.

How did it all start?

When I took over this hairdressing salon in Eysines, I decided to revamp the interior design. I wondered what activities I could provide for children. First I considered buying some toy cars, and then I thought of Kapla which ticked all the right boxes: it’s made of wood and is fun and interesting.

I initially planned to buy some second-hand Kapla but it was often in poor condition. So then I decided to buy it new and, instead of purchasing a box of 200 I bought a box of 1,000 blocks! When the pack arrived, I found it astonishing. But it looked so new that it didn’t fit in with the style of the salon, so I took it home with me. But I couldn’t get to grips with the game so with a handle and a set of wheels the box became a novelty coffee table or makeshift stool!  

So what was the turning point?

Friends of mine went on holiday and I was left to house- and cat-sit. As this meant I was going to be away from home, to keep myself occupied I took my Kapla with me and I thought it would be fun if they returned home to a giant wooden construction. I copied a design to build a bridge and a train, and the more I did the more I realized it was a fun activity. I had to borrow bricks from friends to finish off this first venture, which eventually amounted to 1,340 bricks!

You can enjoy parts of this interview (and watch Martine expertly cutting my hair) in the thrilling Youtube clip which you can view here:

And then you decided to roll out the same concept in your hairdressing salon…

I thought it would be an eye-catching addition to my window which is fairly dark, and then took things from there. I then sent an e-mail to Kapla to let them know about what I had planned, and to find out whether they would be prepared to support me given that their product would be showcased. A number of weeks passed and I wouldn’t give up, and I eventually went to the company’s facility to be given 2,000 bricks. So I set about rebuilding the bridge and the locomotive before moving on to personal designs such as boats to tie in with the Route du Rhum race (a monohull, a trimaran and a catamaran), Father Christmas during the festive season, and Chaban-Delmas lift bridge.

Just a few of Martine's exhibits, including (top left) the railway bridge and locomotive which was her first production.
How did the “cabanes tchanquées” come about?

I’m from the Bassin d’Arcachon so it represents my "homeland", as well as being emblematic of the summer season! There were quite a few hurdles to overcome, such as building the huts on their characteristic “stilts”. So I had to work out how to adapt the design to enable flat sections to sit in between, which is why I worked on an unusual form of base. I also had to develop a system for the raised floor of the huts with overlapping bricks. When I conceive my projects I tend to deal with each problem as it comes along.

Summer 2015 exhibit, the "cabanes tchanquées".
Is Kapla really for children or for grown-ups?

It’s for both children and adults! It was originally for children, but there’s a child in every adult! Small children are mostly interested in building towers and knocking them down again. But it’s interesting to show them that you can do so much more. The magic begins when you start building other shapes. 

What are your next projects?

I’ll be focusing on some local heritage here in Eysines, as I’ll be building a model of Château Lescombes. I hope it proves popular here! Then further down the line I’m thinking of the Bordeaux Cité des Vins which is in the process of being built. That might be difficult but if I use a sphere as a basis I should be able to do it.

And the football Euros take place in 2016 so I’d like to do the new stadium. The window display isn't square-shaped though so I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the whole stadium; I may have to do with just a section or else have to juggle with perspective. I’m already thinking about it and will use documents that a friend has promised to lend me so that I get the dimensions and proportions just right.

A close-up look at some of Martine's handiwork, and (right) work in progress on the cabanes.
And what would you build if you had unlimited space and a bottomless supply of Kapla bricks?

I would like to build an animal, a lion. Once again there would be obstacles: the paws should be simple enough, the head too, although the mane would be a challenge. But the most difficult thing would be the curve of the lion’s belly. If I ever get to build it, I would overcome that problem by having the lion sitting upright and rubbing its back against a tree! I would also love to build a whole village: either an oyster-farming village like the ones near to where I come from on the Bassin d’Arcachon, or else a village like one I recently fell in love with over in Dordogne.

Thank you Martine and we’ll carry on monitoring your projects! 

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